A Sporting Chance: 2008 PJM NCAA Football Guess Fest

Rick Moran

Every red-blooded American sports fan loves college football. His dad and granddad probably loved it too, passing on a love of the game along with memories of crisp, fall days with the scent of burning leaves in the nostrils.

They don't burn leaves anymore and the college game has almost certainly reached the saturation point what with games on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night. Nevertheless, I would still rather watch a college game between two teams in which I have no rooting interest than a pro game featuring a couple of NFL also-rans. The color, the enthusiasm of the fans and the players, and the sheer effort of the college boys makes watching the kids an all around enjoyable experience.

The NFL certainly has its attractions - a satisfying complexity along with marvelous athletes. But the pro game lacks heart at times. Compared to the collegiate contests, the professionals are wanting in spirit and excitement.

I like the idea that most college football fans have regional favorites. Which conference plays the best ball? The most exciting? The toughest? As a lifelong Big Ten fan I recognize that other conferences may have it all over us in razzle-dazzle, and even talent. But there's a reason Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin all vie for the national championship just about every year. Line play counts when the weather turns nasty and the Indian summer days turn into brutal cold rain and snow; tough kids playing a tough game, butting heads in a test of physical stamina and mental discipline.

This year, offense will be dominant among the top teams. Last year's champion Florida will score early and often. But a suspect secondary and inexperienced linebackers will probably mean the Gators will be in a lot of high scoring shootouts this year. Most polls don't rate them higher than 6 or 7.

Here's my top ten preseason best in the college game:

1. USC

The quarterback with the best name in the country - John David Booty - will take the Trojans to the Promised Land. Early test against Nebraska crucial. They play in South Bend this year so maybe Notre Dame will shake down a little thunder (just kidding).

2. Texas

Young gun Colt McCoy is back in the saddle and should make the Longhorns' pass offense the best in the country. A superior D-line should be able to shut down most teams' running games. Watch for a spirited game against TCU early and the October 6 showdown with Oklahoma. Big 12 championship game (if they get that far) is always a toughie.

3. LSU

The Tigers will get it done the old fashioned way this year; superior defense and an excellent running game. QB Matt Flynn may not be a star but he's got some great targets, especially WR Early Doucet. A test early against Virginia Tech and a big game October 6 against Florida.

4. West Virginia

The Mountaineers are a great team who may be frozen out of the BCS title game due to an inferior schedule. No matter. They will be fun to watch what with double-trouble QB Patrick White who averaged more than 100 yards rushing last year while completing 65% of his passes. RB Steve Slayton is a slasher with breakaway speed. On defense, they play an unusual 3-3-5 which they hope will improve a pass defense that finished 109th in the country last year. Big game against Maryland early. Then a shoot-out with Louisville later, which should determine the Big East champ.

5. Virginia Tech

The Hokies might be the BCS sleeper team this year. A swarming, hard hitting defense awaits their opponents led by linebackers Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall. On offense, watch as they give the ball to RB Brandon Ore early and often. Injured much of last year with a bad ankle, Ore still gained 1600 yards. Healthy, he just might be one of the top 2 or 3 backs in the country. But for Va Tech to make it to the title game, QB Sean Glennon must improve on his so-so season last year. The early test against LSU will be an indicator whether the Hokies will compete for BCS glory.

6. Oklahoma

Uncertainty at quarterback may stifle the Sooner's offense. Either Joey Halzle or Sam Bradford will be tossing the ball to a talented receiver corps including Malcolm Kelly, a 6'4" WR with flypaper hands. No such problem at RB as Allen Patrick returns to strike fear into opposing defenses. A huge, young defensive line will likely throttle the opponents running game. Big game early against Miami at home and then the 10/6 showdown with the Longhorns at Texas.

7. Michigan

Most polls have the Wolverines ranked better but frankly, it would be a great season if they finished in the top ten. A tough schedule that includes back to back late season contests with Wisconsin and Ohio State as well as the usual bruising Big Ten match-ups means that QB Chad Henne has his work cut out for him. He'll have a lot of help with the best offensive line in the nation making holes for Mike Hart. Stellar defense will take them a long way.

8. Florida

A lights out offense will have to outscore opponents thanks to a relatively young, questionable defense. Tim Tebow takes the reins full time at QB after being shuttled in and out last year. He's got a good enough arm. But at 235 pounds, he's a load as a runner. Big early contest with Tennessee may reveal a lot about this team.

9. Wisconsin

Coach Barry Alverez may be gone but the team he built is still there. A solid offense will line up in front of probably Tyler Donovan. But the heart and soul of the offense will be banger RB P.J. Hill. Defense has some gamers with an excellent line. A weak schedule will help the Badgers stay in it but they play Michigan and Ohio State back to back late in the year.

10. Louisville

Is there a better QB in the country than Brian Brohm? Heisman voters will be asking themselves that question all year. The kid is a classic; 6'4", 225 lbs with a quick and accurate release. And it doesn't hurt that he has 6'6" Mario Urrutia to toss the ball to either. With Groza Award winner Art Carmody as the kicker, this Cardinal offense will be sweet. Opposing teams should be able to run on the Cardinals and they have questionable help in the D-backfield. An otherwise weak schedule will see them tested late against West Virginia and Rutgers.

Who are your top teams for this year?

Rick Moran blogs at Right Wing Nut House.