The Heavyweights

Morgan Morel
(AP PHOTO)
Morgan Morel
(AP PHOTO)

Notre Dame

Why they will: Coach Charlie Weis returns his star quarterback (Brady Quinn), top receiver (Jeff Samardzija) and leading rusher (Darius Walker) from last season, so why not hype this team up? Even though the vaunted Notre Dame offense struggled as it pulled out a 14-10 win against Georgia Tech, the key is that the Irish survived.

Achilles’ Heel: The defense. Ohio State’s dismantling of the Notre Dame’s defense in last year’s Fiesta Bowl gave prognosticators a reason to doubt the Fighting Irish. Case in point: Desperate to add more speed to the unit, Weis moved a back-up running back (Travis Thomas) to linebacker.

West Virginia

Why they will: No one would even be mentioning Rich Rodriguez’s Mountaineers if not for the beat down they put on Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. This season both quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton return to the gridiron to lead West Virginia’s dynamic unit.

Achilles’ Heel: Pat White throwing the ball. Yes, he completed 10 of 14 throws last Saturday, but let’s be honest, Marshall is a shadow of its former self. If the Mountaineers run into a team that can stifle their running attack, West Virginia could be in trouble.

Texas

Why they will: The two-headed monster that is Jamal Charles and Selvin Young should be able to carry the offensive load until first-time starting quarterback Colt McCoy wets his feet, which shouldn’t take long with Limas Sweed splitting out wide.

Achilles’ Heel: Drugs and weapons. Already, Texas faces adversity. Cornerback Tarell Brown was arrested for possession of marijuana and a loaded 9 mm handgun. National title hopes could hinge on how coach Mack Brown handles the situation.

The Rest

Southern Cal

Why they could: Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Lendale White all wear NFL uniforms, but the catalyst for the Trojan return to glory remains. Pete Carroll has always been the energizer for Southern Cal, and there’s no reason to think that he can’t keep a team stocked with talent in the upper echelon of college football.

Achilles’ Heel: Leinart, Bush and White are gone. And so are the explosive components of a Southern Cal offense that relies on running up the scoreboard. John David Booty doesn’t really instill fear into opposing defenses.

Louisiana State

Why they could: JaMarcus Russell returns behind center to complete what should be a potent Tiger aerial attack. In the first game this season, Russell tallied 253 passing yards on just 13 completions.

Achilles’ heel: With running back Joseph Addai doing his best Edgerrin James impersonation for the Indianapolis Colts, the Louisiana State running game could make coach Les Miles’s offensive attack one-dimensional.

Auburn

Why they could: Fresh off of a 1,200-yard season, running back Kenny Irons is poised to carry the Tigers to an Southeastern Conference title and a possible national championship. Beside Irons, quarterback Brandon Cox should benefit from a year under his belt and nicely complement the Auburn running game.

Achilles’ heel: The Southeastern Conference. Auburn will play one of the toughest schedules in one of the toughest conferences in the nation. With many nationally ranked teams waiting in the wings, there are plenty of roadblocks between Auburn and a national championship.

Florida State

Why they could: If you watched the Florida State/Miami game, you know the one reason to believe in the Seminoles: their defense. With a linebacking core that just might be as fast as the speed of sound and hits like Mike Tyson in the early ’90s, Florida State could shut down any offense.

Achilles’ heel: The offense. Even though Miami featured a dynamic defense, Drew Weatherford looked like a blind man who saw the sun for the first time. If Weatherford can’t get on the same page as his receivers, the Seminoles don’t stand a chance.

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