Ohio State at Texas, Sept. 9
For the second year in a row, the two programs, both with national championship aspirations, meet early in the season.
2. Notre Dame at Southern California, Nov. 25 As it did last season, this historic matchup should actually mean something. The Trojans have won four straight, but the Irish nearly pulled off an upset last year in one of the best games of 2005.
3. LSU at Auburn, Sept. 16 Two Southeastern Conference West rivals, both ranked in the preseason Top 10, square off with the winner grabbing the inside track to the SEC championship game.
4. West Virginia at Louisville, Nov. 2 The Mountaineers rallied from a 17-point fourthquarter deficit a year ago to win in triple overtime. With no conference championship game, the winner will likely grab the Big East?s Bowl Championship Series bid.
5. Army vs. Navy, Dec. 2
Doesn?t matter whether you prefer Ohio State vs. Michigan, Harvard vs. Yale, or even Montana vs.Montana State. The rivalries are the best part of college football, and this yearly matchup between service academies is the cream of the crop. Take a break from watching future millionaires perform for fat-cat boosters in the NFL?s de facto minor league, and tune in to this contest, which stands tall as one of the few honorable, unsullied traditions in college football.
COACHES ON THE HOT SEAT
1. Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee
How does a coach with a 128-37 career record and a national championship under his belt end up on this list? That?s simply the way it works in the SEC. If the Volunteers go 5-6 again, restless (and powerful) boosters might have Fulmer fighting for his job, especially if more players get arrested.
2. Larry Coker, Miami Go 9-3 at most Atlantic Coast Conference schools year after year, and you?re likely to get a street or a building named after you. Do it at Miami, and you might be looking for a new job. Coker fired four coaches on his staff after last year?s disappointing finish, and, crazy as it sounds, may need to win the ACC to avoid the heat.
3. Al Groh, Virginia/Chuck Amato, North Carolina State Remember when the Cavaliers and Wolfpack were supposed to contend for the national championship? Year after year of recruiting hype raised expectations sky-high at Virginia, but the results haven?t been there for Mr. Personality (Groh) in Charlottesville. Mr. Sunglasses (Amato) has had a tough time ever since Philip Rivers departed. Fans at both schools are getting restless.
4. Rich Brooks, Kentucky To put it bluntly, the Wildcats probably need to claw their way into a bowl game to keep Brooks? house from going on the market by mid-December. The program has regressed since Brooks arrived, and though NCAA sanctions that occurred before Brooks? arrival have played a big role, a 9-25 record in three years won?t cut it, even at Kentucky.
5. John L. Smith, Michigan State The Spartans have proved two things under Smith: They can beat the best teams on any given week, then lose to the worst teams the following week. The program needs more consistency, or a change might be on the horizon.
PLAYERS TO WATCH FOR THE HEISMAN TROPHY
1. Brady Quinn, quarterback, Notre Dame Fair or not, the trophy is probably Quinn?s to lose. He'll be on national television every week, and he's playing on a team that the national media loves to swoon over. The Fighting Irish's defensive shortcomings might work to his advantage as well, because he'll be in the thick of some shootouts. As a junior, he completed 65 percent of his passes for 3,919 yards and 32 touchdowns.
2. Drew Stanton, quarterback, Michigan State Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting, calls Stanton, not Quinn, the best quarterback prospect in the country. That might be true, but to have any shot at the Heisman, Stanton needs to win a bunch of games and stay healthy. He threw for 3,077 yards and 22 touchdowns last year as a junior.
3. Adrian Peterson, running back, Oklahoma Oddly enough, Bob Stoops' decision to kick quarterback Rhett Bomar off the team for breaking NCAA rules may actually help Peterson's chances at winning the Heisman. He'll carry the ball a bunch, and the Sooners will contend for a BCS berth. He needs to stay healthy, however, which will be no easy feat if he gets 30 carries a game.
4. Ted Ginn, wide receiver/ Troy Smith, quarterback, Ohio State If the Buckeyes are as good as everyone expects them to be, both these players will likely earn a lot of votes. Ginn is probably the fastest player in college football, and is a threat to score on every play, and Smith reminds people of former Texas quarterback Vince Young.
5. Chris Leak, quarterback, Florida
It's now or never for Leak, who has been a disappointment during his first three seasons in Gainesville after arriving with plenty of fanfare. If he finally gets the hang of Urban Meyer's gimmicky offense, he could put up huge numbers. If Leak stumbles out of the gate again, he just might lose his job to freshman Tim Tebow, a player many experts were calling the best high school quarterback in the country last year.
PLAYERS WORTH THE PRICE OF ADMISSION
1. Steve Slaton, running back/ Pat White, quarterback, West Virginia
It?s hard to mention one without mentioning the other, because in the Mountaineers' spread offense, they're equally important and equally dangerous. Slaton ran for 204 yards and three touchdowns in a Sugar Bowl victory against Georgia. White can hurt teams with both his arm and his feet, and acts as the point guard of Rich Rodriguez's potent offense.
2. Dwayne Jarrett, wide receiver, Southern California
He might not be as productive as he was last year while USC tries to replace Matt Leinart, but Jarrett is a show-stopper no matter who is throwing to him. A cross between a ballerina and a power forward, he?s a dark-horse Heisman candidate.
3. Paul Posluszny, linebacker, Penn State
A knee injury likely kept Posluszny from going to the NFL after his junior year, which was a blessing for the Nittany Lions. A fierce hitter with a neck like a tree trunk, he is one of college football's most admirable players. Posluszny has a 3.67 GPA in finance, and says he would like to attend Marine officers? candidate school when his football career is over.
4. LaRon Landry, safety, LSU
The nation's top defensive back, Landry would have been a certain first-round pick had he entered the NFL draft after his junior season, but he wanted to return for his senior year and a shot at another national title. Touted as a future Pro Bowl selection, Landry closes on the ball and punishes receivers.
5. Jeff Samardzija, wide receiver, Notre Dame
A year ago, few people knew, or could pronounce, his name. After 77 catches and 15 touchdowns in 2005, the 6-foot-5 wide-out has earned the right to call himself one of the best in the country.