It started over at Schembeckler Hall and has been bounced around the blogsphere, so I'll take a crack at it. According to Brian at mgo, this is discusscion question #21, but the numbering is a bit arbitrary (I'll pause so you can make an obligatory Alabama national title joke... ... all right, everyone back? Good.)
1. It’s early, but thus far, which offseason change or changes in college football are you most excited about?
Let's see... the possible re-re-retirement of Keith Jackson? Nah, that's just a cheap shot. While everyone has their own opinion of KJ (and God knows we sure have one), he's at least good for a laugh at his expense.
To be honest with you, I'm nonplussed by the extra BCS game, the new TV contract, the continuing crusade against abusive Native American mascots, and the watered-down and ineffectual strengthening of academic standards that never really panned out. I suppose the standardization of replay is a positive step forward (and might have been useful last year in a certain "Game of the Century", but I digress...), but it's mostly looking like business as usual, which is good enough for me.
One thing I'm really excited about is seeing what Dan Hawkins can do in Boulder. I've previously made it known to the world that I have a secret crush on the fugly little guru, and being a native of the Great State of Colorado, I have a rooting interest in seeing the Buffs return to respectability after a rough patch of time underneath the sleazy, regime of the the un-parody-able Gary Barnett (okay, maybe he's a little parody-able). I for one think Hawkins will have some great success, and if nothing else bring a little bit of razzle-dazzle to a conference that has become a top-heavy "3 yards and a dust cloud" league recently.
2) With spring practice underway, what are the three concerns about your team that are causing you the most anxiety? (USC fans can’t just list the departures of Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and LenDale White.)
Normally, I have an excessive amount of anxiety about the team. And now that we have a highly-regarded team coming back with high expectations, my panic has increased tenfold. While I'm paranoid about everything, here are a few highlights of my hysteria:
- Defense, defense, defense. Realistically, any respectable list of ND concerns begins and ends with defense. I'd pick out a specific area, but really it's a top-to-bottom concern. A defensive line that couldn't generate a pass rush last year, a fresh new crop of inexperienced linebackers replacing a veteran group that failed to impress, and a secondary that's still rough-around-the-edges that probably won't be getting much help from the front 7. Couple that with a displeasing bend-but-don't-break scheme and a schedule with quite a few competent offenses and you've got the recipe for a heart attack brewing.
- Believe it or not, I'm also concerned about the offensive side of the ball. After watching Oldie's Highlight Video, I suddenly realized there are some big cleats to fill in the Wide Receiving Corps. While Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight are top-flight pass-haulers, there will be a noticeable change in scheme with the absence of a second circus-catching 6'5" monster drawing attention. I like what I see in youngsters David Grimes and D.J. Hord, but Grimes is a different type of undersized speedster and Hord might be hampered by injury setbacks. It will be interesting if a viable third receiver will develop to replace the able, albeit hobbled, Matt Shelton.
- Depth on the OL is another concern. The Irish dodged a bullet last year by keeping a razor-thin depth chart intact, but it's the same predicament this year, thanks to Tyrone Willingham's disinterest in OL recruitment (want to see something scary? Check out the depth chart put together my NDNation's "Old Man"). A few untimely injuries would require putting a zit-faced freshman on the line. A swift downgrade on the O-Line can cause even the most talented offense sputter, and I don't feel comfortable with our chances if the option to simply outscore the opponent is off the table.
3) Care to take a stab at a preseason top five?
I see big things for LSU. They peaked at the right time last year and bring back a lot of talent, plus have proven to be a solidly-coached and consistent squad.
Ohio State has talent galore, and while they're replacing a lot on defense (wait, scratch that, their entire defense), their dynamite recruiting at their key positions ensure they will be able to reload aptly with some experienced meat. It's going to be interesting to see how they break in their new horses at a tough early-season road game in Austin, and at that point we'll have a pretty good idea what to expect from the Buckeyes.
West Virginia is another team that I'm sure will be pretty popular on these top-five lists. While many are boosting the Mountaineers' stock by virtue of their floppy Big East schedule (much like the treatment Louisville got last year), I think they are a legitimately good team with a punishing ground attack. Their performance in the Sugar Bowl proved they can run with the best of them, and they return a lot of young talent that should continue to improve.
Some combination USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, and Notre Dame will fill out the rest of the top five as teams that have enough weaponry to make a championship run, but are also facing some huge question marks in terms of replacing lost talent (USC and Texas) and finding a way to find life on one side of the ball (Notre Dame and USC on defense, Florida and Oklahoma on offense).