August 30, 2005

Coaching changes dominate top storylines

Nothing seems to capture the interest of college football fans like coaching changes and that made for an eventful offseason.

A pair of the most high-profile programs in the sport hired new coaches and both moves landed on Rivals.com's top five storylines of 2005. So did one coach's decision to return to the college game after a year off. Check out Nos. 1-5 in this two-part series. (Click here for storylines Nos. 6-10.)

5. The Weis era begins at Notre Dame

Coaching changes in South Bend have become the norm every four or five years and the latest has brought a renewed hope to the Irish faithful.

Charlie Weis, a Notre Dame alumnus, was considered of the top offensive minds in the NFL, and the former New England Patriots offensive coordinator should immediately help the Irish score more points - a consistent problem during the Tyrone Willingham era. Ten offensive starters return, including junior quarterback Brady Quinn and leading rusher Darius Walker.

Weis and his staff have also developed some excitement by engineering a lot of early success on the recruiting trail. They have already landed three prospects from the Rivals100, including quarterbacks Demetrius Jones and Zach Frazer.

But, Weis will have some major obstacles to overcome. The biggest is arguably the nation's toughest schedule. The Irish start out with road trips to No. 23 Pittsburgh and No. 4 Michigan, and must also travel to No. 15 Purdue, whom many expect to contend for the Big Ten title. There is also a brutal three-game stretch of home games against USC, BYU and Tennessee.

There are also questions about Weis' ability to acclimate to the college game. His only college coaching experience came at South Carolina as a graduate assitant and assistant recruiting coordinator from 1985-88. Will his offensive schemes work at this level? Can he relate to the players? He won't be given much time to find those answers. Willingham and Bob Davie were fired despite 21-15 and 35-25 records with the Irish.

4. Can the revamped BCS get it right?

Criticism of the Bowl Championship Series is reaching new heights after an 0-for-2 performance the last two years. An undefeated Auburn team didn't get a chance to play for the national title in 2004 and finished No. 2 in both polls. But a bigger mistake might have been made the previous season when Oklahoma, despite getting crushed by Kansas State 35-7 in the Big 12 title game, faced LSU in the national title game - a move that eventually led to a controversial split title between LSU and USC.

In reaction to those results, the Associated Press pulled its poll out of the BCS in the offseason, and it has been replaced by the Harris Interactive Poll, a diverse collection of 114 former coaches, players, administrators and media. The Harris Poll will team with the Coaches Poll and computer polls to play a large role in the BCS formula.

Other media outlets are losing faith in the system too. In November, ABC declined to renew its contract with the BCS after recent poor ratings. Fox signed a four-year deal to televise the games beginning in 2007.

Another controversial ending to the college football season could squash the support the BCS, which is set to add a fifth game in 2006, needs. That looks possible again with a handful of teams capable of making undefeated runs besides USC, including Louisville, whom recently joined the Big East, Purdue, whom won't have to play Michigan or Ohio State, and Virginia Tech, which plays a weak non-conference schedule.

3. Trojans hunt for historic third title

Think of all the great dynasties there have been college football. None of them ever won three consecutive national titles.

Many feel USC can't be stopped from doing just that. The consensus No. 1 pick in every preseason magazine and poll returns of all of its offensive stars from last season, including 2004 Heisman winner Matt Leinart. The senior quarterback will be surrounded by an unparalleled amount of weapons from versatile star Reggie Bush to 1,000-yard rusher LenDale White to proven receivers like Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith.

Leinart and his talented teammates will also face a particularly favorable schedule. It doesn't include one team in the AP's preseason top 25 and their toughest non-conference foes - Arkansas and Fresno State - must travel to Los Angeles.

But, even the mighty Trojans had to survive a couple of scares last season from mediocre teams, including 28-20 and 29-24 wins at Oregon State and UCLA. A trip to what looks to be an improved Oregon team in Autzen Stadium - one of the toughest places to play in college football - in Game 3 may provide another tough test.

There is also a deep group of capable contenders. No. 2 Texas returns Vince Young, one of the nation's top quarterbacks, and a veteran-laden defense. No. 3 Tennessee and No. 5 LSU have an overwhelming abundance of talent on both sides of the ball. The Big Ten features four teams with realist national title hopes, including No. 3 Michigan, No. 6 Ohio State, No. 11 Iowa and No. 15 Purdue. Eighth-ranked Virginia Tech returns a team that may be more talented than the one that captured the ACC title last season.

If the Trojans can get past that pack they will cement a legacy as one of the best dynasties ever.

2. Another offensive guru takes over in the Swamp

Many Gators fans are convinced they have found the program's savior. After three 5-loss seasons under Ron Zook, Florida replaced him with Urban Meyer, the hottest coach in the nation not named Pete Carroll.

Meyer went 23-2 in his two seasons at Utah, including a 12-0 run last year that ended with the first non-BCS school reaching a BCS bowl game. But, the 35-year-old's appeal goes well beyond the won-loss record. He appears to be a blend between an offensive genius like Spurrier and a hard-working and successful recruiter like Zook.

At Utah, Meyer's spread option offense looked unstoppable at times last season, averaging 500 yards and 45 points a game - each number ranked third-best in Division I-A. With the return of highly recruited quarterback Chris Leak and a much more talented set of weapons to work, many fear what type of damage his system will do now.

Meyer spent much of the spring traveling around the nation recruiting prospects and it has immediately paid off. The Gators have landed commitments from five members of the Rivals250, including Durham (N.C.) Southern offensive tackle Carl Johnson, who is ranked the No. 5 prospect in the nation. A handful of other elite prospects have already been on campus and are heavily considering the Gators.

But, Meyer hasn't coached in a major conference since starting out as a graduate assistant at Ohio State in the mid-1980s, and questions remain about dealing with the pressure of being a coach for a high-profile program. We will get the first answers in the Gators' SEC opener against Tennessee in the swamp on Sept. 17.

1. The evil genuis returns

No offseason news came close to generating more interest or excitement than Steve Spurrier's decision to replace Lou Holtz as South Carolina's coach. Fans around the SEC and beyond have grown to loathe the former coach, but they also seem to have developed a strange fascination with him.

Spurrier's name was mentioned with nearly every major head coaching vacancy in Division I-A while he took a year off in 2004 after a disappointing two-year stint with the Washington Redskins. Many expected the former Florida coach to possibly go back to the swamp or take over another elite program, but he chose the challenge of turning the Gamecocks into a contender in the SEC East.

That will be particularly difficult in year No. 1. Spurrier doesn't inherit a wealth of talent or experience. He will be forced to platoon a pair of true freshmen at running back for his new cock n' fire offense and there is little depth along the offensive line.

But, there is reason to believe Spurrier, who led Duke to a share of an ACC title in 1989, will turn things around quickly in Gamecock country. He his staff have already begun to increase the level of incoming talent in Columbia. The Gamecocks signed Rivals.com's No. 17 ranked class (after the 2005 rankings were recently readjusted according to which signees were enrolled and eligible for the upcoming season), which included six four-star prospects. Some of the top rising seniors in the South are beginning to name South Carolina among the schools they are considering.

Doubt remains that anyone can win consistently at South Carolina. The Gamecocks have been to just 11 bowl games in school history. But, Spurrier's presence will bring the national spotlight to a program that is often overshadowed in its own state by arch rival Clemson. A big television audience is expected when South Carolina kicks off the season against visiting Central Florida on Thursday night, and every SEC game involving the Gamecocks will have more intrigue now.


FEATURED PRODUCT


 

Rivals.com is your source for: College Football | Football Recruiting | College Basketball | Basketball Recruiting | College Baseball | High School | College Merchandise
Site-specific editorial/photos Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved. This website is an officially and independently operated source of news and information not affiliated with any school or team.
About | Advertise with Us | Contact | Privacy Policy | About our Ads | Terms of Service | Copyright/IP policy | Yahoo! Sports - NBC Sports Network

Statistical information 2007 STATS LLC All Rights Reserved.