January 12, 2007

Top 10 Storylines to look for in 2007

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The 2007 college football season is less than eight months away. Though it will be hard-pressed to equal the '06 campaign for suspense, surprises and zaniness in general, there are already several interesting storylines to watch.

No less than 21 Division I-A programs will have new head coaches, including one that has thrown the already outrageous salary structure completely out of kilter. Finding out which programs made wise investments and which wasted money is always a hot topic.

Upstart programs like Boise State, Hawaii, Kentucky and Rutgers will try to build on last season's surprising success. Powerhouses like Florida State, Nebraska and Miami seek returns to prominence.

Will Arkansas RB Darren McFadden win the Heisman Trophy? If not, will Rutgers RB Ray Rice or West Virginia RB Steve Slaton or Michigan RB Mike Hart or Louisville QB Brian Brohm. That is, if he doesn't opt for the NFL Draft.

Who will play quarterback at Oklahoma? Who will play quarterback at Notre Dame? Can Kentucky, which already knows Andre' Woodson is its quarterback, win bowl games in consecutive years for the first time since the 1950-51 seasons?

Will Southern Cal keep winning despite all its losses?

Those are just a few of the storylines that lie ahead 2007. Here's an alphabetical look at 10 of the most intriguing programs to keep tabs on next season:

Top 10 2007 storylines
1. Alabama: Why is Alabama on this list? Oh, there are only about 32 million reasons. Mike Shula was fired for a 6-6 finish (he didn't coach in the Independence Bowl loss) and another loss to Auburn. Nick Saban then accepted an eight-year, $32 million offer to become the Tide's fifth head coach in eight years. Saban has an impressive collegiate résumé with a 91-42-1 record at Toledo, Michigan State and LSU – including a national championship in 2003. Saban is inheriting 14 returning starters – including quarterback John Parker Wilson – from a team that lost five games by eight or fewer points. The Crimson Tide could be significantly improved in their first season under Saban.
2. Arkansas: Do-it-all running back Darren McFadden will enter the season as the Heisman Trophy favorite, but even his amazing ability might be relegated to sideshow status in the Ozarks. The quarterback competition between junior Casey Dick and sophomore Mitch Mustain, the highly touted recruit from nearby Springdale, could be fascinating. If Mustain doesn't win the job his mother's response may be equally fascinating. Will she ask for another meeting with Athletic Director Frank Broyles?
3. Boise State: So what do you do for an encore? The Broncos finished as the nation's only undefeated team and upset Big 12 champion Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. The exciting victory showed that maybe champions from minor conferences deserve a fair shot at the national championship after all. The Broncos lose several seniors, including QB Jared Zabransky, but All-American RB Ian Johnson returns.
4. Hawaii: Unless he changes his mind soon and opts to enter the NFL Draft, QB Colt Brennan - who threw 58 touchdown passes in 2006 - will be back to lead the nation's No. 1 offense. With receivers Davone Bess and Jason Rivers also returning, the Warriors offense figures to be just as exciting in 2007. If Boise State falters, Hawaii could be next season's mid-major that is thrust into the BCS discussion. With defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville around, that could be an interesting conversation.
5. Kentucky: The Wildcats are so hot they're winning after the season. Running back Rafael Little announced he would return for his senior season. That means coach Rich Brooks will have seven starters back on offense, including slick QB Andre' Woodson. The defense will have eight starters back from an 8-5 team that defeated Clemson in the Music City Bowl. Could Brooks go from the hot seat in 2006 to the SEC driver's seat in 2007? Uh, not likely. But there is no reason to believe the Wildcats won't get better.
6. Miami: For years, many in college football questioned why Randy Shannon wasn't a head coach? Well, now he is. The incredibly successful former Hurricanes' defensive coordinator was promoted to head coach to replace the fired Larry Coker. Shannon only has to replace four senior starters, but junior LB Jon Beason and TE Greg Olsen declared for the NFL Draft. Restoring Miami's attitude may prove much more of an issue than replacing starters.
7. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have steadily improved in three seasons under Bill Callahan, and might be the Big 12 favorite in 2007. Transfer Sam Keller, a former starter at Arizona State, will ease the loss of QB Zac Taylor. The Cornhuskers are set at running back, wide receiver and in the offensive line. The entire defensive line must be replaced, but the return of corner Zackary Bowman from injury will be a major upgrade in the secondary.
8. Notre Dame: Charlie Weis has been hailed as a coaching genius for two seasons in South Bend. We'll see how Fighting Irish fans feel after a season without quarterback Brady Quinn, receiver Jeff Samardzija and running back Darius Walker. Tackle Sam Young, tight end John Carlson and center John Sullivan are the only returning starters on offense, and the defense is almost as depleted. Perhaps the most intriguing question is when five-star QB Jimmy Clausen, ranked the nation's No. 1 overall prospect by Rivals.com, will get into the starting lineup.
9. Rutgers: Coach Greg Schiano turned down a chance to coach at Miami and opted to remain in New Jersey. He must feel like the Knights are capable of building on last season's remarkable 11-2 finish. The offensive line has to be repaired, but bona fide Heisman Trophy contender Ray Rice returns after rushing for 1,687 yards and 19 TDs last season.
10. Southern California: All three of the Trojans' recruiting classes from 2004-2006 were ranked best in the nation by Rivals.com, and this year's class is currently ranked No. 5. USC is the popular pick as the preseason No. 1. QB John David Booty is back for a senior season, and the defense should be loaded. But the Trojans have several standouts to replace. They lose senior receiver Steve Smith and center Ryan Kalil. All-American receiver Dwayne Jarrett has declared for the NFL Draft, and tackle Sam Baker and defensive lineman Lawrence Jackson might follow suit. The Trojans also lost outstanding kicker Mario Danelo, who died last week.


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