Thursday marks the kickoff of many football fans’ favorite part of the year: the beginning of the college football season.
Kickoff day is highlighted by a clash between No. 16 Oregon and No. 14 Boise State on blue turf. The season begins this Saturday, with over 60 games scheduled to fill the football fan’s appetite.
This season’s favorites are the Florida Gators. The defending champs received 58 of a possible 60 first-place votes in the preseason AP poll, setting a new record. Do-it-all quarterback Tim Tebow leads the Gators, who look to capture their third BCS National Championship in four years. Tebow looks to further etch his name into college football lore by becoming the second player to win the Heisman Trophy twice. In addition to Tebow, returning all 11 starters on defense can’t hurt the Gators in their quest to repeat.
Texas comes into the season ranked second. The team is hungry after a narrow loss to Texas Tech kept them out of the National Championship game last year. Fresh off a 12-win season, the Longhorns are looking to capture their fourth title in school history behind quarterback Colt McCoy, a top Heisman contender.
Slotted right behind Texas at No. 3 is their chief rival, the University of Oklahoma Sooners. After being dominated in last year’s championship by Florida, the Sooners hope to get back there and take care of business this time around. Coach Bob Stoops is hoping to improve his dismal 2-5 record in BCS bowl games and shed the “can’t win the big game” label. Lucky for him, 2008 Heisman Trophy Winner Sam Bradford will be directing the offense again this year.
Tabbed at No. 4 are the USC Trojans. The Trojans are constantly loaded with talent as well as speed and are consistently one of the top teams in the nation. Losing key games to inferior opponents in the past few years has kept them from clinching a title berth (see: Oregon State, UCLA and Stanford). The Trojans faithful hope Matt Barkley, the first true freshman to ever start at quarterback for USC, can bring them their first title since the Matt Leinart to Reggie Bush days.
Rounding out the top five is the Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama had been a sleeping giant in the college football world until Nick Saban took over as head coach last year. A football program with that much support and resources should not settle for mediocrity, and Saban led the Tide to a 10-0 record to begin last year. Although they dropped their last two contests, the glory has been restored to Alabama football, with expectations high for 2009.
In order, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Mississippi, Oklahoma State and Penn State fill out the top 10. Notre Dame, who has arguably the biggest national fan base, is ranked No. 23 in a make or break year for coach Charlie Weis. ESPN analyst Lou Holtz predicted a Notre Dame vs. Florida championship. While he is informed, he could be a bit slanted since he is a former Irishman.
There are many storylines surrounding the start of the season. Will Florida stake its claim as the team of the decade? Who will be the surprise team when November comes? What player will come out of nowhere, immersing himself in the Heisman Trophy debate with the likes of Tebow, McCoy and Bradford? Fans will have to wait for the rest of the season.