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By Michael BrownSentinel Contributing Writer
With two weeks to go before the 2010 college football season officially is kicked off, the local and national landscape is rife with potential storylines as teams throughout the nation work towards the coveted Bowl Championship Series title.
While controversy swirls around some programs, optimism fills the locker rooms of others as experts and fans alike argue over the merits of the pre-season polls.
After an off-season of sanctions, reshuffling of the athletic department hierarchy, and high profile transfers, the start of official practice would seem to be a rallying point for the beleaguered Trojans to plant the seeds for an "us against the world" outlook for the season. However, it has been anything but.
Critics who pilloried USC with potshots and called it a renegade program have been given more fodder the past three weeks. First, starting fullback Stanley Havili punched sophomore T.J. Bryant, a potential starter in the secondary, and broke his cheekbone in a spat during a practice. Bryant's expected to recover in time for one of the first two games, but the fisticuffs don't help an already thin defensive backfield.
Then, heralded freshman running back Dillon Baxter was suspended for the first game against Hawaii for violating team rules. The negative attention generated by these stories doesn't help a program already under a tremendous amount of scrutiny, and which is appealing the NCAA imposed sanctions.
From a numbers standpoint, Dillon's loss won't kill the Trojans against Hawaii's putty-soft defense, and the presence of returnees like Allen Bradford, CJ Gable, Marc Tyler and Curtis McNeal. But, as Pac-10 competition begins, the Trojans, down to 71 players due to transfers, will need every able-bodied roster player to weather injuries and attrition.
UCLA is picked 8th in the PAC-10, but safety Rahim Moore (#3, Dorsey HS) and linebacker Akeem Ayers (#10, Verbum Dei HS) look to prove the media wrong. (Photo by Jason Lewis)As UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel enters his third season, his plans on ending USC's "monopoly" in Los Angeles couldn't come at a better time. The only problem is, the Bruins haven't stepped foot on the gridiron for a game and he's already down a few pieces.
Defensive end Datone Jones broke his foot and could miss the entire season. Jones' loss could be monumental due to All-American Brian Price moving on to the NFL. The Bruins will be young on the defensive line, allowing teams to test its back seven. Safety Rahim Moore (Dorsey) and linebacker Akeem Ayers (Verbum Dei) are primed for big seasons, but they'll need some help.
Unfortunately, the situation on the offensive line appears to be even bleaker. Jeff Baca, who started every game last season, was ruled academically ineligible and is out pending an appeal with the NCAA. And Mike Harris, who also started every game last year, will miss the Kansas State opener after being suspended for violation of team rules.
Last year's blue chippers Stan Hasiak and Xavier Su'a-Filo will also miss the entire season. Hasiak will miss the season due to failing to meet NCAA eligibility requirements and Su'a-Filo who is going on a two-year Mormon mission.
The losses could spell doom for UCLA's newly implemented pistol offense, which coaches say will emphasize the running game. With a hobbled Kevin Prince under center, the Bruins may have a hard time moving the football unless one of the standout freshmen running backs finds his groove.
Alabama and Florida "ban" NFL scouts from practices
Alabama won the BCS title last year, and they look like they are going to make a run at it again this year. (Photo by Jeff Lewis)If there was a pre-season poll for they can't be serious/phony condemnation, 'Bama and Florida would be 1 and 1A in the rankings. Motivated by each university's desire to clamp down on unscrupulous agents, and force the NFL to intervene, Gators coach Urban Meyer and the Crimson Tide's Nick Saban, decided to temporarily ban pro scouts.
The word "temporarily" is key as both coaches know their success depends on recruiting five and four star players, who dream of parlaying their college success into lucrative NFL careers. The hypocrisy of championship coaches like Meyer and Saban is laughable because a major sticking point both use on the recruiting trail is the allure of playing at high profile programs and in front of scouts.
If either were really adamant about his principles and wanted reform, temporary would be jettisoned and changed to permanent. But neither is, so until then, the Grandstanding Award will be awaiting both coaches. It's a textbook example of window dressing and feigned outrage.
Preseason polls debut
The USA Today and ESPN.com both have defending national champ Alabama and Ohio State ranked No. 1 and 2 respectively. The consensus across the nation seems to be that both schools have the perfect amount of returning starters, underclassmen on the upswing and manageable schedules to make a run for the BCS prize.
The Tide is the odds-on favorite to repeat due to the return of Heisman winning running back Mark Ingram and super-sophomore Trent Richardson along with Greg McElroy at quarterback. Saban will have to compensate for all of the talent he lost to the NFL on the defensive side of the ball, but he may be able to allow young players time to grow with a more potent offense at his disposal. Dates at Arkansas and LSU could derail the Tide's chances.
Ohio State will go as far as junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor's arm and legs takes it. Pryor finished last season strong and many compare him to ex-Texas quarterback Vince Young when he led the Longhorns to a national title during his junior year. Pryor's emergence, coupled with a relatively easy schedule, may allow the Buckeyes an opportunity to play of the title.
The preseason polls are all just a guessing game and pretty meaningless for the most part. Every year, teams start out ranked high and finish playing in some mundane Christmas day bowl game. On the other end of the spectrum, many teams begin out of the rankings and rise due to actually going out on the field and proving they belong.
There is an exception this year however. Boise State's Broncos, who don't belong to a BCS automatic qualifier conference, are ranked in the top-five of most polls. Typically, school's like Boise State and Utah begin seasons ranked in the teens and is unable to move up when the dominoes fall in front of them.
The Broncos will be tested early when it plays Virginia Tech September 6 on a neutral field. If Boise State can defeat the Hokies, they will be favored to run the table and may break up the big conference monopoly on the BCS.