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Power Play: The 2006 College Football Preview

College football is about power. The power sweep, the Power I formation, or the power back smashing the ball into the middle of the line. The toughest, most powerful defenses keep teams in the race for the conference title. College football has several power conferences with the teams expected to contend for the Top 20 and the national title. Let’s take a look at some of the best teams from the power conferences.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes weren’t that far from a national championship a year ago, finishing 10-2 SU, 9-3 ATS. Their only losses were by a total of 10 points to Penn State and eventual champ Texas (25-22), a game they probably should have won. Head Coach Jim Tressel has assembled a speedy group deep with talent and returning experience. On the offensive side of the ball, he has eight starters returning, including All-American candidates Troy Smith at quarterback, Ted Ginn Jr. at flanker and Kirk Barton at tackle.

Senior quarterback Troy Smith was second on the team in rushing with 611 yards and passed for 2,282 yards, 62.9-percent completions, with 16 tds, 4 ints. He is 13-2 as a starter heading into his final year. This offense averaged 32 points with perfect balance, 196.7 yards rushing (4.7 ypc) and 225.7 passing per game. September 9th is the big rematch at Texas, and they get Penn State and Michigan at home. Road games at Iowa and Michigan State are the only tough road games after that trip to Texas. They look like the team to beat in the Big 10 with this offense and conference schedule.

Miami: It will be an interesting season for Miami in the ACC. Miami was 9-3 overall last season, allowing just 14 ppg, but was a poor 4-8 ATS, which means they were expected to be better. Head Coach Larry Coker returns, but he brought in a lot of new assistant coaches to shake things up. Rich Olson returns as offensive coordinator after leading the attack in the glory days of the 1990s, and John Palermo will run the defensive line, coming over from Wisconsin.

Quarterback stability and experience will be a plus in 2006. Junior quarterback Kyle Wright returns (18 tds, 10 ints) after throwing for 2,403 yards. The offense averaged 137 yards on the ground and 215 yards passing, outscoring opponents by a 27-14 average. Senior tailback Tyrone Moss (701 yards, 5.1 ypc) leads the running game, while there is depth at receiver with senior WR Ryan Moore, junior WR Lance Leggett and 6-foot-6 junior TE Greg Olsen. The defense allowed just 14 points per game and three yards rushing per carry. September will test the ‘Canes with games against Florida State and at Louisville.

Notre Dame: Think Charlie Weis knows a thing or two about offense? Weis electrified the Irish attack in his first year as head coach. Brady Quinn took to Weis’s aggressive spread offense and Notre Dame averaged 36.7 points, 147 yards rushing and 330 passing per game. They had a memorable 9-3 season, with an OT loss to Michigan State and a thrilling 34-31 loss to No. 1 USC, losing on the last play.

Seven starters return on offense. Senior quarterback Brady Quinn runs the offense after a season where he stepped up with 32 tds, 7 ints and 3,919 passing yards as a junior. This will be his 4th season as the starter. Junior RB Darius Walker (1,196 yards, 9 tds) led the Irish in rushing and provides balance, while 6-foot-5 senior WR Jeff Samardzija (1,274 yards, 15 tds) and 6-foot-6 junior TE John Carlson are tall targets – you can’t teach height or speed! The schedule is tough, playing at Georgia Tech and with Penn State and Michigan at home, before a late season trip to LA in the season finale at USC.

Oklahoma: Over in the Big 12, Oklahoma was kind of forgotten after a 2-3 start in 2005 that included a home loss to TCU (as a 24-point favorite) and a 45-12 loss to Texas. However, the Sooners weren’t that bad, finishing with an 8-4 record and a 17-14 upset of Oregon in the Holiday Bowl. Head coach Bob Stoops has to rebuild the offensive line, but brings back a lot of talent. The ground attack is in great shape behind junior RB Adrian Peterson, who looks to hit 1,000 yards for the third straight season even after battling ankle injuries in 2005.

Sophomore quarterback Rhett Bomar got better down the stretch as a freshman, and a young defense returns much of its key players, including senior DE Larry Birdine and senior LB Rufus Alexander. Oklahoma averaged 31 ppg at home where they won 6 of 7 games, but the Sooners were 2-3 SU, 3-2 ATS on the road. Which makes them 6-9 ATS on the road the last three years. Circle October 7 on your calendar, an Oklahoma showdown with Texas. Stoops is delighted they don’t have to face Vince Young again.

Florida: If you like symmetry, 2006 is the 100th year of Florida football. The Gators also won the National Title 10 years ago during the 1996 season. Florida suffered a blitz of injuries in 2005, its first under head coach Urban Meyer. While Meyer’s triple-option attack is still a work in progress, the defense really impressed during a 9-3 season. The Gators hope for few injuries.

Meyer has a talented veteran quarterback in senior Chris Leak, who has been starting since his freshman season and passed for 2,639 yards with 20 tds, six picks in 2005. The offense returns six starters, with speed and depth at wideout in seniors WR Dallas Baker, Jemalle Cornelius and WR Andre Caldwell. The defense has six starters back and the line was magnificent against the run, allowing 94 rush yards and 3.1 yards per carry. Florida was 8-4 under the total. Florida was 8-0 SU/5-3 ATS in The Swamp last season, where they pummeled teams by a 31-14 average. Road games at Tennessee, Auburn and Florida State will be the biggest SEC challenge.

Auburn: A lot of folks thought 2004 was a fluke, when Auburn went 13-0 but got squeezed out of the national championship game. Well, Coach Tommy Tuberville showed it wasn’t with an impressive 2005 campaign going 9-3 SU, 8-2 ATS. The key for the Tigers has been the running game and its great offensive line. The Tigers lose big Marcus McNeill and Troy Reddick, though they have 6-foot-8, 315-lb LT King Dunlap and 6-5 RT Leon Hart to replace them, and return guards Tim Duckworth and Ben Grubbs. Auburn has averaged 204, 184, 183 and 194 yards rushing per game in each of the last four seasons.

Junior quarterback Brandon Cox had a fine sophomore season with 15 tds, 8 ints, and 2,324 yards. The backfield returns RBs senior Kenny Irons (1,293 yards, 5.1 ypc, 13 tds), senior RB Tre Smith and junior RB Brad Lester. The trio led the team in rushing. The defense has six starters back and was ferocious, allowing 15.5 points, 117.2 yards rushing, 3.5 ypc, and just 198 yards passing per contest. They have new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who was with the Dolphins last season and was LSU’s defensive coordinator when they won the title in 2003. Auburn has an easy SEC schedule, too, with the road games at Mississippi State, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Alabama.

By Jim Feist

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