Football Preview Schedule
(July 11-August 30)
July 8, 2005
By Brian Curtis
Special to CSTV.com
▪ 2004-05 Coaching Changes List
The first days of fall football practice are now less than a month away, and there will be plenty of new looks at major programs. New head coaches will be prowling the sidelines from Gainesville to Seattle, while, as always, other schools will need to win for their coaches to feel secure in their jobs.
Here's a quick refresher course in the biggest changes and the hottest seats for the upcoming season.
Urban Meyer (Florida)
It's hard to believe that it was just six months ago that the Urban Meyer was at the center of the biggest story in sports--Notre Dame or Florida? When the dust settled, the money was dispensed and the Utah Utes had won their BCS bowl, Meyer was on his way to Gainesville. So now what? Meyer's first priority was recruiting, and the Gators had great success not only in Florida, but around the Southeast. Recruits like his comfortable style and his notion of a high-scoring offense. It also helps that Florida will be on national television almost weekly and has a good chance to win the SEC this year. Chris Leak may have a highlight season, and with so much speed and talent at the receiver position, he could put up some huge numbers. Their schedule isn't that bad. Non-conference games against Wyoming and Louisiana Tech open the season, and the only big-time test in the first six games is Tennessee, but that's at home. Much will be made of the November 12th game at South Carolina but we'll know what the Gators are all about way before then. Meyer will win nine games this year and Florida football will be back on the map. Then again, when Florida State and Miami get back their swagger, it may not be so easy for Meyer & Co. to win.
Ty Willingham (Washington)
OK, so the game at home against Ty's former employer (Notre Dame) will have plenty of storylines in late September, and the Huskies could be 2-1 at that point, with wins over Air Force and Idaho and a loss to Cal. Washington won just one game last year, but 17 starters return for 2005, including QB Casey Paus. Willingham hired a great staff, many of whom have ties to the Pac-10. With a weaker conference this year, outside of USC, Cal and Arizona State, Washington could win five or six games, which would be a successful year. Look for a few players to transfer out by next season, as the disciplined coach won't tolerate some of what has been tolerated at UW. This was one of, if not the, best hire in college football in the offseason.
Ron Zook (Illinois)
Perhaps the second-best hire of the offseason, Zook was hired by Illinois AD Ron Guenther to take over a pitiful Illini football program that went 3-8 in 2004. Some of their losses that season were much closer than one might expect, which is good reason for optimism in Champaign. Their non-conference games against Rutgers, San Jose State and Cal are all winnable, but 2-1 is a more likely result. The Illini's biggest challenges will be road games at Iowa, at Ohio State and at Purdue. Zook will have to find a new QB to replace Jon Beutjer, but luckily, the running game will again be strong. At the Elite College Combine in New Jersey in May, Zook reinforced his reputations as a top recruiter. If he can steal some East Coast players and keep the Illinois recruits at home, the rebuilding process might be shorter than some think.
Steve Spurrier (South Carolina)
Will he win? Can he win? When? Who knows? He is a great recruiter by closing the deal, not by criss-crossing the country and working overtime, but his charm has paid off with some top recruits already committed to the Gamecocks. The program was hit hard by a dozen arrests and off the field incidents, not to mention academic issues. Frankly, I don't know how much of that is going to go away with Spurrier now in charge. I do know the offense will be better, the Gamecocks will score more points and they will make many more national television appearances because of Spurrier. But can he win there? This year, they travel to Georgia, Auburn and Tennessee, but get Florida at home. Their schedule is not that bad, with Central Florida, Troy, Kentucky and Vanderbilt among the probable wins. There are few returning starters on both sides of the ball, and I don't know that that is such a bad thing. Spurrier will win in Columbia, but is a few seasons away from an SEC title shot and may never be in the national title picture.
Four Who Need to Win Now
Rich Brooks (Kentucky)
How he has survived so far is a surprise to many, but after some concessions this offseason, Brooks is still around. He is 6-17 in two years, including a pitiful 2-9 mark last season. The Wildcats' schedule is brutal in 2005, including an opening game against Louisville.
Charlie Weis (Notre Dame)
OK, he's not going to get fired, but the pressure will be on him to win--and win now. Ty Willingham's ouster was not popular with segments of the Irish community and a poor season will be an "I told you so" affair. But I expect Weis and the Irish to have a pretty good season despite a very tough schedule.
Gary Barnett (Colorado)
I can't believe he still has a job. The Buffs' appearance in last year's Big XII title game spared him, but I don't know how he can survive another year on the job.
Gary Pinkel (Missouri)
Expectations have increased every year but reality soon sets in and there are disappointments, especially after last season's debacle. Pinkel has had three losing seasons, including last year's 5-6 campaign. My suggestion? Let Brad Smith do whatever he wants.
Brian Curtis serves as an analyst and insider in all of CSTV's football programming and is CSTV's Senior Editor. To ask Brian a question or comment on his column, e-mail him at email@example.com. Read Brian's latest insiders' book, Every Week A Season, on sale now at all major bookstores and online.