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30 questions for the 2009 season

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Rich Cirminiello

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Is it a foregone conclusion that Florida will win back-to-back national championships? Will Oklahoma finally snap its growing BCS bowl game losing streak? Can either Tim Tebow or Sam Bradford join Archie Griffin in Heisman lore? Can anyone derail USC in the Pac-10? There's no shortage of delicious questions, storylines and subplots on the minds of college football fans as the 2009 season quickly approaches. The following 30 queries will define the upcoming campaign and be fodder for debate until the opening kickoff in early September. 30. Will the Mountain West improve its argument for an automatic BCS bid down the road?
From Utah's Sugar Bowl shocker to discussions on Capitol Hill, the Mountain West has gotten an inordinate amount of national pub over the last year. Remaining relevant outside the region could require another berth in a BCS bowl game. TCU, Utah and BYU are all Top-25 timber heading into the season, but the league would greatly benefit from less of a drop-off after the Big 3. That's a missive directed at the likes of UNLV, Colorado State and Wyoming to start getting their acts together. 29. Who is Taylor Potts, and why should you care?
Since Mike Leach descended upon Texas Tech a decade ago, his quarterbacks have perennially been among the nation's passing leaders. So, now that Graham Harrell has exhausted his eligibility, it'd be wise to learn about his successor, Potts, who'll be a lock for at least 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns. It's the system, stupid. Of course, that's not to suggest the 6-5 junior doesn't have skills. He actually has a bigger arm than Harrell and could have started for a bunch of schools. Plus, Leach has repeatedly proven that none of his quarterbacks are irreplaceable. 28. Is Oklahoma State this year's Texas Tech?
It sure looks that way, doesn't it? Like the Red Raiders, the Cowboys will lean on an incendiary offense to help offset a questionable defense as they attempt to become the fly in the Big 12 South ointment. The attack promises to be the most potent in the Mike Gundy era, blending the multi-dimensional talents of QB Zac Robinson, running of Kendall Hunter, and pass-catching of All-America candidate Dez Bryant. Oh, and LT Russell Okung has first-round tag stamped all over him. Texas travels to Stillwater, which could make Bedlam at the end of November a wee bit more meaningful than normal. 27. Is South Florida capable of cutting into the market share of Miami and Florida State?
While the excitement over the Bulls has been quelled since the peak in 2007, this remains a talented program, with considerable upside in the Big East. Now, they're not going to win many recruiting battles with the 'Canes or the 'Noles, but there exists two golden opportunities this fall to attract new fans and build more momentum within the Sunshine State. On Sept. 26, South Florida travels to Tallahassee for its first-ever meeting with Florida State. On Nov. 28, the Bulls will host Miami. A win in either game would be enormous for Jim Leavitt and his upwardly-mobile squad. 26. Which true freshmen won't play like rookies this fall?
While some 500 or so rookies will get on the field this fall, only a handful will leave a lasting impression, such as Jacquizz Rodgers and A.J. Green did in 2008. Obviously, there are a slew of viable candidates, who'll begin stating their cases for more playing time this month. If you want to look like a sage in November, start tossing around these names: Matt Barkley of USC, Bryce Brown of Tennessee, Christine Michael of Texas A&M, Reuben Randle of LSU, Jheranie Boyd of North Carolina, D.J. Fluker of Alabama, Sheldon Richardson of Missouri, Jacobbi McDaniel of Florida State, Vontaze Burfict of Arizona State and Ray Ray Armstrong of Miami. They have the perfect blend of talent and opportunity to make you look real smart. 25. If you could watch just one regular-season game all year, what would it be?
Phew. There'll be plenty to choose from, depending on your specific interest and region of the country. Of the non-conference games, you ought to start circling on the calendar Georgia at Oklahoma State (Sept. 5), USC at Notre Dame (Oct. 17), Oregon at Boise State (Sept. 5), Alabama vs. Virginia Tech (Sept. 5), and USC at Ohio State (Sept.12). In conference? How about Ohio State at Penn State (Nov. 7), LSU at Alabama (Nov. 7), Florida at LSU (Oct. 10), and Oklahoma vs. Texas (Oct. 17). Out of those semifinals, Trojans-Buckeyes and Sooners-Longhorns figure to have the greatest national appeal. 24. Which unit is better, the USC offensive line or the Florida defensive line?
The Trojans are loaded like never before under Pete Carroll, returning the entire two-deep from a year ago. There's depth and next-level talent everywhere, led by All-America candidate Kristofer O'Dowd at center and potential all-leaguers Jeff Byers and Charles Brown at guard and tackle, respectively. The Gators are similarly stocked on the other side of the ball. Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham form one of the best pass-rushing bookends around, and Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders are budding juniors on the inside. How much fun would it be to see these two units mix it up in January? 23. Who is this year's Cincinnati?
It seems like just about every year some slightly off-the-radar program, like the Bearcats, Kansas or Wake Forest, makes an improbable run to a BCS bowl game. If you're looking for candidates to make their debut in one of these marquee games, stick to the Big East and ACC, where the vacancy sign flashes a little bit brighter. In the Big East, it shouldn't shock anyone if Rutgers, Connecticut, or South Florida appeared in its first-ever BCS game. While Virginia Tech appears to have the ACC in a headlock, that won't stop North Carolina, Georgia Tech or North Carolina State from aiming high in 2009. 22. Will the ACC have a team in the national title discussion past October?
When Miami made the switch from the Big East earlier in the decade, it was supposed to join Florida State and give the Atlantic Coast Conference two legitimate national powerhouses. That blueprint has gotten torched, as both programs remain in a funk by their usual standards. And while that's been great for the other 10 members, it hasn't been so terrific for the league's reputation as a home for football. The pressure is squarely on Virginia Tech — the favorite to cop a third straight ACC crown — to start strong and remain in the national mix right through November. 21. So who's closer to the glory days anyway, Miami or Florida State?
Take your pick. Both programs have leaned on underclassmen, including at quarterback, in recent years, so those decisions should begin paying dividends in 2009 and beyond. Amassing blue-chip talent in Miami and Tallahassee hasn't been an issue in decades, which makes the recent dry spell all the more perplexing. Over the last five seasons, the two former powers have combined for just one ACC crown in 2005 and the one major bowl game that came with it. It won't take very long to determine who has the edge in this mythical race. The 'Canes visit the 'Noles on Labor Day night.

20. Is this Bobby Bowden's victory lap?

Tagged: Georgia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Miami (FL), Ohio State, Penn State, Boise State, Arizona State, Oregon State, USC, Oregon, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Notre Dame, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado State, South Florida

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