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“2002
Who are the top five Heisman Trophy candidates going in to the 2002 college football season?
There doesn’t seem to be one guy that stands out as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy this year. The top three guys on my list, however, do seem to be very obvious choices. They are all QBs; each of them is either a junior or senior. QB Rex Grossman of Florida would probably have to be my first choice right now. He’s just a junior but has piled up spectacular numbers in his first two seasons for the Gators. WR Taylor Jacobs should be his main target. A very close second would probably have to go the senior QB from Marshall, Byron Leftwich. He really started his Heisman campaign a few months early by showing off in the Herd’s bowl game in which they came from behind to win in dramatic fashion. The Herd also appears to be the best team in the MAC this season. The third slot, in my opinion, is filled by Ken Dorsey, a senior QB from Miami. He led his team to the Rose Bowl last year and won the National Title. The Hurricanes may be the best team of the three mentioned so far, which is an obvious advantage when the votes are sent in. I couldn’t decide on a final two candidates, but there are several other guys who could make a run at the honor if they have great seasons. Michigan State WR Charles Rogers, Louisville QB Dave Ragone, Tennessee QB Casey Clausen, and Texas RB Cedric Benson all have chances to make a run at the 2002 Heisman Trophy. Enhancing each of these players’ chances is the fact that each of these four teams (Michgan State, Louisville, Tennessee, and Texas) have the potential to have super seasons.

Will there be an undefeated team in college football this season? If so, who has the best chance to get through the season without a blemish?
I was wrong last year when I said that there wasn’t going to be an undefeated team in college football, but I’m going to say it again. The teams who have a shot to go without a defeat also have extremely tough schedules. Florida State has road games at Maryland, Louisville, Miami, and NC State as well as a home game with the Florida Gators. Miami has road trips to Florida and Tennessee along with home contests against Boston College and Virginia Tech. Michigan has road games at Ohio State and Illinois to go along with home games against Washington, Penn State, and Michigan State. Ohio State, another Big Ten contender, has difficult home contests versus Texas Tech, Washington State, and Michigan as well as tough road games at Cincinnati, Purdue, and Illinois. Colorado, a contender for the Big XII North, takes on Colorado State in Denver. CU also has challenging home games with USC and Texas Tech to go along with road trips to UCLA, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. Nebraska has road trips to Penn State, Iowa State, Texas A&M, and Kansas State as well as home games with Texas and Colorado. Oklahoma’s tough games: Alabama, vs Texas, Colorado, at Texas A&M, and Texas Tech. Texas, yet another Big XII contender, has road games at UNC, Kansas State, Nebraska, and Texas Tech along with home contests versus Oklahoma (in Dallas), Iowa State, and Texas A&M. Washington State has road contests at Ohio State and UCLA as well as home games versus USC, Oregon, and Washington. Tennessee’s difficult contests: Florida, at Georgia, at South Carolina, and Miami. When you look at that, it’s hard for me to see anyone coming out without a loss. I’ll say it again this season: No one will come out of the season without at least one loss.

Looking ahead to the season from a national standpoint, what five games will have the biggest impact on the college football world this season?
I would rate the top five games in the country this season in this order: (1) Florida State at Miami, (2) Oklahoma vs Texas, (3) Miami at Tennessee, (4) Michigan at Ohio State, and (5) Miami at Florida. The FSU/Miami matchup is right in the middle of the season for both teams. The winner of this game will likely have a great shot at reaching this year’s National Title Game. The ‘Canes have the advantage since the game is in Coral Gables. OU/TX has become even bigger over the past few years than it was before. The winner of this one has the inside track on several things: the Big XII South Championship, the Big XII Championship Game, and the second spot in the National Title Game. This game is also on October 12, which will likely turn out to be the one of the biggest days in college football this year. Miami/TN will become more important if the ‘Canes win their contest against FSU. UT will have already played games vs Florida, at Georgia, and at South Carolina prior to this contest, so the Vols will know where a win here will put them. I have to feel that Miami can move themselves that much closer to Tempe with a win here, while the Vols will need a victory here to stay in the race considering they will have already gotten at least one loss so far in the season, in my opinion. I think the Michigan/Ohio State game will be for the Big Ten title. The winner here, depending on what the rest of their season has been like, could be making a run at the National Championship Game. This game is already a rivalry and scheduled as the last game of the year for each team which just adds to the intrigue. The Miami/Florida contest is the second game of the year for both teams. This is probably a must-win for the Gators as it’s a home game, and they still have the extremely tough SEC schedule ahead. If Miami loses, though, it won’t be the end of their hopes since it’s early in the year, and they still have huge matchups against FSU and at Tennessee to make up for this game. The winner takes an early edge in the national title hunt, but the loser is definitely not out of the race considering the timing of this game. There are a few other matchups across the country that fell just short of this top five list. The TN/Georgia matchup will give one team an edge in the SEC East as will the Florida/Tennessee game. The Apple Cup (Washington/Washington State) should determine the PAC 10 winner, but I don’t think either of these teams will be in position to be close enough to get into the Fiesta Bowl. Florida/Florida State is always huge. Both of these teams could either be in or out of the national title hunt by this point in the season. Colorado at Oklahoma is probably the second biggest Big XII matchup of the year. This could be a preview of the Big XII title game. If the ‘Buffs sneak out of Norman with a ‘W’, they could put themselves right in the hunt for a Fiesta Bowl bid. The loser of this game will still have a chance to get revenge in the title game later in the season.

Will the SEC have a national title contender or is the conference just too even across the board?
The latter. The SEC is just too competitive to have a participant in the Fiesta Bowl this season. Tennessee is probably the conference’s best bet, but the Vols have to take on Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Miami. Two of those games (GA and SC) are on the road. I don’t see the Vols getting through UGA with a win (at least in July). So now you look at UGA. The Dawgs have games at South Carolina, Alabama, and Auburn as well as home games with Tennessee, Georgia Tech, and a Jacksonville contest with the Gators. Moving along to the Gators. UF has to go to Tennessee and FSU as well as take on LSU and South Carolina at home in addition to the UGA contest. South Carolina will be cancelled out somewhere along the way. Over in the West, there’s no hope of anyone making a serious run at the National Title. Each of the six teams has enough weaknesses to eliminate them, but each team could pull off the Western Division title and make a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.

Which two conferences are most likely to place the teams in this year’s National Championship Game in Tempe, Arizona?
The Big XII and either the ACC or the Big East. The Big XII is stacked at the top. Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, and Nebraska could each make a run at the title game. As the season wears on, two of these four will likely fall back in the pack a little, but whoever wins the Big XII title game should march into Tempe. However, as we saw last season, if a surprise team sneaks up and defeats the favorite in the championship game, we could see the third place team from the Big XII step into Tempe. I don’t think that that will happen two consecutive years though. The second spot will either be filled by a Big East member (Miami) or an ACC member (Florida State). Neither of these conferences is extremely tough, so these two teams should fare well in conference play. They’ll get a chance to go at each other in the middle of the season at Miami. Considering the fact that the Big Ten also appears to be down, that conference could also possibly sneak up and place a team in the Fiesta Bowl. I don’t believe that will happen though. The PAC 10 and SEC are too competitive from top to bottom to put a team in the National Title game. You should see many seven to nine win teams come out of these two conferences though.

After having a down season last year, will Florida State regain the top spot in the ACC or will Maryland or some other surprise team keep the crown from FSU again?
Florida State should regain their spot atop the ACC this season. The Seminoles return seven offensive and eight defensive starters as well as both kickers. FSU had only eight wins last season, but QB Chris Rix is back to lead the way. There isn’t a game on the schedule that the ‘Noles can’t win. Behind FSU, NC State appears to be the second best team in the conference. I think Maryland will slide from first down to third place this year while my surprise team in the ACC, Wake Forest, will move up to fourth place and have a winning season. Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Virginia will also have shots at .500+ records.

Can Baylor, Duke, Army, Navy, Vanderbilt, and Connecticut combine to have a ten-win season?
Yes, but barely. Baylor and Army could have three win seasons while Vanderbilt, Navy, and Connecticut should be able to get one or two wins each. If Duke can pull through with a win of its own, that would put this group of fine Division I college football teams over the ten-win mark. Consider this: Nebraska has won at least nine games every season for thirty-three consecutive seasons. These five teams won a combined ten games in 2002.

Will the state of Florida yet again have at least one team in the National Title Game this season?
The better question would be: How can they avoid it? Miami seems like a good bet, but so does Florida State. With Rex Grossman at QB, you can’t count out the Gators either. The most interesting thing is the fact that these teams each play each other this season. Of the two games each team gets against the other two teams, one of the games is home and the other away. I think that when it’s all said and done, one Florida team will come out as the best of the three teams. The winner of the mid-October matchup of Florida State and Miami will have the best shot in my opinion. If the ‘Noles win, they’ll have UF still to play but in Tallahassee. If Miami wins, they’ll have cleared that hurdle and already know the outcome of their game with UF, but they still have to take on Tennessee in Knoxville the next month. So to answer the question: Yes, there will be a Florida team in Tempe, and my guess is Miami.

Which conference will be the most competitive from top to bottom this season?
Although it's not overall the strongest conference in the country this season, the SEC is again the most competitive conference in the land. The East has four teams that could win that division. South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida all have shots to take the trip to Atlanta, and since the two worst teams in the league, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, are also in the East, it’s likely that all four of these teams in the Eastern Division will go bowling this year. Over in the West, it’s no different from the past few seasons: crazy! You can’t really pick a top team from that division that everybody can agree on. LSU is good and won it last year, but Rohan Davey and Josh Reed will be hard to replace. Alabama has a lot of talent, but do they really have anything to play for? Auburn has a ton of young players, so this might not be their year. Mississippi has Eli Manning but no defense to help keep the other team’s offense under control. Arkansas always seems to sneak in enough wins to go bowling. Mississippi State has a lot of talent but failed to meet expectations in 2001. With Kentucky and Vanderbilt ranked eleven and twelve in the conference, it’s legitimate to think you could rank the rest of the SEC 1-10 and by the season’s end have that order reversed. The teams in the SEC continue to beat each other up all season long, and it will likely cost the SEC a team in the National Championship game yet again.

Looking at each of the eleven conferences, who will be the surprise contender in each?
This is always one of my favorite categories. I love to root for the underdog. So with that thought, here’s a look at who I think will surprisingly shine in each conference this season:
ACC: Wake Forest.... The Deamon Deacons have eight returning starters on each side of the ball. Although the RB spot is a concern, Wake showed they were ready to take a step up last season by finishing an above-.500 6-5.
Big East: Boston College.... The Eagles have a very easy schedule this year and a total of sixteen starters returning. Although I doubt they’ll challenge Miami for the title, they could make a run at ten wins this season.
Big Ten: Michigan State.... The Spartans have fifteen returning starters, including QB Jeff Smoker and WR Charles Rogers, as well as a middle-of-the-pack schedule. I think they can take advantage of a weakened Big Ten and make some noise.
Big XII: Iowa State.... This would be Texas Tech if their schedule wasn’t so tough. ISU’s is too but just not quite as tough. QB Senece Wallace is one of fourteen returning starters (as well as both kickers).
CUSA: Cincinnati.... The Bearcats have been hanging around the top of CUSA for several years now, and they may finally break through. QB Gino Guidugli is only a sophomore but a good one. Sixteen starters return for Cincy.
MAC: Miami (OH).... This team is very talented but has an extremely tough non-conference schedule. Thirteen starters return, but look at the OOC opponents: at North Carolina, Iowa, at LSU, at Cincinnati. The Tar Heels better look out.
Mountain West: New Mexico.... The Lobos return fourteen starters after going 6-5 last season. They came up short of a bowl game but this year have five winnable non-conference games to help them make a run at postseason play.
PAC 10: Arizona.... The Wildcats return nine offensive players this year, including RB Clarence Farmer, from a team that fell one game short of a winning season in ‘01. Their OOC games will likely be the deciding factor to see if UA goes bowling.
SEC: South Carolina.... The Gamecocks only return nine starters and have a difficult non-conference schedule, but Lou Holtz has turned the program around since he arrived. With no clear leader in the East, the Gamecocks have a chance to sneak up and win it.
Sun Belt: Idaho.... It’s hard to pick a team here since North Texas and Middle TN will dominate. However, even though Idaho went 1-10 last year, fourteen starters return to a schedule with several winnable games. Somebody has to win third place.
WAC: Hawaii.... This teams continues to play well but still gets no respect. The Warriors went 9-3 last year and were the first team to beat BYU but got no bowl game. Maybe this year will be different.

How many conferences will have at least two teams in the top ten in the final college football polls of 2002?
Three. The SEC, Big XII, and PAC 10, the three strongest of the big six conferences in college football, should each have two teams in the final top ten in the college football polls this year. The Big Ten, Big East, and ACC will likely each have one team in the top ten. That leaves one available spot for a team like Marshall or Louisville to step in and have a great season. The Big XII could possibly have three teams in the top ten though if another team doesn’t step up and claim the last spot.

Which lower-tier Division I teams will make the most noise in 2002?
Out of CUSA, the Louisville Cardinals have QB Dave Ragone returning to lead the offense and ten defensive starters to help the cause as well. A couple of OOC games at Colorado State and versus Florida State will decide if this team will rise to the top ten in the nation or just be the top dog in CUSA. Marshall, out of the MAC, also has a great QB to lead the way. Byron Leftwich is back and has a shot to win the Heisman Trophy while leading the Herd. Marshall opens up at Virginia Tech, but things settle down after that. If they pull an upset in Blacksburg, the Herd could go through this season without a loss. Also out of the MAC, there are a few other teams that aren’t heard about much that should make some noise in that conference. UCF, Miami (OH), Bowling Green, and Northern Illinois are the top candidates in my opinion to make it to the MAC Championship Game. The Utah Utes and Colorado State Rams, who have made themselves known over the past few seasons, appear to be the top two contenders in the Mountain West. If these teams don’t beat up on each other too much, they could each make a run at a top fifteen ranking. Middle Tennessee is still an extremely young Division I school, yet the Blue Raiders made some noise in the state of Tennessee last year by knocking off SEC-member Vanderbilt. MTSU takes their team to four SEC schools this season (Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Vandy). If the Blue Raiders pull out a win or two here, they could vault themselves towards the top 25. However, the rest of the schedule isn’t too tough so MTSU should be able to capture eight to ten wins. Note to Tide, Vols, ‘Cats, and ‘Dores: Don’t take MTSU lightly. The WAC has several teams that could shine this season. Louisiana Tech surprised a lot of people by winning that conference last year. The Bulldogs are one of the front-runners again this season. Winning a home contest against Oklahoma State would be a big step for LA Tech. Boise State also fared well in the WAC last year as they tied with Fresno State for second place. Both of these teams, the Broncos and FSU Bulldogs, are looking to step up and challenge LA Tech. The Hawaii Warriors also have a shot at this year’s title. Which ever team steps up to win the title could also step into the top 25.

Which coaches are on the hot seat going into this season, and who may be the first to go?
Carl Franks from Duke is probably at the top of the hot list. The Blue Devils have lost 23 straight games and haven’t gone bowling in 22 years. It’s amazing that a school so dominant in hoops can’t even compete in football. Kevin Steele at Baylor is not too far behind. The Bears haven’t won a Big XII game since he’s been there. The Bears won three games last season which is the same number of conference games they’ve won the previous six years. UCLA’s Bob Toledo and New Mexico’s Rocky Long are also on the hot seat, but I think both of these teams will fare well in the 2002 season. Duke’s season doesn’t look promising, and Baylor’s only look slightly better. Either or both of these coaches could be out of a job by (or before) the end of the season.

The top six active winning streaks belong to the following teams: Miami (12), Colorado (6), Fresno State (6), LSU (6), South Florida (6), and Stanford (5). Which of these streaks is most likely to end first, and which one(s) have a chance to continue right through the 2002 season?
The Hurricanes’ streak could end as early as a road contest at Florida on September 7. If it doesn’t end there, Florida State visits Miami on October 12, and the Hurricanes travel to Tennessee on November 9. The Buffaloes take on in-state rival Colorado State in Denver on August 31 and travel to UCLA on September 21. If the streak hasn’t ended by then, road trips to Oklahoma (November 2) and Nebraska (November 29) are good possibilities. Fresno State travels to Wisconsin on August 23 and Oregon on September 7. Other tough games come at Boise State (October 19) and at Louisiana Tech (November 2), but I think the streak will long be over by either of these games. LSU travels to Virginia Tech to open the season on September 1 and then to Florida on October 12. South Florida travels to Arkansas on September 14 and Oklahoma on September 28. Their streak will be over before the first month of the season is. The Stanford Cardinal go to Boston College to open up the season (September 7) and must also go to Notre Dame on October 5. They won’t survive both of those contests. I don’t see any of these streaks continuing right through this season, but if one did, it would have to be the Miami Hurricanes’. The Fresno State, South Florida, and Stanford streaks will likely be the first to go. LSU’s may also go early if the Tigers fall to Virginia Tech. Colorado’s will almost surely end, and I think Miami’s will as well.

Q & A with Jonathan.
Southern College Sports