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SPRING GAMES AND TAILGATING
April 20, 2006

SCS.comIf you live in a college football town like I do, you have probably started smelling the grills firing up and seeing the fans rolling into town. It is spring game season, and this time of year is a great one for college football fans. The previous season is all but forgotten over winter, and every team has a fresh start. New players take the field for the first time, and spring games are a great way to see the future of your football team.

Being that this is the first article of the new year, I'm going to keep it simple. Some minor rule changes and the best early-season showdowns are the things to cover at this point in the year.

RULE CHANGES

The first and most important rule changes involve the replay system started in the Big Ten in 2004 and used in most conferences in 2005. This year the replay system is required of all teams, not just those conferences who choose to use it. The procedure is the same as last year, with every play being reviewed in the booth by the replay official, and that official can make the call to stop play and have the referee review the previous play.

The added wrinkle is the addition of the coach's challenge, much like the NFL challenge rules. While every play will be reviewed upstairs as usual, a coach can call a timeout and challenge a call on the field just as in the NFL. If they lose the challenge, the timeout is charged against them, and they cannot challenge for the remainder of the game. If they win the challenge, the timeout is given back to the team, and they can challenge again later on.

This system seems to take the best part of the NFL system and mesh it with the well-designed college system. The last two years in the Big Ten have been so nice because almost every game feels like it is fair when every play gets reviewed, and there is generally no disputing the videotape. This has been an improvement long-needed in college football, and 2006 is the year of fruition.

Related to the replay rules being added, college football is trying to shorten the length of games to combat the added time replays take up. Halftime has been shortened to 15 minutes instead of 20, the clock starts on a kickoff when the ball is kicked (instead of when the ball is touched by the receiving team), and the clock will start on a change of possession when the ball is ready for play.

The first two changes again make college football run more quickly like the NFL, whose games take 30 minutes fewer on average. The change of possession rule is different, and it will be interesting to see how much time this saves when combined with the other rule changes. The only other step college football could take is to adopt the NFL system of not stopping the clock on first downs, but I doubt this will happen unless there continues to be complaints about how long the games take to complete.

EARLY SEASON SHOWDOWNS

Notre Dame at Georgia Tech, 9/2/06 - This could be a dangerous game for the "vaunted" Irish as they come in off a spanking at the Fiesta Bowl last season. A lot of people think Notre Dame will take over college football, but I think they will have a tough time repeating the great success from last season. Georgia Tech is a sleeper in the ACC this season, and an early-season home opener against big boys like Notre Dame could make the rest of the country respect the Yellow Jackets.

Florida State at Miami, 9/4/06 - This is now an annual ACC showdown in the first weekend, and every year this one does not disappoint. Miami needs to recover after an awful season last year, while Florida State is trying to defend their conference crown. The winner of this game pretty much has a downhill schedule until Virginia Tech comes to town, so this could be a BCS determiner in week one.

Penn State at Notre Dame, 9/9/06 - It gets no easier for Notre Dame, as their schedule is always one of the toughest in college football (last year excepted). Penn State is not the same without Michael Robinson running the helm, but Paterno's defense is still strong enough to give the Irish fits. This game is exactly like the Fiesta Bowl last year, but Penn State is not nearly as explosive as the "Big-Play Buckeyes" were, so ND should come out of South Bend with a win.

Ohio State at Texas, 9/9/06 - Remember this game last year? Well the winner will be on their way to the national title game, and the loser will have to hope for some lucky breaks. The best game of the regular season for the second straight year, don't be surprised if this goes down to the last possession again. Texas will be favored, but OSU is a much more legitimate title threat if they can survive their first road trip of the year with a victory.

Nebraska at USC, 9/16/06 - Is Nebraska finally good again? They will find out in a hurry with a trip to the land of Troy. USC has not lost all that much from a team which should have won the title last year, and they will be tough to beat. Just like Georgia Tech in week one, we will know if Nebraska is for real after this game.

LSU at Auburn, 9/16/06 - Another early in-conference showdown, and this actually makes Florida at Tennessee (on the same day) look like a JV game. This battle of Tigers should decide the SEC West title, in my opinion. These teams are too good to lose two more games to other SEC teams, so this game is the most critical SEC contest all season.

Wisconsin at Michigan, 9/23/06 - Big Ten play starts this week with two absolute showdowns (the other being Penn State at Ohio State). Wisconsin has a great chance to win the league this season by missing Ohio State on the schedule, so they will need a win in the Big House to get that dream going. Michigan should be better than their disappointing 7-5 last year, and you have to believe Chad Henne and Mike Hart will get their games going this year. The loser of this game will be chasing the pack for the rest of the season.

We have plenty of September action this year, with five full weekends of college football. The gemstone again is Ohio State and Texas, but there will be many other good games relevant to BCS title chances in the early season.

I'll be back next month with a look at the results of the spring games, Heisman hopefuls, players who (unexpectedly) returned for a senior season, coaching changes, and transfers who will make an immediate impact. Have a good April!

 > Talk about it in The College Corner...

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