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The Buffaloes showed a marked improvement in 2007, but as coach Dan Hawkins might say, this isn’t intramurals. Sure, there’s more depth than a year ago, and Cody Hawkins (the coach’s son) is established as the quarterback. One small problem is an early stretch featuring games against West Virginia, Florida State and Texas in succession. Poaching just one could lead to an eight-win season.

North Carolina

Proven coach? Check. Superlative facilities? Check. Appealing campus? Picturesque stadium? Divisional opponents on the downswing? Check, check and check. There’s no reason the Tar Heels shouldn’t be good, and Butch Davis’ rebuilding plans could speed up if Carolina can avoid any injuries. Keep an eye on Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate, the ACC’s best wide receiver tandem.

Oregon State

Is there a more overlooked, steady power conference team than the Beavers? Granted, their pedigree until the last decade was low grade, but they have won 19 games over the last two years. Mike Riley’s team could run into some early problems, but they should be one of the Pac-10’s three best teams by November.


Thine eyes do not deceive! The Owls, while certainly no threat to crack the national rankings, do have a chance at their first winning season since 1990 and their first bowl invitation since a trip to the Garden State Bowl in 1979. Coach Al Golden returns 21 starters, and a viable running game is the only thing keeping Temple from securing postseason eligibility.


Five teams that could disappoint


As a result of the Crimson Tide’s Independence Bowl victory, $4 million-a-year coach Nick Saban’s price tag per victory for his first season in Tuscaloosa fell from $666,666 to $571,428. What a bargain. Of course, many of his players were busy in the offseason getting arrested and booted from the team.


On pure talent, Tommy Bowden’s Tigers ought to have no trouble winning the ACC. They have the conference’s best quarterback, best tailback tandem and bring back oodles of experience. But here’s a danger sign: Four offensive line starters are gone.


Story Continues →