A guide to the 2011 college football season
PHOENIX — While the NFL spent most of the summer in a lockout, college football had a busy offseason.
Too bad none of it was on the field.
From the sweater vest leaving Ohio State to the Hurricane of a mess at the University of Miami, it was the summer of dirt in college football, further tarnishing the image of a sport that wasn't exactly sparkling to begin with.
Now, finally, it's time to watch some football.
The season kicks off Sept. 1 with a couple dozen not-so-exciting games, like Kentucky Christian at Morehead State and Bowling Green at Idaho. It really gets going two days later with a blockbuster between Oregon and LSU at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, a game that could define the seasons of two national championship hopefuls.
To get you primed up what should be an interesting season, we've got a quick-hitting guide, chocked full of useful and, we'll admit, some not-so-useful information.
Check it out:
First thing's first. The NCAA instituted some new rules this season. We know, boring, but don't want you jumping off the couch and yelling "What was that?!" after one of the guys in stripes waves off a TD.
Taunting. This one could take points off the board. Any player who makes a taunting gesturing on the way to the end zone will be penalized on the spot, the score will be wiped out and the ball set back 15 yards. Same rules apply for after a TD is scored, with the penalty assessed on the kickoff. Deion Sanders would be so disappointed.
10-second rundown. If a team commits a foul to stop the clock in the final minute of each half, the opponent has the option of running 10 seconds off the clock and taking the yardage penalty. They also could take the yards without the time or decline the yards and the time. We're guessing they'll take both.
Intentional grounding. This rule was changed to reflect what the NFL does. A receiver no longer has to have a reasonable chance to catch a pass, he only has to be in the area of the pass to prevent intentional grounding. Removes some of the guess work for the officials.
Coaches' video monitors. This rule allows video monitors in the coaches' boxes upstairs, helping them determine whether they want to ask for a video review.
The conference shuffling is a going to take a little getting used to. While Nebraska playing in the Big Ten kind of makes sense, it still seems king of weird, and just saying Pac-12 doesn't sound right.
But what the realignments have done is create what could be some fairly interesting new rivalries. OK, so we lost Oklahoma-Nebraska with the Cornhuskers' shift in allegiances, but some of these new ones could be pretty good.
Nebraska-Iowa. These two Midwestern monsters are not only neighbors, they are in the newly created Legends Division, another name that's going to take some getting used to. The Plains will be rumbling for years to come.
Utah-USC. These two teams don't have proximity in their favor — geographically or culturally — but they have winning histories and BCS successes. They're both in the Pac-12 South and could be fighting each other annually for a spot in the conference title game.
Nebraska-Ohio State. These Midwestern powers haven't met since Eisenhower was in the White House, but their Oct. 8 game could be the first of numerous big games.
Utah-Colorado. These Rockies-sharing neighbors are the new guys in the Pac-12 and will be eager to show they belong in the new conference more than the other.
TEAMS TO WATCH
Oklahoma. Duh. The Sooners are preseason No. 1, picked to win their eighth national title and second under coach Bob Stoops. More than that, OU plays like a team stuck on fast forward on the DVR, racing up and down the field behind numbers-piling quarterback Landry Jones.
Boise State. The BCS-bucking Broncos have a new conference after moving to the Mountain West and still have quarterback Kellen Moore, a Heisman Trophy finalist who has a chance to go down as the winningest quarterback in history with a successful senior season.
Miami. The Hurricanes should be good again, but that's not the reason to watch. Following the allegations by a former booster that he lavished money and gifts on players in South Beach, the interesting part will be to see what happens to the Hurricanes, particularly if Miami joins SMU in infamy by getting hit with the death penalty.
Ohio State. Like Miami, the Buckeyes fall into the can't-look-away-from-the-car crash category. Coach Jim Tressel and his sweater vest are gone from Columbus in the wake of the tattoo scandal and the dust still hasn't settled around the program, with the NCAA weighing final sanctions against it. Can Buckeyes rally together or will the scandals tear them apart? Will be interesting to watch.
Oregon. The Ducks have that bees-from-the-hive offense and those, uh, flashy unis. There's also a little stink hovering over the program — a recruiting controversy, CB Cliff Harris' 118-mph joyride — that add to the Oregon intrigue.
Paul Wulff, Washington State. Even with progress that was made last season, the Cougars have won just five games in three years and two of their last 27 conference games.
Houston Nutt, Mississippi. After a pair of nine-win seasons Nutt's first two years on the job, the Rebels dropped to 4-8 last season. There's not a lot of patience in the SEC, but Nutt does have a big contract with two years left on it that might save him from the ax.
Rick Neuheisel, UCLA. Neuheisel's return to his alma mater hasn't gone quite as planned and the Bruins haven't been able to make up ground on SoCal rival USC, even with the Trojans' NCAA troubles. Maybe those two new coordinators Neuheisel hired will make the difference this season. If not, he could be headed out.
Mark Richt, Georgia. Richt has two SEC titles under his belt and 80 wins his first eight seasons, but the Bulldogs have been mediocre the past two, winning 14 games. For a program that hopes to compete for national titles, that's not good enough. But, like Nutt, Richt does have a good contract on his side
Mike Locksley, New Mexico. Two wins in two seasons and off-the-field problems aren't a good combination.
Dennis Erickson, Arizona State. Expectations are hotter than the temperature in the desert and Erickson will likely need to come close to living up to them after three bowl-less seasons in Tempe.
Sept. 3, Oregon vs. LSU at Cowboys Stadium. Two teams expected to compete for a national championship in Jerry Jones' football fantasyland — hard to kick off the season any better than this.
Nov. 5, LSU at Alabama. Tigers, Tide and talent. Enough said.
Nov. 12, Oregon at Stanford. Biggest game on the Pac-12 schedule was a shootout last year and will feature some of the most talented players in the country.
Nov. 26, Alabama at Auburn. The Iron Bowl was a thriller last year, but the hype of this year's game will likely hinge on whether the Tigers can get through a tough early schedule to beat the SEC-favorite Tide.
Dec. 3, Oklahoma at Oklahoma St. The Sooners are the preseason No. 1 and have won eight straight in the series, but the Cowboys are talented, at home and would love to knock OU out of a potential national-title run.
THE OTHER PLAYERS
If you're a college football fan, you already know about the big names in the game: Stanford's Andrew Luck, Trent Richardson of Alabama, Moore at Boise State. Those are the Heisman Trophy types, but there are plenty of other talented players out there to keep an eye on. Here are a few:
Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State. The Sun Devils' mercurial junior is fast, hard-hitting and uber-aggressive, the kind of player who can take games over. Keep the personal fouls and unsportsmanlike penalties in check, and he can be one of the nation's best defensive players.
Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina. The senior was cleared of any wrongdoing in the UNC agent scandal and is moving back to his natural position after getting 10 sacks at defensive tackle last season.
Alshon Jeffrey, South Carolina. Running back Marcus Lattimore gets the Heisman hype, but Jeffrey is the Gamecocks' throw-it-up-and-he'll-get-it threat downfield. He set school records with 88 catches and 1,517 yards last season and has the potential to do more this season.
Matt Kalil, OT, USC. It's rare that an offensive lineman is worth watching, at least for the average fan. Kalil squishing opposing tackles and linebackers is worth keeping an eye on.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama. The player known as "Swagga" is a big, physical defensive back with plenty of speed. In other words, don't try throwing to his side.