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."