Game-day preparation

Terry Bowden
Yahoo! Sports

Although most of you college football fans want nothing but answers at this time of year, some of you don't even know the questions. So, to keep you from looking stupid (which is what we football sickos call people who aren't football sickos) standing around the water cooler, here are a few insights that will make you look like you know what you are talking about.

How will the offseason tragedy at Virginia Tech impact its football team?

I am scheduled to broadcast Virginia Tech's opening game against East Carolina for Westwood One Radio.

I have already spent considerable time pondering how the ACC-favorite Hokies will respond to the tragedy that took 33 lives on their campus back on April 16.

I guess it is fair to ask how this will impact the team. But the real question – and maybe I should say the real answer – is not how the tragedy will affect the football season but how the football season will affect the tragedy.

I was moved to tears watching the memorial service when the students, faculty and local community came together and held hands as they recited traditional Virginia Tech football cheers. There is no doubt in my mind that when the ball is kicked off Sept. 1 that same feeling of togetherness will reverberate throughout the stadium.

Isn't that all that matters?

Can Southern California go wire to wire?

It's almost embarrassing to pick USC to win the national championship this year.

I mean everybody and their brother is picking the Trojans to win it all and it's hard to come across sounding like an original thinker. But unless you are hell bent on running an underdog up the championship flagpole, there really is no other pick going into the season.

USC has 16 starters back from last year's second-ranked team that includes Pete Carroll's best and fastest defense ever, plus a talented, veteran quarterback in John David Booty. And, although their schedule appears to be quite formidable, it includes no teams in the nation's top 10 and only three that are currently ranked. So, yes, they can and will go wire to wire.

The most exciting play in college football will be the kickoff return.

The best rule change to come about in a long while will be implemented this season when the ball is moved back from the 35 to the 30-yard line on kickoffs.

What was once one of the most exciting plays in college football has become nothing more than an opportunity for the spectator to spend a little more time in the bathroom or at the concession stand.

Just as players have become bigger, stronger and faster, so too have the kickers' legs. Touchbacks have become the norm.

By moving the ball back to the 30, almost every kickoff must now be returned. More and more teams will put their best athletes in the game to return kicks and not only will the fans see more big plays, but field position will be impacted on almost every return.

Coaching changes that will make the biggest differences.

Alabama is determined to be a football power again so they opened up the purse strings for new head coach Nick Saban to the tune of $4 million per year.

This is about $1 million more than the going rate for top coaches in college football. Many people think those guys are crazy and you know what? They are! They're crazy about college football, and this time their efforts to throw money at their problems (see overzealous boosters) will work. … just don't expect it all to happen this year. …

Dennis Erickson will shake things up in the Pac-10. Folks might question his loyalty to programs, but you can't question his loyalty to offensive football. He will have Arizona State rockin' and rollin' by the end of the season. …

The first thing the University of Miami needs to do to get its struggling football program turned around is to find a few playmakers on offense. The first thing new head coach Randy Shannon did at Miami was take the names off of the back of the jerseys so the players would worry less about making a name for themselves. I'm not sure that I understand the logic, but I like the way he's thinking. Discipline and a team first/me second attitude is just what the doctor ordered down in South Florida. …

Butch Davis was recognized as one of the best recruiters in college football for the job he did while at Miami. Every coach I have known for the past 15 years has felt that North Carolina is one of the best jobs in the country if a guy can recruit. … sounds like the perfect storm to me. …

And finally, Bobby Bowden didn't hang up the cleats at Florida State but he did bring a whole new offensive staff down to Tallahassee. Plus, he brought back former right-hand man Chuck Amato from North Carolina State to help with the defense. Things are about to get real interesting again in Tally. …

First impressions are important, but three's a charm.

You have to wonder how two of the biggest names in college coaching will do in their third year at their respective universities … the first third year as a head coach anywhere for both of them.

While Urban Meyer won the national championship last season in his second year with Florida, continuing a pattern from Bowling Green and Utah of winning big in his second year, it will be interesting to see if he can sustain success.

Charlie Weis is still struggling to prove he can be any different than the last two coaches at Notre Dame.

Did Weis have his best, quickest shot at the national title with veteran Brady Quinn at the helm, or will junior quarterback Evan Sharpley – not freshman Jimmy Clausen – be the guy who takes Notre Dame and their Super Bowl ring wearing coach to the Promised Land?

Remember Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz all won the national championship in their third season at Notre Dame.

I want my C-TV.

Conference Television, that is. With the Big Ten officially launching its own network on Aug. 30, and the Mountain West Sports Network entering its second year, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the SEC is seriously considering putting together its own network.

College football is not the NFL (thank goodness). There are only 32 teams in the NFL and every fan knows a little bit about each of those teams. But with 119 teams at college football's highest level playing almost exclusively regional schedules, folks in one region don't have a clue about folks in another region.

While there are exceptions to the rule (Notre Dame), most people are enamored with the college football teams in the conference or region of the country where they live (or used to live). Sure, you'll find people on the West Coast who will watch a MAC or Conference USA game just because it's on, but the vast majority of fans want to watch their team play other teams in their region and they couldn't give a flip about your team playing other teams in your region.

In this era of instant information and access to more football games than ever, it only makes sense that the conferences would start to figure out ways to give the fans what they want: regionalized coverage, and tons of it.

I don't know whether the Big Ten Network will be a big profit maker this year, but just as cable, satellite television and niche TV have found their place beside network television, and internet web sites are competing with traditional print media, and satellite radio has established itself along with the free airwaves, conference and regional sports television is here to stay. … and quite selfishly, from the football fan and job seeking broadcaster's point of view, the more stations the merrier.

One last comment on the P word.

What a topsy-turvy offseason this has been when it comes to postseason play.

First, I thought University of Florida president J. Bernard Machen was going to set the presidents and athletics directors straight with his proposals for a playoff system. Then, after one day at the SEC meetings this spring, he does a 180 and can't say enough good things about the BCS and working within the current system.

Then, the New York Times comes out with an exclusive that says key higher-ups in college football were privately talking about the inevitability of the plus-one playoff system where the top four teams would be seeded and matched up in two bowls and duke it out for a chance to play in a national championship game one week later. The article said this would come about sooner rather than later.

Then, we had the Pac-10 saying you could take the BCS and shove it if anyone tried to interfere with their long-standing relationship with the Rose Bowl in order to have a playoff. The Big Ten echoed those sentiments.

I still think a playoff at some point is an absolute certainty. I can not honestly point to one public viewpoint or any private source as the basis for this observation. I don't care whether you call it a gut feeling or a premonition or just plain old common sense. … but there WILL be a playoff and it WILL be great for college football.

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