The pros aren't the only ones opening their training camps next month. The colleges will follow shortly. It looks like Dixie's season as well as the year of the running back.
One NFL scouting combine participant identified Charlie Frye of the University of Akron and Dan Orlovsky of Connecticut as the two best senior quarterback prospects. They have something in common. Both will play against the University at Buffalo this season.
The Bulls will face Frye at Akron on Oct. 9 and Orlovsky in Storrs, Conn., on Nov. 20, the season finale. Playing against premier quarterbacks is nothing new for Buffalo. Chad Pennington, now the Jets' starter, Byron Leftwich, Jacksonville's starter, and Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh's prize rookie, have thrashed the Bulls in the recent past.
Frye and Orlovsky aren't considered in the same prospect class as the four who came into the NFL this year -- Philip Rivers with the Chargers, Eli Manning with the Giants, Roethlisberger and J.P Losman with the Bills.
Among the best college quarterbacks this season should be juniors Matt Leinart of Southern California, Aaron Rodgers of California, Charlie Whitehurst of Clemson and Brad Smith of Missouri. Another good senior is Andrew Walter of Arizona State.
Jason White, Oklahoma's reigning Heisman winner? He's a terrific system quarterback but definitely not a pro prospect. He had a wonder season in 2003 that he is unlikely to repeat.
The headliners should be running backs. Carnell Williams of Auburn and Cedric Benson of Texas stunned the scouts when they didn't declare for the NFL draft in the spring. Undersized Darren Sproles of Kansas State doesn't have as good a cast around him this year but he's a great talent and drew Heisman support last season. Another Auburn back, Ronnie Brown, is very good and Walter Reyes of Syracuse could move into that class. The best junior may be Marion Barber III of Minnesota.
The wide receivers aren't nearly as plentiful as last year. No. 1 may be Braylon Edwards of Michigan followed by Fred Gibson of Georgia or Mark Clayton of Oklahoma.
The Heisman favorites? It says here to watch Benson and Williams as well as Leinart with Whitehurst a dark horse.
My stab at the Top 10 teams:
1. Texas -- Mack Brown is often mentioned among the top recruiters, but seldom among the top coaches. What may change for the Longhorns is Brown's hiring of two reputable defensive coaches, Dick Tomey, who had formidable defensive teams when he was head coach at the University of Arizona, and Greg Robinson, who's been around the NFL block. They have the best defensive player in the country, linebacker Derrick Johnson.
2. Georgia -- If they had not been wracked by injuries last year, the Bulldogs might have finished ahead of LSU in the tough Southeastern Conference. They have an experienced quarterback in David Greene passing to Gibson and Reggie Brown. David Pollack is also the nation's top defensive lineman.
3. Oklahoma -- The Sooners lost a lot of luster when they were whacked in their last two games of 2003, especially by Kansas State. White won the 2003 Heisman but he's not going to pull an Archie Griffin and win a second. Bob Stoops is a wonderful coach but he lost a lot of lettermen. If Oklahoma wins its annual game against Texas, which it usually does, this entire list will be juggled.
4. Southern California -- Too many stars departed for USC to run the table again.
5. LSU -- Not only did Nick Saban turn down NFL coaching jobs again but he has more starters than any other top team returning. The only thing holding them back is lack of a top quarterback.
6. Clemson -- I'm a believer in carry-over. The Tigers roared over the last month of the 2003 season behind Whitehurst.
7. Michigan -- The Wolverines win by force of habit and it's a rebuilding year for bitter rival Ohio State.
8. California -- Coach Jeff Telford, who will be wooed by the NFL soon, has Rodgers' arm to carry him far in the Pac-10.
9. Iowa -- Another excellent coach, Kirk Ferentz, always seems to find a way.
10. Florida State -- Dynamite offense but a defense that will lose some big games for Bobby Bowden.
Notre Dame? The Fighting Irish haven't fallen as far as the University of Chicago, but they're nearing Northwestern's level.
Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.