SIX HEISMAN CANDIDATES
1. QB Matt Barkley, Southern California. Quarterback? Check. National title contender? Check. Known quantity entering the season? Check. The Trojans' star starts the year as a prime Heisman possibility.
2. QB Denard Robinson, Michigan. It would help if Robinson cut down on his interceptions, but he still accounted for 36 touchdowns and rushed for 1,176 yards last season.
3. RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin. In another era — one when tailbacks dominated Heisman voting — Ball would already have one stiff-arming statue after rushing for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2011.
4. QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma. Jones will put up numbers, and the Sooners are likely to remain entrenched in the top 10. That's a solid recipe for Heisman contention.
5. WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson. If he can back up his monstrous freshman season and Clemson can remain unbeaten deep into the season, Watkins will have a chance.
6. QB Tyler Wilson, Arkansas. Wilson (and tailback Knile Davis) lead an offense potent enough to create some headaches even for the testy defenses of the SEC.
SIX COACHES ON THE HOT SEAT
1. Derek Dooley, Tennessee. For those wondering, the shelf life of the "I inherited a ginormous mess from Lane Kiffin" excuse is barely two years. Dooley, who is 11-14 in Knoxville, now enters Year Three.
2. Joker Phillips, Kentucky. Yes, the Wildcats beat Tennessee for the first time in a quarter-century. Their season ticket sales are also plummeting and their offense was dreadful last year. Kentucky's Joker needs to play his cards right in 2012.
3. Frank Spaziani, Boston College. The genial Spaziani has overseen a gradual decline in the Eagles' program since taking over in 2009. Back-to-back losing seasons could spell the end for him in Chestnut Hill.
4. Mike Price, Texas-El Paso. After six straight losing seasons, it's a mild surprise Price still has a job. Nonetheless, this is the last year on Price's deal; the Miners will either reach a bowl or get a new coach.
5. John L. Smith, Arkansas. He'll be 64 at season's end and is working on a 10-month contract. The former Louisville and Michigan State coach probably doesn't have much wiggle room this year.
6. Mike Riley, Oregon State. It wouldn't be an especially wise decision to swap coaches in Corvallis, but Riley has endured two straight losing seasons. A third could prompt a change at year's end.
SIX COACHES WHO MIGHT HAVE BETTER JOBS IN FOUR MONTHS
1. Mario Cristobal, Florida International. He's signed through 2017, but Cristobal has done wonders with the Golden Panthers. A Sun Belt title would only enhance his appeal to a bigger program.
2. Charlie Strong, Louisville. The Cardinals have made back-to-back bowl games under Strong, who has plenty of SEC experience from his time at Florida. A BCS bid would further boost his stock.
3. Gary Andersen, Utah State. The Aggies broke through to a bowl game for the first time in 14 years last fall. If Utah State follows that up with a WAC title, Andersen could be a desired commodity.
4. Dave Christensen, Wyoming. The former Missouri assistant's work in Laramie is impressive even if his record (18-20) isn't overwhelming. The Cowboys should be solid again this year.
5. Mark Hudspeth, UL Lafayette. Hudspeth inherited a 3-9 team and promptly went 9-4 to lead the Ragin Cajuns to their first bowl berth. An encore would certainly warrant a higher-profile gig.
6. Todd Graham, Arizona State. Because one-year coaching stops are standard operating procedure for a man who seems to have family in every hamlet in the country.
SIX NONCONFERENCE GAMES TO GET EXCITED ABOUT
1. Boise State at Michigan State, Aug. 31. The Bronco barometer will be tested in the first game of the season — again. Oregon, Virginia Tech and Georgia have all fallen to Boise in openers since 2009.
2. Alabama vs. Michigan in Arlington, Texas, Sept. 1. There's no topping the brand names in this one. Denard Robinson against the Crimson Tide defense should be a riveting matchup.
3. Washington at Louisiana State, Sept. 8. The Tigers' opening stretch isn't as brutal as last year, but they could be tested by Steve Sarkisian's Huskies in Death Valley.
4. Notre Dame at Oklahoma, Oct. 27. The Fighting Irish visit Norman for the first time since 1966 to contest an intersectional series that's been played only nine times.
5. South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 24. The best part might not even be the game if the Gamecocks triumph. Just think about Steve Spurrier savoring South Carolina's first four-game winning streak against Clemson since 1951-54.
6. Notre Dame at Southern California, Nov. 24. The Trojans could (and probably should) have the Pac-12 South locked up before Thanksgiving weekend. But could the Fighting Irish spoil USC's national title hopes?
SIX POST-NOV. 1 GAMES TO CLEAR YOUR CALENDAR FOR
1. Alabama at Louisiana State, Nov. 3. It's just a rematch of last year's national title game, and it could have a big say in determining if one of these teams will get back there this season.
2. Oregon at Southern California, Nov. 3. Could be the first of two meetings in less than a month; the Ducks and Trojans are favored to win their respective Pac-12 divisions.
3. Florida State at Virginia Tech, Nov. 8. A possible conference title game preview on a Thursday night in Blacksburg is one of the highlights of the ACC schedule.
4. Oklahoma at West Virginia, Nov. 17. The Mountaineers could contend for a league crown in their first season in the Big 12. A visit from the Sooners could be the biggest test facing West Virginia.
5. Louisiana State at Arkansas, Nov. 23. The Razorbacks remain dangerous, even with Bobby Petrino riding high on his Hog elsewhere. This could determine the SEC West title.
6. Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 24. Brady Hoke had a solid debut in Ann Arbor, and Urban Meyer is a near-sure thing to thrive in Columbus. Yes, The Game is again relevant on a national scale.
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