The Warm Fire League
Welcome back to The Campus Game and our first 2010 college football "Warm Fire League" discussion.
Sports fans recognize the warm fire term as a takeoff on the old baseball tradition of "hot stove" leagues. Not official leagues, the phrase simply refers to fans gathering around a hot stove during the cold winter to talk about their favorite teams, seasons past, and upcoming pennant races.
In the spirit of the hot stoves, The Campus Game gives you college football's warm fire league. Strike the kindling, grab a cup of coffee or your favorite beverage, and settle back in your most comfortable chair. Let the warm fire discussions begin.
The Tide Rolls Again in 10?
Expect Alabama to start the 2010 season as an overwhelming choice to repeat as national champions - much like Florida the season just past.
Bama returns most of the offensive weapons that carried the program to its first title since 1992, including tailback/Heisman winner Mark Ingram and his talented backup Trent Richardson, savvy and unbeaten starting quarterback Greg McElroy, talented future NFL receiver Julio Jones, and most of the offensive line.
The other side of the ball is not so pretty. The Tide loses nearly its entire defensive front seven, including stalwart LB Rolando McClain and huge nose tackle Terrence Cody. The loss of starting cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Javier Arenas damages the secondary.
Finally, do not underestimate the loss of PK Leigh Tiffin, who grew into one of the country's best during his four years.
Still, any team that has recruited like Alabama the past three seasons ... and that has the driven Nick Saban on the sideline ... will be a force.
Who Can Stem the Tide?
Many of the usual suspects should be in the hunt in 2010.
Ohio State seems likely to start the season at #2. The Buckeyes beat a good Oregon team in the Rose Bowl, recruit as well as anyone outside USC, Texas, and the SEC teams, and have a multi-threat quarterback in big Terrelle Pryor. The schedule is also conducive to a title run with one tough, high-profile non-conference team (Miami) visiting the Horseshoe on September 11th. In conference, a Nov. 20 trip to Iowa should determine the Big Ten crown.
Virginia Tech looked good in the Chick-fil-Bowl, returns a terrific offensive tandem in QB Tyrod Taylor and RB Ryan Williams, and the Hokies always play solid defense and special teams. Frank Beamer's boys also have a nice inter-sectional matchup with Boise State at Fed Ex Field in D.C. on October 2nd.
The Broncos will get a lot of early publicity too. They lose only one starter (and just four seniors total) from a team that's 25-1 the past two seasons. BSU should be riding an 18-game winning streak when they play the Hokies. Couple that game with another non-conference contest against Oregon State of the PAC-10 and Boise could be poised to play for a title.
The Iowa Hawkeyes are potentially another challenger from Big Ten country. Iowa beat Georgia Tech pretty handily in the Orange Bowl, their defense returns nearly intact, and QB Ricky Stanzi is a heady player.
Others that could be in the mix are Texas (freshman Garrett Gilbert showed toughness in the BCS title game), Oregon (the Ducks return all eleven starters from their explosive offense), and Oklahoma (the Sooners took their licks last year but may grow up in 2010).
What about the SEC?
Of course, the biggest challengers to Alabama may well come from the Southeastern Conference.
SEC teams have won the past four national titles, and next year may be no different - even if Bama doesn't go back-to-back.
The West division will be absolutely brutal.
Arkansas may pose the biggest threat to the Tide. Bobby Petrino can X and O with anybody, the Hogs return big Ryan Mallett at QB, and Bama must travel to Fayetteville.
Auburn is having a great recruiting run after winning a thrilling Outback Bowl over Northwestern. The Tigers played the Tide tougher than anyone in 2009.
LSU features a deep, talented roster, but must get some consistency on offense to be a real contender.
Ole Miss comes off a second consecutive Cotton Bowl victory, and Houston Nutt has stockpiled a nice roster of talent. Losing QB Jevan Snead to the NFL hurts.
Mississippi State showed toughness in Dan Mullen's first season, and the Bullies should continue to get better.
In the East, Florida faces the uncertainty of having a head coach in limbo and the loss of the greatest Gator ever - Tim Tebow. Still, UF has to be the favorite in a division that otherwise should be wide open.
Georgia has exceptional young offensive play-makers, but the Dogs are hampered by having absolutely no experience at quarterback.
South Carolina returns a lot of starters, but did not show up in the bowl game. A perennial tease, the toughness of the Gamecocks has to be questioned.
Tennessee is still reeling from the ugly departure of coach Lane Kiffin. I like Derek Dooley, but he has his work cut out next season.
Vanderbilt and Kentucky don't figure to win the division, although the Wildcats have run off four consecutive bowl seasons.
Until Next Time
OK- that should be enough fat to chew.
One commercial announcement ... I'll again write the Southeastern Conference preview for The Kickoff preseason magazine. Last year was the first time the venerable Chattanooga-based publication published a preseason annual, and it turned out nicely. Look for it on newstands in early summer or click on the publication link above to make an order.
Well, the last embers are flickering, so we better throw another log on that warm fire.
Until next time - see you at kickoff!