Opinion: Will the Dawgs stop barking in '08?
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on August 13, 2008 1:36 PM
As summer fades and fall two-a-days are completed, the anticipation of a new college football season runs rampant.
Teams dreaming of championships will be the theme when the season kicks off in less than three weeks. However, some dreams will become nightmares as teams' title aspirations end.
Ultimately, just one team will raise that crystal football in January in Miami.
Here's a look at what makes a handful of squads national title contenders and what could prevent each of them from standing on top of the college football world:
The Bulldogs were one of the hottest teams in the nation at the end of last season. They return 19 starters from a club which finished 11-2, ranked second in the nation and won the Sugar Bowl.
Junior quarterback Matthew Stafford and sophomore tailback Knowshon Moreno return to lead a potent offense that averaged 32 points and nearly 500 yards a game in 2007.
A brutal schedule with trips to up-and-coming Arizona State and Southeastern Conference foes LSU, Auburn and Kentucky along with the annual showdown with Florida in Jacksonville will challenge the fortitude of head coach Mark Richt's team all season. Factor in a possible SEC title game and Georgia should easily be the nation's most battled-tested squad come bowl season.
The Trojans' title hopes experienced a minor setback recently when starting quarterback Mark Sanchez dislocated his left kneecap during practice. Sanchez is expected to return in time for the season opener at Virginia.
The health of its signal caller along with the outcome of a Sept. 13 showdown with Ohio State could go a long way in determining USC's fate. Finding a game breaker at receiver and replacing All-American nose tackle Sedrick Ellis is crucial.
With their toughest Pac-10 tests versus Arizona State and Cal (both games are at the L.A. Coliseum) with the return of tailbacks Chauncey Washington and Joe McKnight, the Trojans could be a win over Ohio State from playing for a championship.
Losers of two consecutive national championship games, the Buckeyes return running back Chris 'Beanie' Wells, quarterback Todd Boeckman and standout linebacker James Laurinaitis.
OSU will need another big season from Wells, a 1,600-yard rusher a year ago, as well as receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline. Boeckman will need to cut back on the 14 interceptions he threw last season, including six in the final three games.
Trips to USC, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois along with home dates against Penn State and rival Michigan stand between the Buckeyes and a third straight title game.
The Sooners were the class of the Big 12 in 2007 along with upstarts Missouri and Kansas. However, OU failed to finish off the season in style after getting routed 48-28 by West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.
Quarterback Sam Bradford, tailbacks Allen Patrick and DeMarco Murray and wideout Malcolm Kelly return to an offense that scored 42 points a game in 2007. Shoring up a pass defense that surrendered a combined 816 yards in the Sooners' three losses last season will be key.
The annual Red River Shootout with Texas, a trip to Texas A&M and home games versus Kansas and Texas Tech should be a healthy measuring stick for OU.
Reigning Heisman winner Tim Tebow returns to guide a Gators squad that went 9-4 a year ago.
Junior Percy Harvin, Florida's leading rusher and receiver is back for what was the SEC's top offense in 2007. But the Gators must improve the SEC's worst pass defense if Urban Meyer's club hopes to return to its national title form of 2006.
Contests at Tennessee and Arkansas, coupled with home games against LSU, Kentucky and South Carolina, and the annual meeting with Georgia in Jacksonville should dictate the Gators' bowl destination.
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