2010 college football preview
Major conference previews
In the past six seasons, Virginia Tech has ranked in the top 12 nationally in total defense and scoring defense. With seven new defensive starters, that streak will be put to the test this season. If quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the Hokies falter, first-year coach Jimbo Fisher — who is transitioning from coach-in-waiting to actual head honcho — and Florida State could be poised to return to prominence. Clemson, which hasn’t won an ACC title since 1991, and North Carolina, which hasn’t worn the conference crown since 1980, also are in position to contend.
The law of averages says Iowa will pay the price this season for escaping so many games last year with close wins. The Hawkeyes won four games by three points or less in 2009. But they return a solid quarterback -- fifth-year senior Ricky Stanzi -- and eight starters from a defense that ranked No. 8 in the nation in points allowed per game. It likely will be up to Iowa and Wisconsin -- with John Clay and a brutish run game that ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten last season -- to apply pressure to conference favorite Ohio State.
With nine offensive starters returning from a squad that came one second shy of a conference title last December, Nebraska is poised to give its Big 12 foes a taste of what they’ll be missing in 2011 when the Cornhuskers move to the Big Ten. Texas, the reigning conference champion, is breaking in a new quarterback -- Garrett Gilbert -- and a new offensive system that shifts the Longhorns’ focus to their rushing attack. Texas Tech also will look to run the ball more in first-year Coach Tommy Tuberville’s version of the hurry-up offense.
Though Cincinnati is ushering in a new coach -- Butch Jones -- and a new starting quarterback -- Zach Collaros -- the Bearcats don’t expect to have trouble piling up yards or points this season. It’s a defense that allowed 39.4 points over its final five contests in 2009 and is switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base alignment that gives pause to Bearcats faithful. That, and the notion that Pittsburgh possesses the conference’s top threats on both offense — tailback Dion Lewis -- and defense -- defensive end Greg Romeus.
A few years ago, the Big 12 laid claim to owning the nation’s top collection of quarterbacks. This season, the Pac-10 may be able to attain such recognition. Whether it’s Washington’s Heisman Trophy contender, Jake Locker, the super-hyped sophomores at Southern California (Matt Barkley) and Stanford (Andrew Luck) or Nick Foles, the underrated signal caller at Arizona, the Pac-10’s quarterbacks, collectively, rank supreme. That said, Oregon and Oregon State, with their high-octane rushing attacks, are the conference favorites.
Louisiana State Coach Les Miles may have won a national title in Baton Rouge as recently as 2007, but that doesn’t mean he’s not feeling some heat these days, especially because the Tigers have gone 8-8 in conference play the past two seasons. With reigning national champion Alabama returning eight offensive starters and reloading its talent pool on defense, Miles will be hard-pressed to surpass the Crimson Tide in the West Division. In the East, Florida may be breaking in Tim Tebow’s replacement, John Brantley, but the Gators remain the divisional favorites.
Eric Prisbell/The Washington Post