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January 25, 2008

Fans have reason to dream big in offseason

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com.
Previous mailbags
Jan. 18: Playoff push
Dec 21: Wish list
Dec 14: Looking ahead

True fans always are hoping their teams can win championships, even when the season doesn't begin for eight more months.

Fans of Missouri, Auburn, Tennessee and Texas and no doubt several other programs are convinced their teams can win championships. Do we agree?

Find out in this week's mailbag.

A title for the Tigers?

What are Missouri's chances of winning the national title next year?

Quinn in Macon, Mo.

Not bad, actually. But first the Tigers need to become the first North Division team in five years to win the Big 12 title.

You've got to like team Missouri will put on the field next season. Quarterback Chase Daniel and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin head what should be an explosive offense that returns six starters. True, the Tigers lost big-time tight end Martin Rucker. The good news is Chase Coffman returns, so Rucker's absence won't be devastating.

Daniel and Maclin could be Heisman contenders, and if an adequate replacement for Tony Temple emerges at tailback the offense could be better than it was in '07.

Meanwhile, the defense could have as many as nine starters returning. The schedule looks favorable, too.

The Tigers would get a huge boost with a season-opening victory over Illinois. After that, they likely will be a solid favorite in every game until a trip to Texas at Oct. 18. From there, Missouri gets Colorado and Kansas State at home, then travels to Baylor and Iowa State before facing Kansas in Kansas City.

Barring significant injuries, I'd anticipate Missouri would win the Big 12 North, then probably would get a rematch against Texas or face Oklahoma for the Big 12 crown. Win that, and the Tigers could make a strong case to play for a national championship.

Again, though, that means winning the Big 12 title first, which hasn't been an easy task for North teams.

A title for the Tigers Part II

With Auburn hiring Tony Franklin as its offensive coordinator and having a young team return, what are the chances of Auburn winning the SEC championship and possibly the national title next year?

Jonathan in Cumming, Ga.

Auburn's championship aspirations largely depend on how quickly it makes the transition from a pro-style offense to Franklin's version of the spread. Applaud coach Tommy Tuberville for his willingness to get away from the offense that has been so successful for him in the past. It's likely he feels sophomore quarterback Kodi Burns or junior college signee Chris Todd will be more effective in the spread, and senses now is the perfect time to make the switch.

The Tigers figured to be contenders even before they made changes. As our Brian Matthews of AuburnSports.com pointed out, the entire offensive line returns - as do the majority of the receivers and tailbacks Brad Lester, Mario Fannin and Ben Tate. That's a lot of proven experience returning from a team that finished 9-4 and won its bowl game. Look for Auburn to still run a lot because of the talent at tailback and its experienced offensive line.

The defense took a couple of hits with coordinator Will Muschamp leaving for Texas and tackle Pat Sims leaving early for the NFL, but Auburn always is sound defensively. That shouldn't change.

Personally, I expect Auburn to contend in the West, but still would pick LSU. I'd guess Georgia would win the SEC overall. But it will be a typical SEC race, so anything is possible.

Orange optimism

With the young talent developing over the season, do you think Tennessee can win the SEC East or maybe the SEC championship?

D.J. in Marion, Miss.

I've learned and in some cases, the hard way never to count out programs with great traditions, such as Tennessee. So I wouldn't say that Tennessee cannot win the SEC East championship. Truthfully, I didn't think the Volunteers would win the East this season. Not only did they win it, they almost beat the national champs in the SEC title game.

But ...

The pick here would be Tennessee third in the SEC East next season. I do think having a proven quarterback is an advantage, though that certainly doesn't guarantee anything.

Still, the averages are with teams that are set there, which is why I'd rate Georgia with Matthew Stafford and Florida with Tim Tebow ahead of Tennessee without Erik Ainge.

I'm also concerned that the Volunteers' defense, which had issues against the run last season, is losing four of its top six tacklers from '07 - including linebacker Jerod Mayo, who is entering the NFL Draft early.

That's especially worrisome because Georgia, with Knowshon Moreno, and Florida - with Tebow and Emmanuel Moody - figure to be good running teams in 2008.

Big Ten's best

Who do you see as the big impact player in the Big Ten next season?

Nate in Murphysboro, Ill.

In my opinion, that's Ohio State tailback Chris Wells. He should be a strong Heisman Trophy contender in 2008 as a junior.

Wells rushed for 967 yards in the last six games of 2007, and that includes 146 and a 65-yard touchdown run against LSU in the BCS National Championship Game.

Most of Ohio State's offensive line returns, so expect Wells to have another big year in he stays healthy.


Do you think Tim Tebow has a chance of becoming the second two-time winner of the Heisman Trophy?

Ed in Lincolnton, Ga.

Tebow certainly has a shot, but I would think that's unlikely. The guess here is that Moody will upgrade the Gators at running back, and Tebow won't need to be as big a factor in the running game.

Look for Tebow to have another strong season there's no reason to think he won't. However, I think his rushing numbers will decline - which would figure to affect his Heisman candidacy.

Besides, if wide receiver Percy Harvin stays healthy, he could get into the Heisman discussion.

Ten more for Texas?

I must disagree with your column ("25 Questions for 2008") about Texas not winning 10 games in '08. No doubt, the schedule will be tough, but this past season Texas had the talent and underperformed because (coach) Mack Brown got lazy. If you look back four years ago, to when Texas got a new defensive coordinator named Greg Robinson with assistance from Dick Tomey, the defense performed. New defensive coordinator Will Muschamp will have the talent, and the defense will surprise. Brown did not enjoy the end of the '07 season (pre-bowl victory, of course) and made coaching changes to show he doesn't want to go through that again in 2008. We will not lose to A&M for a third year in a row, we will beat Oklahoma and will only lose one game from (take your pick) Texas Tech, Missouri and Kansas. Assuming (quarterback) Colt McCoy stays healthy, with input from Major Applewhite, Texas' offense also will be improved in 2008. With a tough schedule, Texas goes 11-1 and, assuming it wins the Big 12 Championship Game, plays for the national title.

David in Houston

Let me get this straight: Texas will lose Limas Sweed, a receiver considered a possible first-round pick; Nate Jones, its leading receiver; leading rusher Jamaal Charles and tight end Jermichael Finley to the NFL a year early; and two starting offensive linemen and be better on offense?

That doesn't seem likely to me.

I do believe Muschamp will make a difference with the defense, but the loss of defensive tackles Frank Okam and Derek Lokey has to hurt. On the positive side, the losses in the secondary probably won't hurt because Texas' pass defense couldn't be much worse than it was this season.

Texas will field a strong team next season. But a schedule that includes Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Texas Tech and A&M with Kansas and Tech on the road is a grind. Plus, the Longhorns have a tendency to lose a game they shouldn't witness Kansas State each of the past two seasons. Posting 10 victories against that schedule would be difficult for any team.

If the Longhorns can get through that with just one loss, they should get a shot at the national championship.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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