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Sunday Morning Quarterback

Sunday Morning Quarterback

Friday, August 26, 2005

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Pick a card, any card. Flip a coin. Heads? Who called heads? Nebraska? Congratulations, you're the Big XII North Champion! Or, at least, picking a division winner in that quagmire makes about as much sense as flipping a coin, with five really mediocre teams capable of limping into the Big XII Championship like a lamb to the slaughter. No such troubles in the South, where things are more simplified: Oklahoma or Texas? If you believe the Longhorns can end five years of futility, be SMQ's guest. Pick the Longhorns. Care for a little wager, sucker?

PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH (As determined by this system)
1. Nebraska
2. Colorado
3. Missouri
4. Kansas State
5. Iowa State
6. Kansas
1. Oklahoma
2. Texas
3. Texas Tech
4. Texas A&M
5. Oklahoma State
6. Baylor

Player his team can least afford to lose: Three running quarterbacks - Missouri's BRAD SMITH, Texas's VINCE YOUNG and Texas A&M 's REGGIE McNEAL - are worth about five wins each to their respective teams. Iowa State's BRET MEYER could join that group, too.
Most Likely to Prove SMQ Wrong: Last year it was Missouri; now, IOWA STATE is the flavor of the preseason in the Northern Division. And with some pretty good skill talent around, the Cyclones could very, very well do better than fifth in the division they came so close to winning last year.
Most Likely to be Benched: If Joe Dailey was any indication, Bill Callahan's West Coast, NFL-style contraption is where inexperienced passers go to die. So ZAC TAYLOR can take some comfort in the knowledge that the guy replacing him, hyped true freshman Harrison Beck, will probably suck, too.
Least Informed Prediction: Nebraska will win the Big XII North. You see above what I think of the Huskers' coach and quarterback situation; but honestly, does anyone have enough information to put this division to the crystal ball?
Why All the Hype About: YOUNG and McNEAL as Heisman candidates - Young, SMQ understands (he was impressed by the Rose Bowl, too), but neither of these less-than-steady-armed passers looks all that much better than Smith did as a sophomore in 2003, which helped him garner all kinds of Heisman hype entering last year and flatly blew it. Not even on the radar. McNeal and Young may fare better, but they'll have to throw it better to beat Oklahoma and have any kind of real chance.
Why is No One Talking About: Oklahoma-Texas? This is a big game!
No One Will be Missed More Than: How important was CEDRIC BENSON to the Texas running game? We'll see when Selvin Young is stacked up when the Horns have to get two yards in the fourth quarter of a close game.
Put Up or Shut Up: SMQ will give Texas a break and call out instead BILL CALLAHAN, who managed to not even make a bowl game in a down year for the Big XII North in his first season at Nebraska, which SMQ would have not previously thought possible.
SMQ Will be Watching: That wacky, wild North Division...Can Kansas State bounce back, or are the Wildcats on a permanent slide?...Texas Tech's glorious, freak show passing game...The Red River Shootout.
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SMQ National Rank: #4 - 2004: 12-1 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: RB Adrian Peterson of course, the most exciting stud rusher to play so well so early since Herschel Walker. May be the best player in the country.
Season Hinges On: A semblance of a passing game to open things up for Peterson. Paul Thompson has won the starting QB job...or has he?
SMQ Likes: Aside from Mr. Peterson, the Sooners will also have senior Kejuan Jones, who ran for 500 yards as a backup and caught 22 passes, receiver Travis Wilson to take some pressure off the running game and third-year starters Davin Joseph and Kelvin Chaisson on the line. Thompson and Rhett Bomar are both more talented than Jason White, who apparently was putting together Heisman-type seasons on Joe Namath's knees the past two years. Dusty Dvoracek is back on the defensive line, which will anchor an athletic unit that has yet to stutter to any significant degree under Bob Stoops.
SMQ Doesn't Like: White's smarts, leadership, guts, etc., etc. will be missed, and his arm, too, if Thompson or Bomar can't do enough to keep defenses off the star of the show. If any area of Stoops' defense has struggled the past few years, it's the secondary, which yielded some big plays last year, was especially shredded by USC, lost both safeties and isn't as talented as any other Sooner DB corps of the past five years. And why so bad in the post-season? Three of the last four extra games for the Sooners, not long ago one of the most money big-game teams around, have been hideous performances.
Best-case: By now, Oklahoma always has legit national title aspirations. The offense has shown the ability to line up and pound people before without a threatening passing game - think Quentin Griffin in 2002 - and even if the QBs are only average, Peterson is man enough to carry the load anyway. The defense is always fast and tough, and has enough experience back to be at least as good as last year. Just a little bit of a passing game, and continued dominance of Texas, and the regular season unbeaten streak stretches to three years and counting.
Worst-case: Whatever else may happen, the worst would be losing to Texas, because the Sooners' identity as league bellweather is built mainly on their convincing possession of the Red River Shootout and could come crumbling down with an uncharacteristically bad show in Dallas. Beyond maintaining its hold on that series, OU's occasional proclivity for giving up the bomb has led to more than one shocking defeat at the hands of inferior teams; Texas A&M, Texas Tech and always-bothersome Oklahoma State lurk as potential snakes in the grass en route to another division title.
Why They'll be Back in the BCS: Ultimately, there's only one team on the schedule with talent enough to expect to beat these guys - and readers should know by now how SMQ feels about that team in relation to the Sooners.

SMQ National Rank: #14 - 2004: 11-1 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: All together, the returning members of the starting offensive line - Jonathan Scott, Kasey Studdard, Will Allen, Justin Blalock - were dominant in paving the way for Cedric Benson, that Young guy and the nation's only 3,500-yard rushing offense.
Season Hinges On: October 8. Cotton Bowl. State Fair. You know the drill.
SMQ Likes: Any quarterback who can run for 1,000 yards, as Vince Young did, is a special one, and SMQ has seen very, very few athletic performances on any level that rival Young's Rose Bowl freak show. The line is probably the best in the nation and will allow Selvin Young or whoever replaces Benson to do just fine. The middle of the defense - Rodrique Wright, Larry Dibbles, Aaron Harris - is stout. Cedric Griffin and Michael Huff are big timers in the secondary.
SMQ Doesn't Like: Young's arm, when pressed, hasn't been nearly reliable as his legs, and the receivers, after years of Roy Williams, B.J. Johnson and B.J. Wright, weren't anything special; it won't matter most of the time, but against top-notch defenses - Ohio State, Oklahoma - can the 'Horns put together enough balance to move anybody further than five yards from the line of scrimmage?
Best-case: The 'Horns are apparently a favorite to return to the Rose Bowl, which would mean beating Ohio State and, more importantly, Oklahoma. The Buckeyes will be more or less a confidence game for the showdown with OU - and winning that game will mean everything: finally wrestling away the title of Big XII king and getting that first league crown of the Brown Era and clearing an open path to a national championship shot.
Worst-case: Don't underestimate the loss of Benson and Derrick Johnson, on whom the Longhorns relied so heavily the past four years. With all the hype, losing to Ohio State, or especially Oklahoma, or both, could have a disastrous, "We've blown our best chance" effect. A mental fall of that sort could be dangerous with Colorado, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M all waiting down the road. Three losses max, but to Longhorn fans at this point, that must sound like 3-8 does to most teams.
Why They'll Fall Short: Few teams have so much riding on one game. But if the 'Horns go 11-1, and that one is...you know, there will be more gnashing of teeth and unfair cat calls for Mack Brown's ouster. And the world turns...

SMQ National Rank: #25 - 2004: 8-4 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: WR Jarret Hicks, leading man in Mike Leach's three-ring circus stock of pass-catching options.
Season Hinges On: The usual display of fortitude from the rent-a-fifth-year-senior-quarterback; this season, it's Cody Hodges.
SMQ Likes: The passing game, baby! Throw that ball! Throw it again! Every down! All right!
SMQ Doesn't Like: The running game and defense are, well, less exciting. Other than Texas in 2002 and Cal last year, the Raiders haven't shown a tendency to beat good teams. They're inconsistent and give up a lot of points. What's with all the I-AA teams and should-be I-AA teams up front?
Best-case: A fast start against the creamiest of puffs engenders some confidence for the league slate. The defense improves a bit, the offense continues to click, pulls an upset, and breaks through to a New Year's Day affair.
Worst-case: What if, against all precedent, Hodges doesn't throw for 4,500 yards, or tosses up a lot of picks in the process? There's not enough distance yet between Tech and the middle of the Big XII pack to assume victories over Kansas State, Nebraska and Oklahoma State. They won't finish with a losing record, but could come close.
Why They'll Break Through: Maybe not "break through," but a so, so easy non-conference slate means one conference upset could lead to nine wins - or ten, with a bowl game - and that's a signal the Raiders are maybe on the verge of challenging for some bigger prizes.

SMQ National Rank: #28 - 2004: 7-5 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: QB Reggie McNeal, a consensus darkhorse Heisman candidate who is only slightly less elusive than Young and a less erratic passer (only four INTs last year to Young's eleven).
Season Hinges On: McNeal's health, and the development of some consistent receivers.
SMQ Likes: McNeal, along with tailback Courtney Lewis in the versatile Franchione offense that usually does a lot of different things well. Seven starters are back on defense, including Jaxson Appel, who's been getting some rave reviews at safety this preseason.
SMQ Doesn't Like: The Aggies haven't exceeded expectations in a while, usually underachieving. Good teams (Utah, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee) handed it to the Aggies last year, usually by a lot, and also somehow lost to Baylor. No gaping holes, but very inconsistent.
Best-case: The Aggies could challenge for the division title if McNeal stays healthy and the defense, 63rd last year, is better (it should be). McNeal led an upset of Oklahoma as a freshman in 2002 and the scare of the Sooners last year, so it's not inconceivable for TAMU to take down one of the big boys.
Worst-case: A slow start, as in a loss at Clemson to open the year, would send a very, very bad message, even worse than the blowout loss to Utah in last year's opener. Baylor (SMQ will disregard last season) is the only guaranteed league win. Five or six wins is as likely as nine, maybe more.
Why They're Stuck in the Middle: Some see the Aggies as some kind of sleeper or potential threat to the South division title, but SMQ sees a team that couldn't keep up with better opponents and finished with a whimper (losses in four of the final five, capped by the Cotton Bowl waxing). Why will they be better?

SMQ National Rank: #35 - 2004: 5-6 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: RB Cory Ross, who's 5-6 and 195, most of that in his legs.
Season Hinges On: Finding a quarterback with an adequate grasp of the dreaded West Coast Offense, or better yet, abandoning the offense altogether - unless, that is, Rich Gannon has some eligibility left.
SMQ Likes: Joe Dailey is out at quarterback; JC transfer Zac Taylor is getting cautiously optimistic reviews in practice. Ross averaged over 100 yards a game and will get more opportunities if Bill Callahan knows what good for him (No, SMQ is not afraid to dictate strategy to a former AFC Championship-winning coach - it's not like he won that Super Bowl). The defense was mediocre, but the whole front four, plus safety Daniel Bullocks, is back.
SMQ Doesn't Like: Why are you trying to throw? This is Nebraska! The Huskers would have been better with the option last year, or just handing it off - SMQ watched Ross and now-cornerback Tierre Green rip through the beloved Southern Miss defense early last September and by the third quarter was openly rooting for now-transferred Dailey to throw as often as possible. He did, 42 times; the results were bad for Nebraska then, and bad for it the rest of the year. Most of the problems came from the passing game and the 19 interceptions (to four touchdowns) Dailey threw. Run the ball, Mr. Callahan. Run the ball.
Best-case: Taylor is okay, or at least doesn't get picked two and three times a game like Dailey, and Callahan decides to hand the ball off more. The Huskers will not win their first league title since 1999, no way, but the North Division is wide open; they could set themselves up for an inevitable championship game loss.
Worst-case: More passing follies, more Ls against any halfway decent team. As easily as it could win the division, Nebraska could finish fifth.
Why They'll Bounce Back: The luster is gone. But compared to the rest of the North, the Big Red can still act like the big kid on the block.

SMQ National Rank: #37 - 2004: 8-5 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: Pick any of the three starting linebackers - Thaddeus Washington, Jordan Dizon or Brian Iwuh - they're all pretty good. No stars on this team.
Season Hinges On: They still have to find time between depositions and court hearings to practice.
SMQ Likes: The defense, especially the front seven, ought to be pretty good; the linebackers are athletic and make most of the tackles. Joel Klatt is a three-year starter and one these steady-but-not-spectacular types you can win with, and Joel Klopfenstein and Quinn Sypniewski have done a lot at tight end in the past - assuming at least one of them can stay healthy. No kicking game is in better hands than kicker Mason Crosby and punter John Torp. The rape and sex-for-recruits stuff seems to have mostly subsided, if other legal problems hav not.
SMQ Doesn't Like: Klatt isn't the kind of quarterback who can carry a team without a decent running game, and the Buffs have struggled there the last two years. One of this fall's presumed top backs, Brandon Caesar, is out for the season.
Best-case: The defense keeps scores down, and a somewhat consistent running game loosens things up for Klatt. Crosby will probably have to win a lot of close games to do it, but Colorado has as good a chance as any in the North to win the division again with another eight-win showing.
Worst-case: CU could lose as many as eight, too, or more if things were to completely fall apart against a tough schedule.
Why They'll be Back in a Bowl: At the moment, Colorado is about as consistent and solid as any program in this division, which doesn't say much for the other five.

SMQ National Rank: #38 - 2004: 5-6 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: Brad Smith, a running QB who had even more hype entering last year than Vince Young or Reggie McNeal is getting this preseason, didn't handle the hype very well.
Season Hinges On: Supposedly, the offense is going to try to do the Urban Meyer thing and spread the field to give Smith a little room to move. The more he's on the run, and not forced to throw, the better.
SMQ Likes: There's no denying Smith is a phenomenal athlete who carries the fortunes of the offense on his shoulders and feet. The defense finished 14th in the nation total.
SMQ Doesn't Like: Half that solid D is gone, and it wasn't so hot during the Tigers' five game losing streak that ran into the end of the season. Other than Smith, the running game isn't too fearsome.
Best-case: Smith returns to his sophomore form (29 total touchdowns)and the Tigers look the way they were supposed to last year, when they were the chic pick to win the North and finish somewhere towards the bottom of the top 25.
Worst-case: The Real Smith turns out to be the one Mizzou saw last year rather than in 2003, the defense can't overcome the losses and the Tigers spend another bowl-less holiday season.
Why They'll Rebound - Sort Of: Overall, Missouri's talent and lack of weapons to take attention away from the quarterback won't allow it to win the division, but the Tigers ought to take the record back above .500.

SMQ National Rank: #41 - 2004: 4-7- 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: LB Brandon Archer, continuing the KSU 'backer tradition.
Season Hinges On: A whole bunch of factors, all coming back to proving 2004 was only an aberration. What the hell happened here, anyway?
SMQ Likes: Honestly, there's not much. All three linebackers return, headed by Archer and Teddy Sims.
SMQ Doesn't Like: The quarterback situation was sporadic, to put it kindly, and there's no more Darren Sproles to bail Dylan Meier or Adam Webb out. The defense gave up more than 30 points a game, which is more like the a stat from the late eighties Mildcats than the fearsome units we've come to expect since.
Best-case: SMQ would like to imagine Bill Snyder's program is good enough to bounce back and take the reigns of this sorry division and say "We beat the crap out of Oklahoma, dammit..."
Worst-case: ...but what evidence is there the Cats are capable of doing that? Nothing about this team looks significantly better than last year's 4-7 group.
Why 2004 was the Beginning, Not an Aberration: Again, what's better about this version? The schedule is a bit softer, a bit more like the old marshmallows the Wildcats toasted to build win totals on their way to the top, but the team isn't in any position to legitimately challenge for a division title.

SMQ National Rank: #48 - 2004: 7-5 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: RB Stevie Hicks is a plowhorse the Cyclones can ride all the way to their first conference championship game.
Season Hinges On: The continued development of QB Bret Meyer.
SMQ Likes: With Meyer, Hicks and receivers Todd Blythe and Jon Davis, ISU has some firepower for the next couple years, plus three starting offensive linemen return. Three starters headed by Nick Leaders are back on the defensive line, along with the whole secondary.
SMQ Doesn't Like: For all the hype over its individual parts, the offense wasn't all that productive as a whole (91st in yards, 97th in scoring). In four early season losses - against easily the tougher part of the schedule - it only generated 34 total points.
Best-case: On paper, the Cyclones may be the best overall team in the division. They were an overtime from winning it last year, and only a little improvement on either side (the defense was pretty good already at 29th nationally) could lead to a division title.
Worst-case: It's all up for grabs in the North, so ISU could just as conceivably lose six in the league. There's also Iowa non-conference, the only real automatic loss.
Why They'll Disappoint: Overall, the Cyclones seem to be the North favorite. And yet...and yet...what is so impressive here? They may have as good a chance as anyone else in the division, but that's not worth very much.

SMQ National Rank: #59 - 2004: 7-5 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: WR D'Juan Woods isn't as good as his older brother, but he's still good enough to be all-league.
Season Hinges On: Continuity under new coach Mike Gundy, who's engendered good will thus far by kicking off the team everybody who looks at him the wrong way.
SMQ Likes: SMQ watched the Cowboys almost take out Oklahoma (OSU always takes it to the Sooners) last year, and thought early in that game, "This Donovan Woods can't throw a lick. He's terrible." And yet the redshirt freshman made a couple big throws that kept his team in that one, and wound up in the top 20 nationally in pass efficiency, so SMQ will recant - if only temporarily - and show some faith in this athletic young gentleman. His pedigree, at least, says he's good: D'Juan is his older bro, and record-breaker Rashaun is his even older bro.
SMQ Doesn't Like: RB Vernand Morency was the best player on the offense last year, and his capable replacement, Seymore Shaw, became one of Gundy's refugees. Donovan Woods can still be the erratic passer SMQ saw early against Oklahoma, and it won't help to have a dismal rushing game. The defense would have been good enough most of the time if it were merely mediocre, and couldn't pull that off (vs. five winning teams over the last seven games: 36, 38, 56, 31, 33 points allowed, no victories recorded).
Best-case: The Cowboys are on a decent little three-year bowl run, which included a Cotton Bowl appearance, so they won't go away easily. Gundy offers some continuity, and he and former Florida coordinator Larry Fedora's offense could be good enough to overcome some inevitable defensive problems and slip back into the postseason again.
Worst-case: Les Miles was a major reason for this program's turnaround, and his departure didn't come at the most convenient time. Growing pains on the order of 5-6 could be imminent if Woods can't carry the show.
Why They'll Slip: For starters, OSU plays in a tough division and lost quite a bit of talent. The very, very easy non-conference schedule=likely winning season, but whether or not Miles could have persuaded three wins from the league slate is questionable; Gundy doesn't get the benefit of the doubt yet.

SMQ National Rank: #69 - 2004: 4-7 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: CB Charles Gordon, who was a freshman All-American as a receiver in 2003, then led the nation in interceptions as a corner last year.
Season Hinges On:
SMQ Likes: Gordon, who can still play offense sometimes as well as going full time in the secondary. All three linebackers return, led by Nick Reid. Coulda, shoulda beat Texas.
SMQ Doesn't Like: The overall talent level isn't there. Plainly, the 'Hawks don't have the firepower to compete.
Best-case: The division is open enough that with a couple upsets, KU could challenge for a bowl spot for the second time in three years under Mammoth Mark Mangino.
Worst-case: Without Baylor on the sked, Kansas could drop all eight league games.
Why They'll be in the Cellar: This is the only North Division team without a legitimate shot at the championship game, and mainly because of the disparity in talent. SMQ would bet on at least one upset along the way, though.

SMQ National Rank: #104 - 2004: 3-8 - 2005 Schedule
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Best Player: Safety Maurice Lane, a tackle machine!
Season Hinges On: Beating the I-AA team.
SMQ Likes: Lane, a tackle machine! Also punter Daniel Sepulveda, who will see plenty of action. Coach Guy Morriss was an SMQ favorite at Kentucky, and a tragic figure of sorts in the Premature Gatorade Bowl in 2002.
SMQ Doesn't Like: Anything else. Offense is bad, defense is bad.
Best-case: Exceeding last year's three wins would be a major achievement.
Worst-case: The Bears could go 0-8 in the league easily.
Why They'll Win a Game: One word: Samford. Also, SMU and Army could go down. But the Bears are way, way, waaaaaay behind everyone else.
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9:27 AM

I'm not going to argue your comment about Reggie and Vince Young being "less-than-steady-armed passers" because that's your opinion but I need to defend my boy a tad....Reggie doesn't deserve to be lumped into the same catagory as Young when it comes to passing. He is a MUCH better passer.

Enjoy the site....
Good stuff. I am a UT fan and I think your assessments are right on. This could be the best year for UT since I was born or it could be the year that determines Mack's fate. There will be a lot of pressure come Oct 8 especially if UT leaves Columbus without a victory.

McNeal is a better passer than Young, but other than against OU his freshmen year, he has not played big in big games.
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