Not so long ago, college football fans didn't have anything to keep them busy once the offseason rolled around. When spring football ended, there wasn't much to do besides speed-dial talk-radio shows and collect all 13 regional covers of Street and Smith's. Message boards have changed all that: They're a year-round tailgate for those whose fandom veers dangerously close to pathology. A representative post on the Rivals.com board for the University of Texas: "It is getting to the point where I ... already worry about recruits as young as sophomores in HS. Are they 'Texas good?' Do they have the grades?"
Sure, message-board maniacs can be a little overwrought—raise your hand if you've declared, in ALL CAPS, that Mitch Cozad was "misunderstood." And on a given day, about 70 percent of the threads on a typical college football site will be devoted to imaginary quarterback controversies, how much the SEC/Pac 10/Big Ten/Big 12 sucks, and cheesecake shots of Erin Andrews. But if you look hard enough, team message boards are full of insider information that you'll never get from the generalists at ESPN. With that in mind, we present a message-boarder's guide to nine of college football's most high-profile teams. After all, who's better suited to analyze Notre Dame's upcoming season than a guy who uses Touchdown Jesus as his signature?
The Trojan dynasty rolls on behind QB John David Booty and a defense that's arguably the best in the country. With a venerated coach in Pete Carroll and a 59-6 record over the past five years, the only question mark is USC's talented but inexperienced running back corps.
What to watch for: Although the experts are predicting that Chauncey Washington will end up with most of the carries, the boards are high on Allen Bradford, a bruising tailback who's got the speed to burn defenders, even if he doesn't turn out to be "a modern day version of Earl Campbell."
Wishful thinking: Did Florida coach Urban Meyer engage in illegal contact to provoke the transfer of USC's Emmanuel Moody? Although nothing's been proved, Meyer (aka "Urban Cryer") has already been convicted by the boards: He's a dirty, cheating, scumbag poacher.
Bizarre fixation: Most college football fans struggle for appropriate ways to define the awesomeness of their favorite teams. Most don't resolve that struggle by comparing their team's free safety to Judy Garland.
While opinion is divided as to whether new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton is an improvement over Jimbo Fisher, everybody agrees that LSU is a national championship contender. That is, so long as the entire team doesn't get suspended: Redshirt freshman linebacker Derrick Odom was recently suspended after an altercation that, according to one poster, involved approximately 14 football players. Odom was the only one unlucky enough to get into trouble—if this were Penn State, the whole team would be cleaning the stadium by now.
What to watch for: With a strong team on both sides of the ball, the only thing that Tiger fans are worried about is injuries. According to some Chicken Littles, there's a lot to worry about: Preseason All-America offensive lineman Will Arnold has the knees of an 80-year-old, and QB Matt Flynn missed time during preseason practice with a "tired arm."
Wishful thinking: Sure, departed QB JaMarcus Russell was the first pick in this year's NFL draft. Sure, he's one of the most talented quarterbacks in recent college football history. Sure, message-board dopes will compare him unfavorably to Matt Flynn. After all, "the two blown pass intf calls at Auburn were terrible throws by JR."
Bizarre fixation: Former LSU coach Nick Saban ran out on the Miami Dolphins to sign with SEC rival Alabama, provoking gigabytes worth of often-bizarre Saban bashing from the Tiger faithful. If you can't mock a guy because he's a terrible coach, you might as well mock him because he's short.
Longhorns fans are understandably jazzed about their team's offense—with stud QB Colt McCoy returning and Limas Sweed back at wide receiver, Texas has the best offensive attack in the Big 12. And even if McCoy doesn't throw for "eleventy-billion" touchdowns, former defensive coordinator Gene Chizik is the new head coach at Iowa State, and a lot of Texas fans think the team's defense will improve as a result.
What to watch for: Although it's only August, most Texas fans are already looking ahead to the Oklahoma game in October. Brainstorming ways that the Sooners might attack Texas' defense, one poster notes that the Longhorn secondary could easily fold if forced to use single coverage. If the Texas defensive backs don't work out the kinks against Arkansas State and TCU, look for superior receivers like OU's Malcolm Kelly to run wild.
Wishful thinking: Three pages into the "how to beat Texas' defense" thread, the original poster relents, admitting that "getting attacked with a banana could be the only thing we haven't seen and beaten before."
Bizarre fixation: From one Longhorns rooter stuck in Mexico as Hurricane Dean approached: "i am liking this forebodding omen....!!! National Championship last time a hurricane pounded Playa del Carmen."
With Steve Slaton and Pat White in the backfield, Mountaineer Nation thinks that the Big East is ripe for the taking. That's not all that's ripe for the taking: Likely defensive starters Ellis Lankster and J.T. Thomas were caught stealing electronics equipment from a house party and have been suspended indefinitely.
What to watch for: While opposing defenses are busy game-planning for Slaton and White, West Virginia fans are already salivating over the next generation of Mountaineer runners. The lightning-quick Noel Devine and the "thick as a brick" Jock Sanders, says one poster, will be WVU's version of Reggie Bush and LenDale White.
Wishful thinking: The Mountaineer defense will miss Lankster and Thomas, but one man's thunderstorm is another man's drinking water: "If anyone is too disgusted to use their … tix, please let me know before I pay a premium at stubhub."
Bizarre fixation: Of all the message-board communities, the West Virginia clan is the most supportive. Posters regularly profess their love for coach Rich Rodriguez, former radio announcer Jack Fleming, the pre- and postgame rituals at home games ("make sure you stay after for John Denver"), and the team in general: "I Love all Mountaineer players, even if they aren't skilled." Here's to killing the opposition with kindness!
The Cardinals have the consensus best quarterback in the game (Brian Brohm), a hotshot new coach (Steve Kragthorpe), and national title aspirations. The message-board banter is split among predicting a championship (one poll: "So the question is do u think this team is a Great Team or The Greatest Team Ever?"), moaning about getting no respect, and ragging on Kentucky.
What to watch for: Although most wags feel that the Cardinals' defensive secondary is terrible, some posters maintain that sleeper cornerback Rod Council—who was injured last year but is completely healthy now—is a "lockdown guy" who can dominate the field.
Wishful thinking: Even if Louisville goes 12-0, Cardinals fans fear they'll get shut out of the national championship game by a higher-profile school with one loss. The answer here is clear: "Let's root for ALL THE TOP CONTENDERS TO LOSE TWICE! Then, there'd be no doubt." Not content to leave this topic in the realm of the abstract, the same intrepid poster then lists just how each top 25 team could lose twice.
Bizarre fixation: Louisville's first game comes against Division I-AA Murray State. Because nothing screams "champion" like running up the score on an overmatched opponent, some fans are calling for the Cardinals to pound the Racers mercilessly. After all, "These guys beat us 105-0 in 1932! We have to avenge that loss."
The Gators won the national championship last year and hope to do it again behind battering ram QB Tim Tebow—after all, they can't let Joakim Noah and company steal their thunder: "I would assume that the basketball team has challenged the football team to do what they did. I won't back off what I said several months ago and that is that we go undefeated and meet USC in the title game. I also said we win back to back national championships."
What to watch for: Media types love to predict which players will start, but smart fans know that the fourth quarter's when games are won and lost. Florida fans feel that their deep defensive line will serve them well when the starters are gassed and there's 30 seconds left to play.
Wishful thinking: Even though Tebow has never started a game and likes to run more than any NFL hopeful should, some die-hards are still aggrieved that Colt McCoy and Hunter Cantwell are projected to go before him in the 2009 NFL draft. Now hear this, Mel Kiper Jr.: "Tebow is the best HS QB I've ever seen play in person."
Bizarre fixation: Pray for the poor misguided soul who wrote that Ron Zook is his favorite Gator of all time.
Now that Brady Quinn is gone, everyone in South Bend is wondering who will take his place (19-year-old superprospect Jimmy Clausen seemed to have the inside track until he got arrested for "transporting alcohol"). Head coach Charlie Weis has made up his mind, but he's not telling. With the QB still a mystery and their team excluded from most national rankings, Irish fans are alternately gloomy about their team's prospects and angry at USC 's unbroken reign of prosperity.
What to watch for: Quinn's departure means that the Irish will be forced to focus on the running game. That's not as bad as it sounds—although starter Travis Thomas doesn't have much experience, he's got a bunch of backups who can share the load, and he'll be running behind what posters feel is the most talented Irish offensive line in years.
Wishful thinking: Optimistic Golden Domers like to brag about the team's tight end and punter. That's like saying your tenement has very nice windowsills.
Bizarre fixation: If you're going to predict what might happen in your team's first game, you might as well be really, really, really precise about it: "Armando Allen will return a squib kick for a touchdown."
Although the Buckeyes will miss wide receivers Anthony Gonzalez and Ted Ginn Jr., replacements Brian Robiskie and Ray Small are getting lots of hype. With head coach Jim Tressel's defense and special teams as solid as ever, hopes are high in Columbus—just as long as they don't lose to Tressel's former team, Youngstown State, a fate that would cause at least one fan to "quit my job, drop out of Ohio State and move to Taiwan and become a Hebrew minister."
What to watch for: The message boards are pessimistic about OSU's pass offense after the departure of Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith. Don't expect too much from starter Todd Boeckman, who has been indicted by some for an alarming lack of game experience and questionable leadership skills. The boarders' preferred QB: backup Rob Schoenhoft.
Wishful thinking: Winning playing time based on merit is one thing, but even the message boards know that nepotism makes the world go round: "I read if you're related to somebody who has played at Ohio State, they will put you on their practice squad. …When I go to Ohio State to major in Sports Journalism, this is what I am going to do. I won't stop there, because I will try to dress and make the team." Stop the presses!
Bizarre fixation: Are the leaf stickers on OSU's helmets green or black? Or dark gray? Or blackish-green? And can these leaves be purchased in stores? I could go on and on about this for 21 pages, but it's already been done.
With the Dick brothers at quarterback, Arkansas should be competitive in the SEC. Still, what happens with the actual team this year is almost irrelevant—the most exciting Razorback action is online. The Arkansas boards are the most batshit crazy in all the land: Last year, one fan went so far as to FOIA head coach Houston Nutt's phone records to try to get the coach fired.
What to watch for: After finishing second in the Heisman balloting in 2006, tailback Darren McFadden is the favorite to win the award. Posters are drooling over D-Mac's fancy-pants Web site: a slick cornucopia of McFaddeniana, featuring stats, testimonials, and photos galore. Naturally, the boards have filled in the few gaps that the official site has neglected. Namely, shots of McFadden's sweet, sweet ride.
Wishful thinking: Think McFadden is fast? Safety Michael Grant's good-for-football time of 10.41 seconds in the 100-meter dash might well mean he's the fastest guy on the team … if not the entire world.
Bizarre fixation: Razorback fans still can't get enough of Mitch "Mr. Interception King" Mustain, the former Arkansas QB who, before transferring to USC, famously called Houston Nutt a "dork." Although the message boards don't like Nutt very much, they don't like detractors like Mustain who cut and run, either: "[A]t least have the nads to say it to the coaches face instead of back-stabbing him before you come and after you left. You're not a man."