Shortening the season
Schools must play an 11-game schedule this season, and the next two, because of the number of weekends that occur during the season. The last couple seasons allowed 12 games. There are exceptions, such as if a team plays in an exempt preseason game (Virginia Tech vs. Southern California) or a conference championship game. Athletic departments will lose some money not having the additional game, but the rule is great from a competitive standpoint. Most teams can afford only five losses this season to become bowl eligible.
Huskies on the rise
Connecticut has won 13 of its past 16 games, beating Wake Forest and Rutgers to end 2003, and returns 15 starters. Entering its first full season in the Big East Conference, U-Conn. might have a bowl bid on the line when it closes the season at Rutgers, a winnable game.
Check out the new EA Sports NCAA Football 2005 video game, but heed the warning: Run your program with integrity or the NCAA will slap you with probation, scholarship restrictions or worse. Perhaps the game is becoming too real.
An arm in Baton Rouge
The Tigers kept their coach, Nick Saban, and the heart of their stifling defense. They will contend for the national title if they get a consistent effort from the quarterback, which will be easier said than done. Even though Matt Mauck had another season of eligibility remaining, the quarterback decided not to return after leading LSU to the national co-championship last season.
The Big Ten's new fad
The conference pushed the NCAA to endorse using instant replay this season as an experiment. A technical official will watch the game from a booth and red flag questionable calls, such as whether passes were caught or a ball was fumbled. All Big Ten games will use the feature. Nonconference opponents have the option of using it when they play Big Ten teams. What does it mean? The time of your typical Indiana-Purdue game could now rival that of an American League baseball game.
A quick fix in Tucson
There is no doubt that first-year coach Mike Stoops and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops eventually will find success with their new program. They'll instill toughness and demand commitment during the offseason. Arizona loses just five starters, which isn't necessarily a good thing when those are virtually the same players who won only two games in 2003. The toughest challenge, however, will be the schedule, generally considered the nation's toughest.