A guide to what’s hot and what’s not for the 1997 college football season:
The most exciting players in college football this season? Even though many of the last year’s glamour guys, such as 2,000-yard rushers Troy Davis and Byron Hanspard, wideouts Ike Hilliard and Reidel Anthony, and defensive end Peter Boulware, left early for the NFL, there are plenty of players capable of taking control of a game.
1. Randy Moss, WR, Marshall - Jerry Rice-type receiver moves into prime time now that Thundering Herd moves up to I-A. Caught national-best 28 TD passes as he led 15-0 Herd to I-AA title in ‘96.
2. Tim Dwight, WR-PR-DB, Iowa - At 5-9, 185 pounds, he’s a dynamic all-purpose threat: a fearless receiver, game-breaking punt returner and solid defensive back.
3. Charles Woodson, CB, Michigan - Perhaps the nation’s most talented cornerback, the ‘96 All-American could also have major impact at wide receiver. Triples as a return man, too.
4. Dre’ Bly, CB, North Carolina - May be the most athletic player in the country. Led nation with 11 interceptions as a freshman in ‘96 and added two more in Gator Bowl.
5. Kevin Faulk, RB-KR, LSU - A Heisman hopeful who can turn any run or reception into a big play; among the nation’s top punt returners, too.
Keep an eye on: Grant Wistrom, DE, Nebraska; James Brown, QB, Texas; Andy Katzenmoyer, LB, Ohio State; Donovan McNabb, QB, Syracuse; Andre Wadsworth, DE, Florida State.
The Heisman five
These guys are pretty flashy, too, but can produce numbers worthy of the Heisman Trophy, which usually goes to the best player with the best stats on one of the nation’s best teams.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Tennessee - Without question, the Heisman is Manning’s to lose, and he’s got the arm, name and poise to justify his decision to stay in school.
2. Ron Dayne, RB, Wisconsin - Punishing 261-pounder who bowls over defenders; could exceed 2,000 yards after a 1,863-yard freshman season.
3. Curtis Enis, RB, Penn State - If coach Joe Paterno lets him, Enis, too, could top 2,000 yards by running over and around the opposition.
4. Kevin Faulk, RB, LSU - As long as LSU stays in or around the Top 10, the elusive Faulk - 191.27 all-purpose yards per game in ‘96 - should stay in the Heisman running.
5. Ron Powlus, QB, Notre Dame - Surprise, surprise. With a new coach and an offense ready to throw, this may be Powlus’ best shot at the Heisman. It certainly will be his last.
Keep an eye on: Ahman Green, RB, Nebraska; Donovan McNabb, Syracuse; Ricky Williams, RB, Texas.
Some of the highly ranked teams will have a difficult time getting through schedules filled with, well, other highly ranked teams.
1. Florida State - In addition to ACC road games against North Carolina and Clemson, the Seminoles play at Southern California and Florida, with a home game against Miami.
2. Michigan - Non-conference home games against Colorado and Notre Dame in September, with a Big Ten closing schedule at Penn State, at Wisconsin and home to Ohio State.
3. Southern Mississippi - Obviously gluttons for punishment, the Golden Eagles are at Florida and Alabama early in the season, and are at Tennessee on Nov. 8.
4. Tennessee - Nothing comes easy for the Vols, not even with Peyton Manning back. Opening games are against Texas Tech and at UCLA, with an SEC schedule calling for games at Florida and at Alabama.
5. Notre Dame - The Irish have had tougher seasons, but road trips to Michigan, Stanford and LSU won’t make it easy in coach Bob Davie’s first season.
And then there are the top teams with the soft schedules. Of course, Florida and Nebraska are known for weak non-conference opponents - Florida plays Southern Mississippi and Central Michigan, while Nebraska opens with Akron and Central Florida - but others are catching on.
1. Alabama - Non-conference games are against Houston, Southern Mississippi and Louisiana Tech, with toughest SEC games - vs.
Tennessee and LSU - at home. OK, so the Auburn game is at Auburn - it’s still in-state.
2. Clemson - Nine wins should be no problem (non-conference games are against Appalachian State and Texas-El Paso). Two toughies - Florida State and North Carolina - are at home.
3. Miami - Watch out for the Hurricanes. Biggest game is at Florida State, where Miami has fared well over the years. Cream puffs include just about every Big East team except Syracuse, and that one is at home on Nov. 29.
4. Penn State - Lions warm up for their biggest game of the year - vs. Ohio State on Oct. 11 at home - with Pittsburgh, Temple, Louisville and Illinois. The other tough games - vs. Michigan and Wisconsin - are at Happy Valley.
5. Army and Navy - Wondering if these guys can win lots of games again? It looks as if the winner of the Army-Navy game on Dec. 6 could end up with a bowl invitation. Army plays Duke (winless last season), Tulane, Rutgers, Colgate, Lafayette and North Texas; Navy also plays Duke, Rutgers and Colgate, along with Kent, Temple and VMI.
Coaching hot seat
OK, so 24 Division I-A coaches were replaced following the 1996 season. There’s still bunch more on the hot seat. Here’s our list:
1. Pat Sullivan (Texas Christian) - Insiders say this will be Sullivan’s last year no matter how well the Horned Frogs perform. Last season’s 4-7 mark did not sit well, especially with so many off-the-field woes that resulted in arrests and suspensions.
2. Danny Ford (Arkansas) - The Hogs were 4-7 in ‘96 and have won just 21 games in Ford’s four seasons in Fayetteville. If he can’t produce a winner this time around, he’ll probably be gone.
3. Jackie Sherrill (Mississippi State) - Somehow, Sherrill manages to return to Starkville even though his teams rarely live up to expectations. A late-season 17-16 upset of Alabama probably saved his job.
4. Mike O’Cain (North Carolina State) - The biggest surprise is O’Cain wasn’t fired after last season’s 3-8 mark. Since the Wolfpack was hit with injuries, he’ll be back for a last chance. Insiders say he’s got to win big or he, too, will be gone.
5. John Robinson (Southern California) - Seemed like good ol’ coach Robinson was finished after another loss to UCLA, but the Trojans probably saved his job with a dramatic OT win against Notre Dame. He also has a rocky relationship with athletic director Mike Garrett.
The following matchups are sure to have the biggest impact on the national title picture:
1. Tennessee at Florida (Sept. 20)
2. Nebraska at Washington (Sept. 20)
3. Ohio State at Penn State (Oct. 11)
4. Florida State at North Carolina (Nov. 8)
5. Florida State at Florida (Nov. 22)
6. Nebraska at Colorado (Nov. 28)
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