August 29, 2005

College football's top storylines; Nos. 6-10

Some of the biggest names in coaching switched jobs and some of the biggest stars in college football turned down the NFL to stay in school this offseason.

Those decisions have added to anticipation and interest for the coming season, and several were selected among Rivals.com's top 10 storylines for 2005. Check out Nos. 6-10 in this two-part series.

No. 10: Will Louisville and Boise State prove they belong among elite?

Don't expect these two rising programs to land in the Liberty Bowl again. Both have dreams of reaching the BCS, dreams that look realistic.

The Cardinals have moved into the Big East, and with another talented offense with several weapons returning, they are the heavy favorite to capture the league title. With a weak out-of-conference schedule (Kentucky, Oregon State, Florida Atlantic and North Carolina), an undefeated run in the regular season and a spot in the national title hunt looks possible.

Another top 10 finish could send coach Bobby Petrino, whose name has been mentioned with several recent coaching vacancies, to an elite program.

The Broncos, meanwhile, won't be playing for an automatic BCS bowl bid, but an increased strength of schedule will make them a contender for an at-large bid. The two-time defending WAC champs open at Georgia, a nationally televised game that will help decide their fate, travel to Oregon State the following week and then host MAC favorite Bowling Green. If the Coach Dan Hawkins' team can manage to get past that daunting stretch, a string of mediocre league opponents awaits.


No. 9: Legendary coaches have backs to wall

The two oldest and winningest coaches in Division I-A are facing pivotal seasons. Penn State's Joe Paterno and Florida State's Bobby Bowden's jobs appear safe, but many are expecting them to put an end to disappointing runs.

Paterno is facing the most pressure. Penn State is coming off 4-7 and 3-9 seasons, including six-game losing streaks in the middle of each campaign. But with an experienced defense and the addition of a pair of highly touted recruits - Derrick Williams and Justin King - who will play extensively right away, the Nittany Lions have enough talent to be a contender in the Big Ten. A schedule that begins with three home games against South Florida, Cincinnati and Central Michigan also should help.

Bowden's teams haven't struggled to that degree, but there has been a considerable fall off. Florida State has lost at least three games in each of the last four seasons. Prior to that stretch, the Seminoles went 14 years without suffering three losses in a single season. Bowden will be aided by arguably the nation's top linebacking corps, which includes Buster Davis, A.J. Nicholson and Ernie Sims, and with highly criticized quarterback Chris Rix gone, many are expecting the offense to improve, especially with the return of running backs Lorenzo Booker and Leon Washington.

If the Seminoles can end a six-game losing streak to Miami in the season opener in Tallahassee, Fla., they could enter the national title picture.

No. 8: Nebraska searches for return to prominence

The first losing season in more than 40 years. The worst loss in school history. A finish that included four defeats in five games.

Bill Callahan's first season at Nebraska produced several new lows for one of college football's most storied programs, and it put even more pressure on the coach and his staff for year No. 2. The Cornhuskers will get immediate help from Rivals.com's No. 5 ranked 2005 recruiting class. Included in that group is junior college transfer Zac Taylor, who won the starting quarterback job in the spring.

A possible turnaround rests largely on Taylor, as many of the other newcomers won't get a chance to make a big impact until 2006.

Can the Cornhuskers fan base be patient enough to suffer through a second consecutive season well short of expectations? Ask Frank Solich….

No. 7: Oklahoma stands in Texas' way once again

No single rivalry has grabbed the national spotlight more in recent years than the Red River Shootout, and the 2005 edition will once again feature intrigue and importance.

It appears that No. 2 Texas actually will enter as the favorite despite losing the last five games in the series. The Longhorns return a Heisman candidate at quarterback in Vince Young and one of the nation's most talented defenses. Seventh-ranked Oklahoma lost most of its star players from a year ago, including 2003 Heisman winning quarterback Jason White.

Still, big questions remain for UT. Can it overcome Oklahoma's psychological edge (no coach or player on the Texas roster has ever beaten Sooners)? Will Bob Stoops find a way to out-scheme Mack Brown once again? Can OU running back Adrian Peterson be stopped? The Longhorns must find answers to finally beat their nemesis and capture a national title.

No. 6 Can Matt Leinart win a second Heisman?

Ohio State's Archie Griffin is the only player to win two Heisman awards. Matt Leinart may have a better chance than all the past candidates who tried to match Griffin's remarkable feat.

USC's senior quarterback is surrounded by an offense that may be better than the unit that carried the Trojans to a second consecutive national title in 2004. All-purpose star Reggie Bush, who finished fifth in the Heisman race last season, is back, along with 1,000-yard rusher LenDale White and talented receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith.

But Leinart will have to fight off a more impressive list of Heisman candidates than a year ago. Bush, who has played brilliantly in big games, will be one of the top options on the Trojans offense and return most of the kicks once again. Many felt Oklahoma's Peterson deserved the award in 2004 after rushing for a NCAA freshman-record 1,925 yards and with the loss of White he may receive more carries.

Young, meanwhile, will be asked to do much more for the Texas offense with the loss of Cedric Benson. Other stars in the mix appear headed for big seasons, including Memphis' DeAngelo Williams, Minnesotta's Laurence Maroney, Ohio State's Ted Ginn, Jr., and Texas A&M's Reggie McNeal.

Stay tuned to Rivals.com on Tuesday for the top five storylines for 2005.


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