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Who's headed to the BCS, the Heisman and this year's hot players

Our college football analysts answer a dozen burning questions

Every year, we ask our two resident college football experts to look out at the season and point to some high and low points. They rarely agree, and this year is no different.

Richie Weldon has been following college football since 1995, his freshman year at Virginia Tech. An avid Hokies fan, Richie tries not to let that influence his opinions on other teams (most of the time). Seattle is the place he calls home now, and almost every Saturday during the fall he gets together with other Hokies to watch the games. Richie is a software developer. Rob Rochholz is a Fresno State (TheOtherFSU) alum and San Francisco Giants fan who works in graphic design and lives in San Francisco. He's a former sportswriter at The Fresno Bee, where he covered the WAC, Pac-10 and Big West conferences.

1. Who will be playing in the BCS championship game and who will win it all?

The Coaches’ and AP polls are out. The Vegas odds are set. Those in the college football world agree that the University of Georgia will christen their newly beloved “Uga” with a national championship. Is there any reason why not? The offense should put up plenty of points behind the talented and delectable Matthew Stafford, while the defense should prevent many opponents from lighting up that board. So why do I have the overwhelming sense that Georgia won’t make it to the Big Game in Miami on Jan. 8, 2009: Georgia’s got plenty of talent in the skill positions, but the front five barely learned how to tie their shoelaces last year and still have trouble remembering which hole to pry open for the running backs.

I do have two legitimate choices for the crystal football. The first team, the Sooners from Oklahoma, are ranked in most Top 5 previews. Oklahoma’s out-of-conference schedule is about as tough as Georgia’s (did you catch the sarcasm?) and the only in-conference game that will give grief is the annual slugfest with Texas. The big difference between the two boils down to special teams play and it is there that Oklahoma outshines the competition. A couple of great punt returns and long kicks with a very stingy defense, and you’ve got a recipe for a BCS Championship.

The Oklahoma pick places one team in the big game, so what is the other? I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but … West Virginia. (Oh, that HURT!) There’s a lot riding on Pat White’s shoulders. If he stays healthy, the team will win. And win big. The Mountaineers’ schedule includes a number of games that only their fans could enjoy (Villanova, Marshall, and Syracuse). At least the East Carolina game is away which should make it interesting for the first 15 minutes before the blowout ensues. Even with new coach Bill Stewart and all his new assistants, the Mountaineers have the talent in place to make a run for the title.

With the players set, we just need to know the outcome of the 2008 Fiesta Bowl rematch. Look for Oklahoma to avenge their loss in a low-scoring, nail biting battle: Oklahoma 17, WVU 13.

1. Who will be playing in the BCS championship game and who will win it all?

It’s going to be the once-beaten Georgia Bulldogs and a once-beaten USC Trojans team fighting it out for the national title on January 8, 2009, in Miami. I don’t see any team from a BCS conference going unbeaten during the regular season. Georgia is going to end up on top by squeaking past the Trojans.

2. Who are your Top 3 teams from non-BCS conferences?

The two from Utah should be really good this season. In fact, BYU could potentially crash the BCS party if not for that tough match-up against the UCLA Bruins, now coached b Rick Neuheisel. How could you not like a team that has a returning QB and RB combo that combined for more than 5,000 yards last season that get to function behind an experienced offensive line?

The University of Utah Utes also return a good QB and RB combo, but they start a sophomore at center and have a defense that has too many inexperienced players. Their opening game against Michigan is likely a loss, but the Utes will string up eight consecutive victories heading into the game against TCU. That alone will put the Utes on the national radar and a likely bowl game against a formidable opponent. Head west from Utah and you’ll stumble upon some feisty Bulldogs that call Fresno, Calif. home. These Dawgs have a tough opening schedule with the season opener on the road against Rutgers and 12 days later Wisconsin. But all is not lost. The game against Rutgers is winnable as is the game against UCLA on Sept. 27. Win either of those games and Fresno State should be ranked in the Top 25 going into the season ender against Boise State. QB Tom Brandstater will not disappoint his fans.

2. Who are your top 3 teams from non-BCS conferences?

The three best non-BCS teams are Fresno State, BYU and Boise State. These three seem to be at or near the top of the non-BCS ladder for the last few years. BYU is the best bet to reach a BCS bowl game, though Fresno State might have the best team. The Cougars have the lighter schedule.

3. Which conference do you think is most underrated? Overrated?

Is it even possible for the Big 12 to be underrated? Missouri and Kansas are the teams to beat in the North. As usual, Oklahoma and Texas are talent-laden and will be fighting it out for the top spot in the conference. The second “level” teams from the Big 12 don’t seem to be getting enough love from the coaches or media: Only Texas Tech made it into the AP Top 25. The Red Raiders and the Oklahoma State Cowboys are going to surprise many people this season.
Overrated is easy and the media is all over this one: The ACC is 1-9 vs. BCS conferences in bowl games. The demise of Miami and Florida State has really hurt the conference. Until those once great teams are revived, the ACC will be at the bottom of the BCS-6.

3. Which conference do you think is most underrated? Overrated?

I think the most underrated conference continues to be the Pac-10. While I think the SEC is the best overall league, there’s no denying that the Pac-10 is closing in fast. USC has reached the point where it simply reloads each season. There is no rebuilding anymore with the Trojans. Oregon’s Autzen Stadium is one of the toughest venues in the country for a visitor. Top to bottom, the Pac-10 is very tough but often overlooked by those who live in the south and east. As for a league that’s overrated, consider the Big Ten. Sure, this is a league that has Ohio State and Wisconsin etched near the top of the national rankings. But even those teams have some weaknesses and I expect both to lose games early in the season. Aside from the Big Ten’s big two, there is a whole bunch of mediocrity. Penn State looks to be a quality team, but teams like Northwestern, Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Purdue and Michigan State are all going to struggle to finish above .500. If you look at most of the Big Ten’s non-conference schedules, you’ll find a lot of teams scheduling weak opponents simply to achieve bowl eligibility and save coaches’ jobs.

4. What are your three picks for the biggest upsets in non-conference games?

What a better way to open up the season than watch Missouri play at Illinois. Is there a more fun QB to watch this season than Chase Daniel? He’ll be looking to find the passing lanes against a very quick Fighting Illini defense lead by Vontae Davis. Davis will be looking to add to the 76 tackles and four interceptions from last season. (If for some reason you cannot watch this game on Aug. 30, you hopefully can catch the Clemson at Alabama game, in Atlanta. Consider this as a Chik-fil-A Peach Bowl appetizer!)

Two weeks later, Ohio State travels across the country to take on USC. Two perennial powerhouses going at it early in the season. Regardless of who wins, you have to like each of their chances to play in the Rose Bowl four months later for a rematch.

On Sept. 20, the college football world will get to see just how good those Georgia Bulldogs are when they travel out to Tempe to play Arizona State. Will the Georgia offensive line be able to stop the lightning-fast LB duo of Travis Goethel and Gerald Munn? Losing this game will definitely dash any hopes Georgia has for playing in the BCS title game.

4. What are your three picks for the biggest upsets in non-conference games?

New Mexico over Texas A&M, Sept 6.

Fresno State over Wisconsin, Sept. 13.

Colorado over West Virginia, Sept. 18.


Richie Weldon has been following college football since 1995, his freshman year at Virginia Tech. An avid Hokies fan, Richie tries not to let that influence his opinions on other teams (most of the time). Seattle is the place he calls home now, and almost every Saturday during the fall he gets together with other Hokies to watch the games. Richie is a software developer.


Rob Rochholz is a Fresno State (TheOtherFSU) alum and San Francisco Giants fan who works in graphic design and lives in San Francisco. He's a former sportswriter at The Fresno Bee, where he covered the WAC, Pac-10 and Big West conferences.

5. Which three players would you like to invite over to chill in your hot tub?

A mixture of three QBs: One Heisman winner (Tim Tebow), one Heisman hopeful (Chase Daniel), and one whose in-the-buff pics graced the internet last year (Riley Skinner, right). Now that would be a great party, even if I was only watching from outside the tub.

5. Which 3 players would you like to invite over to chill in your hot tub?

Wake Forest QB Riley Skinner. Don’t lie… you’ve seen the photo.

Central Michigan QB Dan LeFevour (right). Perhaps the single best reason to watch some Chippewas football this season.

Oregon QB Nate Costa. Here’s hoping he wins the Ducks’ starting QB spot.

6. Which coach will find the hot seat hottest in 2008?

It’s do-or-die time for two coaches: Tommy Bowden (Clemson) and Tyrone Willingham (Washington). Even though Bowden received a contract extension, the Tiger fan base will be up in arms and will run either him or the AD, Terry Don Phillips, out of town. As for Willingham, this is his fourth year as head Husky honcho and if he’s not able to produce a winning season, perhaps even a bowl game, he’ll be watching the 2009 season from the stands. Washington has been hurting too long to not find a winning recipe.

6. Which coach will find the hot seat hottest in 2008?

Tyrone Willingham needs to lead Washington to a winning record this season or he’s in big trouble. Unlike many programs though, the Huskies don’t duck anyone and continue to give Willingham a brutal schedule to deal with every year. It’s awfully difficult to win games when your non-conference slate reads like it does in 2008: BYU, Oklahoma, Notre Dame. Add those games to a tough Pac-10 schedule and things are looking bleak in Seattle. My best guess for the first coach to be fired this season is actually Syracuse’s Greg Robinson, who’s won only seven of 35 games in three years. Ouch.

7. Who will win the Heisman Trophy?

Tim Tebow, Pat White, and Knowshon Moreno are all names every NCAA football fan will know by the end of the season Tebow, the Florida quarterback, proved last year that he can run into the end zone like Mack truck hitting a brick wall. Pat White, the West Virginia quarterback, dazzled us all with his throwing skills and running game. Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno was overshadowed by Matthew Stafford but was good enough to quietly put up some great stats.

But my money is not on any of those guys. Instead, I’m backing Chase Daniel, the “not quite 6-foot” quarterback from Missouri. Daniel has five warm-up games before the showdown in Austin against Texas on Oct. 18. By then, he should be well on his way to surpassing the 4,306 yards (68% completion rate) and 33 touchdowns he threw for last season. My gut’s telling me we may find another Colt Brennan in our midst. A QB is only as good as his receivers, and working in #10’s favor are a slew of junior and senior talent. Unless he gets hurt during the season, you’ll see Daniel at the Downtown Athletic Club come December.

7. Who will win the Heisman Trophy?

West Virginia QB Pat White will win the Heisman Trophy this season if he remains healthy. Injuries hampered White last year but he still finished sixth in the Heisman race. When he’s healthy, West Virginia is virtually unstoppable on offense. I think White will squeak by Tim Tebow this season for college football’s top honor.

8. Which team (other than your alma mater Virginia Tech) do you secretly root for each week, and why?

As much as I try, it’s really tough to root for the local team (Washington Huskies), but I do. Ty Willingham landed a great QB in Jake Locker and the rest of the Dawgies should be in better shape than when Slick Rick Neuheisel left the program in shambles. The best part of all, the Huskies never play my Hokies, so there’s no problem there. But the real secret is that I root for UNC. The Tar Heels have been a favorite of mine since the Mack Brown days. (Yes, I remember that embarrassment back in the 1998 Gator Bowl.) It’s good to see the Glory Days, if you can call them that, of Tar Heel football are coming back under Butch Davis. That man can turn around a program.

8. Which team (other than your alma mater) do you secretly root for each week, and why?

Since Greg Schiano took over the reins at Rutgers, I’ve been a fan of the Scarlet Knights and have secretly rooted for RU. Imagine my surprise when my alma mater actually scheduled a game against Rutgers to begin the 2008 season! No, I won’t be rooting for the Knights that day, but I’ll always pull for the little guy and the underdog. After decades of pitiful and embarrassing teams, it’s nice to see a program like Rutgers on the rise.


Richie Weldon has been following college football since 1995, his freshman year at Virginia Tech. An avid Hokies fan, Richie tries not to let that influence his opinions on other teams (most of the time). Seattle is the place he calls home now, and almost every Saturday during the fall he gets together with other Hokies to watch the games. Richie is a software developer

Rob Rochholz is a Fresno State (TheOtherFSU) alum and San Francisco Giants fan who works in graphic design and lives in San Francisco. He's a former sportswriter at The Fresno Bee, where he covered the WAC, Pac-10 and Big West conferences.

9. Which weekend of games are you most looking forward to, and why?

How could anyone NOT be excited about the long Labor Day weekend? It’s just like Bowl Season, but much shorter and no one has any idea how the teams will do! Thursday through Monday. That’s football nirvana!

9. Which weekend of games are you most looking forward to, and why?

Nothing beats the weekend of Sept. 13, which is full of great and interesting match-ups. Big Ten favorite Ohio State travels to Pac-10 pick USC in the must-see non-conference game of the year. Wisconsin faces a potential landmine and risks defeat that same day at Fresno State, which will host a Big Ten team for the first time ever. Also that weekend, it’s Kansas vs. South Florida, Nevada vs. Missouri, Iowa vs. Iowa State, Georgia vs. South Carolina, Arkansas vs. Texas, BYU vs. UCLA, Georgia Tech vs. Virginia Tech, and Hawaii vs. Oregon State to name just a few.

10. If you could attend only one game all season, which would it be?

The national championship game! That’s just too easy. Not only is the game in Miami, and what a fun place to visit in the dead of winter, but to see the two best teams play for all the glory. It’s hard to get better than that.

10. If you could attend only one game all season, which would it be?

I would love to be at the Ohio State-USC game on Sept. 13. It’s rare that a game so early in the season has national title implications, but this one does. On paper, it looks to be a close game but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Trojans – at home – win big. No matter what happens, it will definitely be one to watch.

11. On the season’s opening weekend, games will be played five consecutive days, Thursday thru Monday. Describe your fantasy road trip that allows you to take in a game each day that weekend.

This weekend is going to be one big feast! I’d start with an appetizer of N.C .State at South Carolina. The N.C. State Wolfpack will be looking to cause the first upset of the season, but they will likely get spanked by the Gamecocks on special teams play. Look for Ryan Succop to put three or four balls through the uprights for South Carolina. What’s best about this game is that Columbia is in spitting distance of Charlotte, where Virginia Tech plays East Carolina on Saturday. After the Hokies and Pirates are done playing footsies with one another (lots of punting in that game), travel down I-85 and catch the huge game between Alabama and Clemson in Atlanta. Both of these teams are ranked in Top 25 in most polls and should prove to be something else! The next day I’d leave the car at the Atlanta airport and fly out to L.A. to see UCLA and Tennessee on Monday.

11. On the season’s opening weekend, games will be played five consecutive days, Thursday thru Monday. Describe your fantasy road trip that allows you to take in a game each day that weekend.

I’d start off the long weekend on Thursday in Waco, where Baylor hosts Riley Skinner and Wake Forest. Something tells me that the Demon Deacons could be ripe for an early-season upset in that one, even from lowly Baylor. From there, it’s down to Houston for Friday’s Rice-SMU game, featuring the debut of new Mustangs coach June Jones. I’m guessing Jones will have SMU turned around in no time. Saturday, it’s off to Baton Rouge to see if Appalachian State can pull off the unthinkable two years in a row with a game at LSU. Sunday, I’m making the trek to Louisville for one of those rivalry games that often produces great finishes (Kentucky-Louisville). And finally, Labor Day weekend concludes and I’ll be seeing red at the first-ever meeting between Fresno State and Rutgers. Whew. Five games in five days, and all great ones.

12. Should the BCS continue with a combination of human and computer polls, or would you suggest an alternative solution?

I’m glad to see the BCS formula was spared any major tweaks or changes for this coming season. As a fan, and I can only imagine as a player or coach, it really stinks when the rules are constantly changing.

The BCS formula still seems to be wrong, though, no matter how many ways you slice it, due to so much human influence on the results. Perhaps a playoff system whereby each conference champion of the six major conferences and the winners of two play-in games from the other conferences (WAC, Mountain West, C-USA, MAC … not sure what to do with the Sun Belt) would at least give everyone a chance at the big game! Such a playoff system would be done after the bowls for those teams who did not win their conferences.

12. Should the BCS continue with a combination of human and computer polls, or would you suggest an alternative solution?

I think the BCS is a mess and I don’t trust either the computers or the human polls. In order to rely on human polls, one huge flaw needs to be corrected: The coaches and Harris voters need to wait until each team has played at least three games until conducting a poll. It’s a problem when a team is ranked too high or too low in the preseason polls and then that team’s final poll placement in December is based on what everyone thought back in August. Take BYU this year, for instance. The Cougars are ranked 17th in the preseason coaches poll, yet face a schedule that doesn’t include a single Top 25 team. BYU will be favored in every game and is virtually guaranteed a spot in the Top 5 or higher at season’s end if it keeps on winning. When Hawaii was going unbeaten last year, at least the Warriors had to face a ranked Boise State team along the way and began the season much lower in the rankings. This time it appears smooth sailing for BYU, which seems unfair to those teams that schedule tougher. Preseason rankings are too often based on history rather than results. Overall, I think the Harris voters appear a little out of the loop and not engaged enough in true evaluation of team strength. Meanwhile, coaches are often biased and will rank teams in their own league higher than they should be. It’s not a perfect situation by any means, and until there’s a playoff, the system will remain flawed.