Return of the weekly Top 10 list
Sitting on a cross-country flight Sunday gave me a chance to dig into a few things and that means the return of the weekly Top 10 list. Today's topic is the teams with the toughest nonconference schedules. I calculated this one using a simple point total based on who the team is playing and where, and then averaged up the points since some schools have three games and others have four.
1. Washington: On the bright side, all three opponents have to visit U-Dub. The downside: I predict all three of those teams (BYU, Oklahoma and Notre Dame) will be ranked and two of the three (OU and BYU) will be top-15 teams this year. There are teams with more daunting nonconference games (see the next team), but those schools at least have a gimme or two mixed in as well. When Notre Dame is your easiest game, and as I've written before I think the Irish will be improved in 2008, that's saying something.
2. Troy: No one has a tougher double than going to both teams in last season's BCS title game with visits to LSU and then Ohio State, separated by only a game against I-AA Alcorn State. The Trojans' other game is at Oklahoma State, which will be looking for revenge after Troy pounded the Cowboys on national TV.
3. UCLA: Similar to Washington, the Bruins don't have any easy games. Opening against Tennessee will be tough, as will a road trip to BYU. Fresno State sounds more manageable since the Bruins are 6-1 all time against the Bulldogs. Then again, a lot of people are touting Fresno as a top-25 team this year.
4. Marshall: It doesn't start out too bad as the Thundering Herd open at home with 4-7 Illinois State. Then, it gets nasty. The Herd have to visit Wisconsin in the beginning of September and close out the month going to Morgantown, W.Va. The following Friday, they host Cincinnati, which beat Marshall 40-14 last season.
5. USC: Say this for the Trojans, they aren't looking for the easy road. They open at Virginia, which I think will be down this year or else USC might take the top spot on this list. Then powerful Ohio State comes to the Coliseum in a game with hefty national title implications. Toward the end of the season archrival Notre Dame visits L.A.
6. Oregon State: The Beavers' first nonconference game is a road trip to Happy Valley, which then is followed by a visit from a Hawaii team that I think is on the decline. The third game is at Utah, a school that has a shot at getting to a BCS bowl this year. That's solid all the way around.
7. Miami: Opening at Charleston Southern, a school that went 5-6 last year and lost to Hawaii 66-10, should be a cushy start. At least Randy Shannon better hope his new starting QB Robert Marve gets settled in fast because that game is followed up by a visit to the Swamp to play mighty Florida. Then the Canes go to College Station. The fourth game is no walkover since it'll be against defending C-USA champion UCF.
8. East Carolina: The Pirates don't mess around when they kick off a season. They face Virginia Tech (in Charlotte) and then get West Virginia. Both should be top-15 teams. Then ECU has to go to NC State, which figures to be a tough game before closing out at Virginia.
9. Michigan: Rich Rodriguez gets a tough test right out of the chute, with a very underrated Utah team coming to Ann Arbor. Then the Wolverines get Miami (Ohio), a team projected to be in the hunt for the MAC title. The next week Michigan goes to South Bend before finishing up the nonconference slate against a Toledo team that beat Iowa State last year.
10. Florida: Many of the names look tougher than they are. The Gators get a visit from a Hawaii team that was a lot better last year than it will be in 2008. Then UF hosts a Miami program that is at least a year away. The Gators close the season at archrival FSU, which has been rebuilding for a while now. The one opponent that seems to be peaking is The Citadel, which is coming off its first winning season since 1997.
Just Missed the Cut: Virginia, Colorado, Georgia, Pitt, Michigan State and Tennesssee.
• The state of Utah is really starting to crank out some quality football prospects and this will be a big year for the state, some college coaches predict. Dick Harmon has a look at the Class of 2009.
"The most highly recruited prospects in Utah this year are linemen John Martinez (Cottonwood), Xavier Su'afilo (Timpview) and Latu Heimuli (Highland), plus Spanish Fork tight end Richard Wilson. Su'afilo might have the most attention with offers from USC, Tennessee, Stanford, Notre Dame, Miami, LSU and BYU. He just finished unofficial visits at USC and UCLA, and is headed for LSU this week. Martinez has offers from LSU, Ohio State, UCLA, USC, Auburn, BYU and Cal. Wilson has offers on hand from Boise State, BYU, LSU, Miami, Tennessee, Utah and Washington, while Heimuli has scholarship invites from Arizona, BYU and Colorado. Class of 2009 Timpview safety Craig Bills and Adam Timo of Snow Canyon both committed to BYU a year ago after their sophomore seasons and would likely have more recruiting attention. Timo, a 7-2 high jumper, climbed to No. 6 on the Northwest Hot 100 list while Bills is currently ranked No. 14."
I saw Martinez and Su'afilo last week at the USC Rising Stars Camp and both appear to be elite prospects.
• Here is an update to the Xavier Ramos story about the California recruit who tried to commit to Oregon, only to find out that the Ducks had pulled back their offer. Ramos got another offer -- this one from UC Davis, reports Austin Knoblauch. Ramos, a safety with outstanding grades, already has been offered by Army.
• Interesting story by Thayer Evans in today's New York Times on blue-chip DT prospect Jamarkus McFarland:
"In an era when the nation's top high school prospects increasingly seek out the trappings of taking handouts and traveling with entourages, McFarland, 17, stands apart. He is what recruiters call a blue-chip special -- beyond his dominance as a player, his off-field exploits include everything from being senior-class president at Lufkin High School to making $6.50 an hour working part-time at a local Kmart. McFarland also has an academic average of 92.4 on a 100-point scale and can recite his class rank (103rd out of 607 students) more easily than his football statistics as a junior (67 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss and 6 sacks)."
• Here's a good quick read on former Utah star Eric Weddle talking about his priorities and in a larger sense discussing being a pro as reported by J.P. Hoornstra:
"While the offseason headlines showed the Raiders' Javon Walker getting robbed in Vegas, and the Titans' 'Pacman' Jones becoming a Cowboy named Adam, Weddle was at home with his wife and daughter.
'You see every day guys getting suspended, things like that, but if you're focused, stuff shouldn't happen,' Weddle said. 'I know what I'm here for. I'm here to play football. It's my job. Support my wife and my little baby girl -- that's all that matters to me.'"
• I saw "Untraceable," the thriller starring Diane Lane as an FBI computer whiz. I thought it was really entertaining and liked the plot, which I thought was unique, although there are some aspects of the movie that had me thinking of "Seven."