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The College Football Notebook


May 1, 2010 8:16 AM

Spring Overview: Best Of The Rest

It used to be when you talked of contenders outside the box of the big conferences, that was just a way of saying it was time to talk about Notre Dame. No more. Even after you go beyond the BCS, and beyond the Mountain West, you have to stop in Boise before you can even get to the Irish. How times have changed. Notre Dame is excited about the coming year with Brian Kelly coming in, but they also have a lot of rebuilding to do. In the meantime, Boise State has ripped off perfect seasons in two of the last three years and capped off both with Fiesta Bowl triumphs. If you're counting, that's exactly two more major bowl victories than Notre Dame has in the period since Lou Holtz retired to become Dr. Lou on ESPN. Boise returns 42 of the 44 players on its two-deep and is finally getting real respect--including from someone like me, who long dismissed the midmajors (I know, I'm sure my respect helps Chris Peterson sleep at night)--as a legitimate national title hopeful in 2010.

Boise won't have much competition in the WAC, save for Fresno State. The Bulldogs have 17 starters back, albeit from a team that disappointed last year. Nevada was terribly disappointing a year ago and loses its entire back seven. Louisiana Tech, with a decent defense, may be a sleeper, but they are light years behind the Broncos. As for Notre Dame, they again don't have an easy path to even being the top independent, a spot Navy has taken over. The Midshipmen have a veteran offense and experienced option quarterback Ricky Dobbs back from the team that smoldered Missouri in a bowl game last year. And Army, with coach Rich Ellerson in Year 2, isn't a pushover anymore either.

In Conference USA, East Carolina has won it two straight years, but has to rebuild its entire program, as Skip Holtz has left for South Florida. Houston and SMU are both looking to take over the top and both can blow out the scoreboard lights. The Cougars bring back Case Keenum and his top three recievers. And June Jones looks to have another great offense going with the Mustangs. He played mostly freshman last year on the offensive line and at quarterback and still won the Hawaii Bowl. The SMU of the early 1980s was the Pony Express, with Eric Dickerson and Craig James. Now it's Air Mustang. Central Florida is the one potential contender in this league known for its defense.

The MAC has kind of fallen off the national radar a little bit, after a brief period of ascendancy when it held a status close to what the Mountain West or WAC has now. Central Michigan and Ohio are tough in the interior, Northern Illinois should score points and the Temple program has made tremendous strides in recent years since getting out of the Big East.

That concludes spring practice at the Notebook. It was just a brief walkthrough intended to help everyone get their football legs back in the midst of the start of baseball and the playoffs in the NBA & NHL (which I'm watching intently, even though I don't write about either sport, and am looking forward to attending Game 3 of the Bruins-Flyers series in Philly). College football talk will return at the beginning of August with season previews, as will pro football. In the meantime, regular action continues over at The Baseball Notebook.

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