Get ready for one quirky college football season.
When Ohio State wants to be like Michigan, Tom Osborne watches Nebraska games on TV and Florida State goes with 26-year-old Chris Weinke at quarterback, you know this fall will be filled with firsts.Speaking of firsts, the Bowl Championship Series emerged from the bowl alliance with a guaranteed matchup fans have been screaming for - No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the final game of the season at the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 4 in Tempe, Ariz.
Then there's the Rose Bowl, which joins the Tostitos Fiesta, FedEx Orange and Nokia Sugar in the BCS and brings the Big Ten and Pac-10 with it. Along the way, the Rose found itself with another name for the first time - the Rose Bowl, presented by AT&T.
Changes took place on campus, too. Longtime assistant Frank Solich is in at Nebraska after Osborne ended his 25-year head coaching career in style - his 255th victory finished off a perfect season and brought a co-national title with Michigan.
"We're going to do everything we can to keep it going," Solich said. "We'll not change a lot of things, because it makes sense not to."
Solich has plenty of company as a first-year coach. Texas dumped John Mackovic and hired Mack Brown away from North Carolina, which promoted longtime assistant Carl Torbush; Southern California fired John Robinson and went for Paul Hackett; and Arkansas ousted Danny Ford and brought former Razorback Houston Nutt back home.
Also, Eddie Robinson finally retired after 55 seasons at Grambling, and former Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams returns to coach his alma mater.
For the first time in what seems like an eternity, Ron Powlus is not the quarterback at Notre Dame; Jarious Jackson is. But of greater significance, the Golden Dome was tarnished in the offseason when 66-year-old ex-assistant Joe Moore successfully sued over his 1996 dismissal by coach Bob Davie and an internal investigation turned up two rules violations that could bring NCAA sanctions.
"You just can't pay attention to it," Irish tackle Mike Rosenthal said. "It's never been a distraction."
Joe Paterno is looking at No. 300. If Penn State beats Southern Mississippi on Sept. 5, Paterno should become the sixth college coach to get 300 wins when the Nittany Lions play Bowling Green on Sept. 12 at State College.
"We're looking forward to the season, anxious to get it going," said Ohio State coach John Cooper, whose team opens at No. 1 for the first time in 18 years. "For the first time in history, we have a system where No. 1 and No. 2 will meet on the field in the last game, and I'm all for that."
So is Bobby Bowden, whose Seminoles are ranked second.
"Our goal every year is to be No. 1 when the season ends," Bowden said. "What does that do to you? It leaves you no room for error, although maybe you get one error. The year we won, in 1993, we lost a game to Notre Dame. But if you go errorless, you got a chance to win the darned thing."
With Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson, quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf and wide receiver Randy Moss now in the NFL, a slew of stars are ready to fill their cleats.
Start with Texas' Ricky Williams, who needs 1,928 yards to become the NCAA's all-time leading rusher. And move on to quarterbacks Cade McNown of UCLA, Tim Couch of Kentucky and Daunte Culpepper of Central Florida; and running backs J.R. Redmond of Arizona State and Amos Zereoue of West Virginia.
Breakthrough seasons can come from almost anywhere, but keep an eye on quarterbacks Michael Bishop of Kansas State and Ryan Kealy of Arizona State, as well as running backs Jamal Lewis of Tennessee and Travis Minor of Florida State. Wideouts David Boston of Ohio State, Peter Warrick of Florida State and Terry Holt of North Carolina State are primed for huge seasons.
On defense, look for all-star performances from linebackers Andy Katzenmoyer, Jevon Kearse of Florida and Dat Nguyen of Texas A&M; cornerbacks Dre' Bly of North Carolina, Antoine Winfield of Ohio State and Champ Bailey of Georgia; and defensive ends Mike Rucker of Nebraska and Robaire Smith of Michigan State.
Ohio State, which had its title chances slip away in '95 and '96 with late losses to Michigan, hopes to duplicate its Big Ten rival's championship season of a year ago. The Buckeyes, though, are 1-8-1 against the Wolverines over the last 10 years.
This could be the Buckeyes' turn. Joe Germaine no longer shares the quarterback spot and could produce a Heisman-type season and Katzenmoyer leads a ferocious defense.
Michigan not only has to try to replace Woodson, but Rose Bowl MVP Brian Griese is gone and either Tom Brady or Drew Henson has step up for the Wolverines to have a chance to repeat.
Weinke, a high school All-American who left the Seminoles in 1990 and spent six years playing baseball in the Toronto Blue Jays' system, returned to Florida State at the right time. Expected starter Dan Kendra injured his right knee in the spring game and is out for the season.
"I never felt so good about a sophomore quarterback," Bowden said, even though Weinke has thrown only 13 passes in eight years. "He took a couple of shots in practice and came out OK. Now, it's just a matter of gaining a little success, and he should go on from there."
The Seminoles have a tough road to Tempe. They open against Texas A&M in the Kickoff Classic on Aug. 31, and have other non-ACC games against Florida, Miami and Southern California.
The Bowl Championship Series, the brainchild of SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, adds a new twist: a complex formula using polls, computer ratings, strength-of-schedule and won-loss records to determine the top two teams for its showcase game.
But while the BCS "guarantees" a national title game between No. 1 and No. 2, there still can be a split national championship.
The USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll will crown the Fiesta Bowl winner its national champion immediately after the game. The Associated Press' poll of writers and broadcasters operates as usual, releasing its final poll on Jan. 5.
Naturally, there are two schools of thought on the new arrangement that stops short of a playoff.
"I think that controversy is not going to go away," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr says, "but it's a way in which we can bring No. 1 and No. 2 together and probably please the most people."
Florida coach Steve Spurrier isn't one of them.
"Commissioner Kramer's formula? I think it's so good they ought to take it to basketball, baseball, tennis and golf and make them go through it," Spurrier said sarcastically. "I've never understood why we're the only sport in the world that doesn't have a playoff."