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The College Football Crystal Ball

David Lamm - Clear Channel, Jacksonville

#1-Florida State-The Seminoles had two players taken the last April’s NFL Draft. So what’s my point? That means nearly everyone is back. They are loaded. Coach Bobby Bowden’s decision to stick with Chris Rix at midseason last year will prove to be a stroke of genius. I’d take Rix right now over any other quarterback in the nation. The offensive line is massive and talented, the receivers are top-notch, and there’s tons of talent at running back. The defense is big and fast, particularly up front. The only way they don’t win it all, is if the injury bug bites them as bad as it did last year.

#2-Texas-The Longhorns have nibbled at greatness for two years. They’ve learned from losing. Quarterback Chris Simms hasn’t lived up to his prep press clippings from his much ballyhooed snub of Knoxville to head down to Austin. He has the tools, and more importantly, he has plenty of help this year in receivers Roy Williams and B.J. Johnson. A weak first half of the schedule will help build confidence. Now, if coach Mack Brown could just let his assistants do the coaching…

#3-Tennessee-The Volunteers lost some big-time talent on the defensive line, but there are experienced replacements. Casey Clausen to Kelley Washington could be college football’s best passing combo. The Vols are loaded at running back, too, and oh yeah, they get both Miami and Florida in Knoxville.

#4-Florida-Speaking of those Gators, coach Steve Spurrier is gone after spearheading, what he thought, was his most talented team ever last year. Most of that talent is back and they’re all fired up to be playing for new coach Ron Zook. Remember, the Gators lost just two games last year, both with running back Earnest Graham on the sidelines. Quarterback Rex Grossman will need to find some new receivers, but he’ll have plenty of time to do it behind the protection of a solid offensive line. Defense? That’s Zook’s specialty. Watch out for nose tackle Ian Scott, linebacker Bam Hardmon, cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, and safety Todd Johnson all to have big years.

#5-Nebraska-The Cornhuskers were embarrassed by Miami in the Rose Bowl (title game) in part because they weren’t prepared for the Hurricanes speed. The Huskers have made adjustments and are ready to continue their fight for the national championship. Heisman winner Eric Crouch is gone, but Jammal Lord is an option whiz and the defense is switching to a zone scheme from the man-to-man that got them toasted in Pasadena last year.

#6-Oklahoma-The Sooners have the nation’s best defense. It has speed, and it has more speed, and it has some more speed left over. Watch for tackle Tommie Harris and safety Eric Bassey. The offense, however, has problems starting with weak play at quarterback.

#7-Mami-The Hurricanes lost a bunch of talent. Eleven players were drafted by the NFL, five in the first round, and another four or five undrafted ‘Canes are expected to make NFL rosters. Still, Miami is second-to-none at stockpiling talent. The defensive front seven is outstanding, led by tackle William Joseph (who could be the top pick in next year’s draft). Quarterback Ken Dorsey is more gifted than he’s given credit for being, and is 26-1 as a starter. Second-year coach Larry Coker, though, will find he has less depth, particularly in the secondary, and that will hurt with a schedule that includes trips to Knoxville and Gainesville, as well as home dates with Florida State and Virginia Tech.

#8-Marshall-That’s right. The Thundering Herd from the Mid-America Conference is talented. Big time. Quarterback Byron Leftwich has a bright NFL future. Ditto for receiver Darius Watts. If the Herd can get by Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on September 12, they’ll go undefeated.

#9-Oregon-The Ducks are still crying about being shunned by the Bowl Championship Series and not getting a shot at Miami for the title in last year’s Rose Bowl. The Ducks were lucky because the ‘Canes would’ve turned them into duck soup. This isn’t to say Oregon isn’t very talented. Since the arrival of coach Mike Bellotti, the folks in Eugene have started admitting more football players disguised as student-athletes, thus, the improvement. Quarterback Joey Harrington is gone, but tailback Onterrio Smith returns with most of the offense. The defense has gotten better under Bellotti every year and should continue that trend this season.

#10-Georgia-Rookie coach Mark Richt took a 10-2 team and coached it to an 8-4 record thanks to some questionable late-game decisions. Richt is smart enough to admit his mistakes and, most importantly, fix them. The Bulldogs haven’t had this much talent since Herschel Walker was carrying UGA to a national title 20 years ago. Richt says Georgia needs some “new good ol’ days” for its scrapbook. He may get them this season.

QUIK HITS - The Major League Players Association has set an August 30 strike date. Well, I’m starting my strike against Major League Baseball right now…

The PGA Championship may be viewed as the stepchild of the golf majors, but it’s the best of the golf majors. The PGA of America puts on a better show than the Augusta National Golf Club, the United States Golf Association, and the Royal and Ancient Golf Association…

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