20-20 Vision

1. Which game would you pay to see this year?

Green Bay at Minnesota.

Oh, college football?

We're hoping like Houston that Oklahoma and Texas are unbeaten when the teams meet Oct. 6 in Dallas for the annual Red River Shootout.

If Texas isn't prepared to exact revenge after last year's 63-14 loss to Oklahoma--the Sooners mugged for a postgame team photo in the Cotton Bowl--we'll give the Horns an early hook and start the clock on Mack Brown's tenure.

2. How can you rip Kansas State all these years for playing a weak schedule and not Oregon State?

What, you think Oregon State versus Fresno State, North Texas and Montana State doesn't pass the smell test?

Fair question. My thinking: Oregon State is Kansas State 10 years ago, a once-pathetic program crawling out of the darkness.

It was fine for Kansas State Coach Bill Snyder to schedule soft for a few years, but you can't play that card once you've announced your national title intentions. My rule says you have to play one quality nonconference opponent.

Oregon State gets a pass because schedules are made years in advance. How were the Beavers to know they'd be this good two years after their 28th consecutive losing season?

There will come a day when Oregon State will be expected to beef up or face the wrath.

Oh, we'd like to think our prodding helped push Kansas State into its Sept. 8 trip to USC.

Bully for you, 'Cats.

We're officially off Bill Snyder's case.

3. Is this the year somebody knocks Florida State off the Atlantic Coast Conference throne?

Dad-gum, let's hope so. If not, the ACC's other teams, known as the Eight Dwarfs, ought to bolt and re-form the SWC (Snow White Conference).

Florida State is 70-2 since joining the ACC and completed its 14th consecutive season with a top-five or better finish in the AP poll.

Yet, Bobby Bowden's team lost star quarterback Chris Weinke, seven defensive starters and, most recently, his two starting receivers to season-ending knee injuries.

The key is catching Florida State early--remember North Carolina State's shocking victory a few years ago?--before the latest batch of prep All-Americans rounds into form.

Georgia Tech, the school that fears Florida State least, gets a chance to reshape the ACC landscape when it visits Tallahassee on Sept. 15.

4. Who's going to win the Heisman Trophy?

Too bad Ron Powlus ran out of eligibility, because this could have been his year. With Michael Vick turning pro and Drew Henson turning to baseball, this field is as wide open as a tailback breaking loose in the UCLA secondary.

You think Oregon pays $250,000 to plaster a poster of Joey Harrington on a Manhattan building if Vick and Henson are coming back?

So, why not Harrington? Why not Chris Simms? Why not Oregon State's Ken Simonton? Why not Carson Palmer?

OK, that's a stretch, but there is a decent chance the Pacific 10 Conference can claim its first Heisman winner since Marcus Allen in 1981.

5. What would be the most intriguing story line for this year's national title game at the Rose Bowl?

How about this one: Fifteen years after his dad wins a Super Bowl championship in Pasadena, quarterback Chris Simms leads Texas to the national title with a victory in the Rose Bowl.

Think that has ever happened in the history of sports?

Good luck upstaging your old man, Chris. In Super Bowl XXI, New York Giant quarterback Phil Simms completed 22 of 25 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns in a 39-20 victory over Denver.

6. Is the Big 12 the nation's toughest conference?

Yes. They grossly over-hyped this as the "Super Conference" when the Big Eight and vital organs of the defunct Southwest Conference melded in 1996, forgetting Oklahoma wasn't Oklahoma anymore and Texas wasn't Texas.

But look now. Not only is Nebraska still a force in the North, with Kansas State in lap-dog pursuit, but the once-weak South Division boasts two national title contenders in Oklahoma and Texas. The Sooners won it all last year and the Longhorns could win it this year.

You know it's a tough league when Iowa State is going to bowl games.

7. What coaches are on the hot seat?

We know of no coaches who have actually sat down on anything combustible, but there are a few jobs in jeopardy.

We hear California Coach Tom Holmoe is crafting a concession speech, people in Kansas are telling Coach Terry Allen, "There's no place like Nome," and we wouldn't want to be named Mack Brown and living in Austin should Texas not redeem itself against Oklahoma and get to a BCS game.

8. Can Notre Dame ever win another national title?

The Irish have put together the kind of schedule that could win a championship . . . in 1968.

Notre Dame's problem: It still thinks it's Notre Dame. Bob Davie has assembled a respectable team, but the schedule is totally anachronistic.

The Irish play seven schools that appeared in bowl games last year--Nebraska, Purdue, Michigan State, Texas A&M;, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Boston College and Tennessee--and two others that figure to make bowl games this season, USC and Stanford.

In the BCS era, this is no way to compete for a national title. Haven't the Irish learned anything from Kansas State and Virginia Tech?

Bottom line: Notre Dame should have joined the Big Ten when it had the chance, if only for the BCS protection a conference affords.

9. Who are Grant Noel, Chris Rix, Brandon Hance, John Navarre, Nate Hybl and Cody Pickett/Taylor Barton, and why is this important?

These are the not-so-lucky quarterbacks stepping in for Michael Vick at Virginia Tech, Chris Weinke at Florida State, Drew Brees at Purdue, Drew Henson at Michigan, Marques Tuiasosopo at Washington and Josh Heupel at Oklahoma.

10. What was the best off-season move?

USC landing Norm Chow as offensive coordinator was the best hire since Bush snagged Cheney.

First-year Coach Pete Carroll's first major pickup was a master stroke.

Chow got lost in LaVell Edwards' shadow all those years at Brigham Young. When he learned he wasn't a cinch to succeed Edwards, Chow went to North Carolina State last year and direct-deposited BYU-like numbers into the account of freshman quarterback Philip Rivers, who finished 12th nationally in total offense at 269 yards a game.

If Chow can't get to the heart of USC quarterback Carson Palmer, who can?

11. Which team has the easiest path the national title game in the Rose Bowl?

Virginia Tech.

Yes, the Hokies lost a franchise in quarterback Michael Vick, but we're looking at their defense and the schedule and wondering what's going to keep these guys from shopping in Old Town Pasadena?

You couldn't have picked an easier nonconference schedule from a catalog--Connecticut, Western Michigan and Central Florida--and the Big East is so top-to-bottom weak that the conference voted out the weakest link, Temple, after this season.

The way we see it, Virginia Tech could be 10-0 when it plays host to Miami in Blacksburg on Dec. 1.

Win that and the Hokies put a float in the Rose Bowl parade.

12. Is there a playoff format that could satisfy almost everyone?

Yes, but it can't happen before the 2006 season because the BCS and ABC are tied up through the 2006 bowls.

My plan is simple: Make the four BCS games--Sugar, Rose, Fiesta and Orange--quarterfinal matches involving the six major college conference champions and two at-large schools.

In this format, the Rose Bowl can maintain its Pac-10/Big Ten arrangement and the Fiesta, Sugar and Orange bowls can retain regional "anchors" with the Big 12, SEC and Big East.

The winners advance to the national semifinals two weeks later on "Super Saturday" and the national championship game is played on the dead weekend before Super Bowl week.

College presidents who scream about lost class time?

This format involves only four teams. Only two schools would play two additional games; the semifinal losers only one.

13. Hey, what happened to the Aloha Bowl?

Long story short, the Christmas Day Hawaii bowls went pig bladder up (remember all those empty seats?). The Oahu moved to the Northwest and is now the Seattle Bowl, which pits a Pac-10 team against a school from the Big East. The Aloha got shipped to San Francisco, but picked up stakes because ABC wanted it to remain on Christmas Day. The Aloha appeared headed for Anaheim but, again, the Pac-10 wanted no part of Christmas Day.

Last we heard, the Aloha was scouting out Columbia, S.C.

Aloha, y'all.

14. Will there be a surprise team in the Pac-10?

Watch out for Arizona State. Dirk Koetter, the new coach, isn't in Tempe to play 10-in-the-box. His Boise State team last year led the nation in scoring at nearly 45 points a game. The Sun Devils have eight starters returning from last year's 6-6 team--and two of those losses were in overtime.

Arizona State also has star tailback Delvon Flowers back. He missed last season because of a torn knee ligament.

15. Can Oregon and Oregon State handle the pressure of being national title contenders?

It's going to be very interesting to see how the Oregon schools make the transition to big-time status. Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti talks of now being the hunted instead of the hunter, and there's a difference.

Oklahoma will find that out in the Big 12. The Sooners may be more talented than last year's national championship squad, yet going undefeated again will be more difficult because of the payback factor. You think Nebraska and Texas are not counting the days?

16. Is the Big Ten as down as it looks?

Yes. Ohio State, Purdue, Penn State and Wisconsin are rebuilding and the conference favorites, Michigan and Northwestern, have big question marks.

Michigan would have been the dead-solid lock pick had quarterback Drew Henson returned, but Henson chose to pursue a baseball career. John Navarre did a nice job subbing for the injured Henson early last year, but he was exposed when the Wolverines came west to play UCLA.

My hunch is, the death of Rashidi Wheeler will adversely affect Northwestern on the field.

17. What should we make of all of these preseason polls?

Let's see, the writers and coaches pick Florida, the Sporting News likes Texas, Street & Smith is going with Miami, Sports Illustrated picks Oregon State.

Which means?

None of those schools will win the national title.

18. When is Penn State Coach Joe Paterno going to break Bear Bryant's record for major college victories?

Wouldn't our travel agent love to know. With 322 victories, Paterno needs two more to top Bryant's mark of 323, but there's no telling when that might happen.

This isn't like the old days, when you could pencil in Nittany Lion victories.

If Penn State, coming off a 5-7 season, happens to upset Miami at home on Sept. 1, the record could fall on Sept. 13 at Virginia. If Penn State loses to Miami, as expected, it's anybody's guess.

Our guess: Penn State loses to Miami, beats Virginia, loses to Wisconsin and Paterno breaks the record Sept. 29 at Iowa.

19. Who is the most underrated player in the country?

San Jose State tailback Deonce Whitaker. The senior's seven-yard rushing average led the nation last year. He had 113 yards against Nebraska--in the first quarter. USC will get a load of Whitaker in the opener Saturday at the Coliseum.

Whitaker's problem is that San Jose State doesn't have the resources to pony up for a Heisman fund, so his will have to be a turf-roots campaign.

20. Will a team with a veteran quarterback win the national title?

Most likely. In the last eight seasons, nine schools have staked claims to the national title--Michigan and Nebraska split in 1997. Eight of those nine teams had veteran quarterbacks, the exception being Tennessee's Tee Martin.

Oregon, Oregon State, Texas, Miami, Nebraska and Georgia Tech have veterans returning at quarterback. Florida, Florida State, Oklahoma and Virginia Tech are breaking in newcomers.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Division I-A coaches with most victories

1. Bear Bryant: 323

2. x-Joe Paterno (above: 322

3. Pop Warner: 319

4. x-Bobby Bowden: 315

5. Amos Alonzo Stagg: 314

x-active; Note: List includes only coaches with 300-plus victories.

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