Five players who can take the ball to the house from anywhere on the field
DeSEAN JACKSON, CALIFORNIA
The junior wide receiver should benefit mightily from the new kickoff rule moving the ball back five yards. With a solid quarterback in Nate Longshore, Jackson could have 12- 15 touches a game receiving, returning and running.
PERCY HARVIN, FLORIDA
Will line up at receiver, running back and some times even take direct snaps for the Gators. If quarterback Tim Tebow can throw (last season he mostly ran the ball when substituting for Chris Leak), Harvin should double, perhaps triple, his five touchdowns from last year.
EARLY DOUCET, LSU
Early will get the ball often for the Tigers. As a wide receiver, Doucet can fly, and he will be used in the return game. As a junior last season, he had 59 catches and eight touchdowns.
MIKEY HENDERSON, GEORGIA
Generously listed at 5 feet 10 and 156 pounds on the team's roster, Henderson led the Southeastern Conference in punt returns with an average of 14.7 yards and two touchdowns. After spring practice, he was named the team's best all-around offensive player, which means he's finally catching on as a receiver, making him even more dangerous.
JUICE WILLIAMS, ILLINOIS
The only quarterback to make this list, he can do it all. He was the first quarterback in Illinois history to throw two touchdown passes of more than 65 yards in one game, and he rushed for nearly 600 yards during the season. By the way, he's just a sophomore.
STORIES TO WATCH
KICKING OFF LIKE THE PROS
Five yards doesn't seem like a big deal, but moving kickoffs back from the 35-yard line to the 30-yard line has a number of college coaches stressing about their kicking games. You will see a lot more marquee players returning kicks. You'll see starters covering kicks instead of backups or first-year players.
An NCAA rules committee recommended the change in the offseason as a way to speed up the game and to add excitement for the fans.
And although it might result in more touchdown returns, coaches worry that it will also increase injuries because there will be more violent collisions during returns.
Billy Donovan won back-toback basketball national titles at Florida. Can Urban Meyer do the same? It will be much more difficult for the football coach, who returns just nine starters, while Donovan almost had his entire team back.
But national college football rankings predict another good year, as the Gators are ranked third by Sports Illustrated, eighth by ESPN The Magazine, fifth by The Sporting News, third in the USA Todaypreseason coaches' poll and sixth in the Associated Press preseason poll.
Meyer, who is 22-4 during the past two seasons at Florida and 61-12 overall as a head coach, has his own Web site, and the adoration of Gator Nation. Another national championship and they might rename The Swamp after him. Now all he needs to do is lighten up a little. Seriously, the guy makes cardboard seem interesting by comparison.
After his ugly sepaation from the Miami Dolphins - two weeks before accepting the Alabama job, he said, "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach" - he was welcomed like a rock star to Birmingham. And 94,000 people showed up at the Crimson Tide's spring game. As a college coach, Saban has gone 91-42-1 (.642) with one national championship in 11 seasons, having also led LSU, Michigan State and Toledo. He takes over for Mike Shula, who went 26-23 (.531) in four seasons as head coach of the Crimson Tide.
NEW FACES IN NEW PLACES
Saban isn't the only former NFL coach turning up on a college campus. Former Cleveland Browns head coach Butch Davis will try to resurrect the football program at North Carolina while former San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks head coach Dennis Erickson has turned up at Arizona State after a year at Idaho. Other notable hires:
ROAD TO NEW ORLEANS
The Bowl Championship Series title game will be played Jan. 7 at 8 p.m. at the Superdome. It will be televised on Fox.
LSU is in the top three of just about every preseason poll, and many are picking an LSU-USC championship game.
COACHES ON THE HOT SEAT
LLOYD CARR, MICHIGAN If Michigan doesn't win the Big Ten title and play in the national championship game, the Wolverine faithful will be howling for his head. It could be over sooner than that if Michigan can't beat Ohio State. The Buckeyes have won five of the past six meetings. At this point, ghouls dressed in scarlet and gray sweater vests must seriously haunt Carr's restless dreams.
BOBBY BOWDEN, FLORIDA STATE
After going 7-6 last season, and having lost the past three games against Florida, he fired his offensivecoordinator son and brought in some veteran coaches. He could be next to go.
TOMMY BOWDEN, CLEMSON
All in the family. Beating the old man is nice, but winning Atlantic Coast Conference titles would be nicer. A promising 2006 season ended with the Tigers losing three of the last four. He still has a way to go, however, to match the fall from grace that his brother, Terry, experienced at Auburn. Terry lost support with Tigers fans in part because he once attended a James Taylor concert during Auburn summer practice. Seriously.
BILL CALLAHAN, NEBRASKA
In three seasons, he has gone 22-15, a .595 winning percentage. Frank Solich, his predecessor, was fired after going 58-19, a .753 winning percentage, in six seasons. Good thing they don't take football seriously in Nebraska, except for, um, the 54,000 that showed up at the Huskers? spring game this year.
DAVE WANNSTEDT, PITTSBURGH
He's 11-12 in two seasons, but he supposedly has had two great recruiting classes. He's preaching patience, but fans are staying away in droves in Steelers-crazed Pittsburgh, and another .500 season won't help. If he's fired less than a year after Bill Cowher left the Steel City, it will be yet another blow to sports mustache enthusiasts.
CIRCLE THE DATES
Here are some games to look forward to:
FLORIDA STATE AT CLEMSON
Not exactly a clash of top-10 teams, but for Week 1, this is the best game. It falls on Labor Day, so after two gin and tonics, you'll hardly remember that neither team has been relevant in a decade. It's also Bowden Bowl IX, an annual matchup where the Freudian-Oedipus undertones usually overshadow the bad football. Daddy Bobby holds a 5-3 advantage over son Tommy, but the younger Bowden's team prevailed, 27-20, last season. But Bobby Bowden has revamped his coaching staff, jettisoning another son, Jeff, as offensive coordinator and adding veteran coaches Jimbo Fisher to lead the offense and Chuck Amato to oversee linebackers.
NOTRE DAME AT PENN STATE
During the glory years of these storied programs, if these two teams met it would be the biggest college football game of the season. It's still a great game given thehistory that exudes, but it might be a rebuilding year for the Irish, and the Nittany Lions are still behind Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin in the Big Ten. ByWeek 2, freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen should also be well into his unofficial campaign to become college football?s biggest egotist, hoping to wrestle the title away from his coach, Charlie Weis.
LOUISVILLE AT KENTUCKY
Usually, this would only generate excitement during basketball season. But there will be excitement because of quarterbacks Brian Brohm (Cardinals) and Andre Woodson (Wildcats). Winner gets to keep Rick Pitino, while the loser settles for a written apology from Cameron Crowe for the embarrassment that was the movie Elizabethtown.
TEXAS VS. OKLAHOMA IN DALLAS
Winner advances directly to the national title game. At least that?s the way it has been three of the past four years.
Fun fact No. 1 about Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy: In 2006, after hearing a woman's cry for help, he swam 300 yards across a Texas lake to help save the life of a man suffering from a seizure, proving he is more than worthy of his superhero-sounding nickname. (Fun Fact No. 2 about Mc- Coy: His real name is David.)
OHIO STATE AT MICHIGAN
The week before hosting the Buckeyes, the Wolverines have a grueling trip to Wisconsin, while Ohio State is at home against Illinois. Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel is 5-1 against Lloyd Carr, and if he makes it 6-1, Carr could be looking for a new job. No word yet on whether ABC will cut to the Toledo Correctional Institution at halftime to get Maurice Clarett?s thoughts, but here's hoping.
BOISE STATE AT HAWAII
This game could be 84-81 in triple overtime when the trick-play, big-play Broncos meet Heisman Trophy candidate Colt Brennan and the pass-happy Warriors. Hawaii is ranked 23rd in the Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll, the first time it has been ranked in preseason.
FLORIDA STATE AT FLORIDA
The Gators have won the past three between the schools, and depending on how the Seminoles' season goes, this could be must-win for Bobby Bowden. Given how Urban Meyer has stockpiled talent in Gainesville, it could be a long time before the Seminoles beat the Gators. Meyer was named after a pope, but the Seminoles will be the ones in need of divine intervention if they want to slow down Florida?s attack. Pray for rain, Bobby.
ARMY VS. NAVY IN BALTIMORE
It's here and it's Army against Navy. Enough said.
When the Heisman Trophy winner is announced in December, it's likely to be one of these five players: Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm, Southern California quarterback John David Booty, Michigan running back Mike Hart or Michigan quarterback Chad Henne.
But let?s think outside of the box and suggest some dark-horse candidates:
A PAIR OF MOUNTAINEERS
Quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton lead a loaded West Virginia offense that's playing in a conference with three other legitimate top-25 teams: Rutgers, Louisville and South Florida. If West Virginia can beat them, its only other big hurdle is a Sept. 13 game at Maryland. Although White and Slaton could take votes from each other, they could easily rush for 1,000 yards each and light up the scoreboard.
As in Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan. McCoy threw for 29 touchdowns and was intercepted just seven times in his first season as a starter. With wide receivers Limas Sweed (46 catches, 801 yards) and Quan Cosby (45 catches, 525 yards) returning, McCoy could have a huge season. Brennan's numbers from 2006 were tremendous: 5,594 yards passing and 58 touchdowns. He set or tied 18 NCAA records. Plus, he's got his own, cool Web site and a schedule with only one tough game, and that's at home against Boise State.
Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill led the Big Ten in rushing last season, gaining 1,569 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns. If the Badgers can find a quarterback to loosen the defense, Hill could put up even bigger numbers. He?s dropped a few pounds to improve his quickness and the offensive line lost just one starter.
Ray Rice rushed for nearly 1,800 yards and 20 touchdowns in last season?s surprising run by the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers won?t sneak up on anyone this year and is ranked 16th in the AP preseason poll. After losing backfield mate Brian Leonard to the NFL, Rice could top 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns this season.
FLAIR FOR THE DRAMATIC Talk about a Cinderella story. Ian Johnson of Boise State scored the gamewinning two-point conversion in the improbable Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma last season and then proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend on national television. If the running back runs the table and captures the Heisman, screenwriters will be flooding Hollywood with scripts.