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COLLEGE FOOTBALL TRENDS 2006

Successful handicappers are usually ahead of trends, spotting them before they become common knowledge. Here are some college football trends I'm expecting to see this season. As always, it's just as important to know bad ones as it is good ones, especially in advance, when betting on college football.

RISING

The Pac-10. This conference, with apologies to the SEC, is the deepest in the nation. You can write off Stanford and Washington, but the other eight teams all have legitimate hopes of reaching a bowl game. That's not so special these days, but eight out of 10 teams in a conference earning bowl bids is still good. USC is still in the conversation when you talk about national championship contenders, and California should be able to play the Trojans toe-to-toe this year. The other six teams can hold their own with any team in the nation. Running the gauntlet of the league schedule will be a brutal task this year.

Steve Spurrier. I could say South Carolina, but down in Columbia it's really all about the ol ball coach. He's probably another recruiting class or two away from being a serious challenge to Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the SEC East, but then again his Gamecocks beat the Gators and Tennessee in 2005 and lost by only two points to Georgia. The passing combination of QB Blake Mitchell and WR Sidney Rice, with another year of Spurrier's offense under their belts, could become one of the most dangerous duos in the nation.

Ohio State's offense. Sure, it was good last year, but look out in 2006. For one thing, Troy Smith is settled in at quarterback. This time last year, he was preparing to sit out the opener on suspension and did not start the big game vs. Texas (which probably cost the Buckeyes a shot at the national championship). Toward the end of last season, Coach Jim Tressel starting getting the ball in Ted Ginn Jr.'s hands a lot more. That will be a foundation of his game plan from the opening whistle this year. Ohio State's running game, in the hands of Antonio Pittman (1,331 yards last year) and freshman stud Chris Wells, should make the Buckeyes one of the most prolific offenses in the nation. They just need to improve their turnover margin (-.75 in 2005, 104th in the nation).

FALLING

The Big 12 North. This division continues its freefall into oblivion. Kansas State is in a rebuilding mode, and Colorado isn't too far ahead of KSU this year. Kansas only wound up in a bowl game last season due to Iowa State's annual last game choke, and the Jayhawks aren't significantly better heading into 2006. Missouri will struggle to remain mediocre with the departure of QB Brad Smith. Iowa State is a pretty good team, but the Cyclones have to play at Iowa, at Oklahoma and at Texas. Ouch! Nebraska is probably the best of this motley group (+$400 at WagerWeb.com to win the Big 12 title), but that means having to watch the Cornhuskers run Bill Callahan's west coast offense. Imagine that, Nebraska running the freakin' west coast offense. Bob Devaney must be rolling over in his grave!

Air Force. It wasn't long ago that this school was among the most dangerous non-BCS teams in the nation. Now, well, not so much. The sands are running out of the hourglass for 68-year-old head coach Fisher DeBerry. After posting only two losing records in his first 20 seasons in Colorado Springs, DeBerry's Falcons have gone 5-6 and 4-7 the last two years. There is some twisted irony in the fact that Air Force, whose players will soon be an integral part of our nation's national defense, ranked 100th nationally in scoring defense last season. Quarterback Shaun Carney will keep the Falcons in most games this year, but that awful defense will keep the Falcons out of the win column often and push DeBerry toward retirement.

UCLA's offense. The Bruins were the fifth highest scoring team in the nation last year, averaging 39.1 points per game. They don't figure to come close to that this season. New quarterback Ben Olson has plenty of promise, but he has only thrown four passes in college and will be a drop off (at least this year) from Drew Olson (no relation). Also missing from last year's juggernaut are running back Maurice Drew and tight end Marcedes Lewis, both among the nation's best at their positions. Chris Markey will do well filling Drew's shoes (5.1 yards per carry last season), but the receiving corps does not have a proven game-breaker. Additionally, Coach Karl Dorrell's team will have at least three new starters on the offensive line.

New trends will appear as the season plays out, but you don't have to wait to apply this knowledge.

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Jim Johnson Author Bio: Jim Johnson has been writing about college sports on the Internet since 1998. He is a University of Maryland graduate and a lifelong resident of the state. He has watched the Orioles, Bullets (now Wizards), Redskins and Ravens all win professional world championships, but watching the Terps claim the 2002 national basketball championship was his defining moment as a sports fan. Jim wrote about that moment for the upcoming book Hoop Tales: Maryland Terrapins due out in October. He also offers his rulings on college football and basketball on his blog at www.thecourtmaster.net

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