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July 14, 2008
What will be said when coaches return?
As we creep ever closer to the start of the season – we're at 45 days and counting – we decided to take a look at a few games this season where the coach(es) will be in the spotlight more than the teams they coach.
We also decided to predict what might be said in those ubiquitous pre-game midfield conversations between the coaches.
1. UCLA AT WASHINGTON, NOV. 15: It's safe to say most Washington fans think new UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel is a big reason the Huskies' program is in the sad state it's in. Washington hasn't had a winning record since Neuheisel left after the 2002 season, and the program is in the midst of five consecutive non-winning seasons – the first time that has happened since UW began playing football in 1889. Neuheisel is a sort of lightning rod for criticism, anyway, but his appearance on the sideline at Husky Stadium should make for quite the show.
POSSIBLE PRE-GAME MID-FIELD CONVERSATION: Washington coach Tyrone Willingham to Neuheisel: "Rick, good to see you. Finally, someone our fans dislike more than me."
2. ALABAMA AT LSU, NOV. 8: This will be Nick Saban's first college visit to Tiger Stadium since he left after the 2004 season, then insulted the Cajun portion of LSU's fan base by referring to them with a term that many found offensive. And, really, what more needs to be said?
3. OLE MISS AT ARKANSAS, OCT. 25: New Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt returns to his old stomping grounds, where the Hogs faithful didn't think two SEC West titles in six seasons – at Arkansas ! – was good enough.
POSSIBLE PRE-GAME MID-FIELD CONVERSATION: Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino to Nutt: "Gee, I sure wish you would've recruited a quarterback who can throw the ball."
4. NOTRE DAME AT WASHINGTON, OCT. 25: This will be Willingham's second game against the Fighting Irish since the school unceremoniously dumped him after three seasons. This could be a pivotal game for both teams, as both coaches are under pressure to produce.
POSSIBLE PRE-GAME MID-FIELD CONVERSATION: Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis to Washington's Willingham: "Thanks for leaving me that cruddy senior class last season." Willingham to Weis: "No problem. Glad you could go to two BCS bowls with my guys in your first two seasons."
5. NORTH CAROLINA AT MIAMI, SEPT. 27: Former Hurricanes coach Butch Davis makes his first appearance in Miami since coaching the 'Canes from 1995-2000, when he helped rebuild that program during a period of probation. Davis' North Carolina Tar Heels beat Miami last season in Chapel Hill, which started the Hurricanes on a downward spiral that saw them lose six of their past seven games.
POSSIBLE PRE-GAME MID-FIELD CONVERSATION: Miami coach Randy Shannon to Davis: "Should I be worried if I see a plane carrying a banner criticizing me?"
6. RUTGERS AT WEST VIRGINIA, OCT. 4: Call it the "What If? Bowl." All of this Rich Rodriguez-Michigan -WVU soap opera would've been avoided had Rutgers coach Greg Schiano followed through on Michigan's flirtations and accepted the Wolverines' coaching job in early December. Had Schiano left, Rodriguez likely still would be at West Virginia and new Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart likely still would be the school's tight ends coach.
POSSIBLE PRE-GAME MID-FIELD CONVERSATION: Stewart to Schiano: "Hey, you get the fruit basket and champagne I sent to your locker room?"
• More bad news for Florida State, which found out last week that projected starting guard Evan Bellamy will miss the season with a blood clot in his left leg. Bellamy's loss means the Seminoles have just three offensive linemen – tackle Rodney Hudson, guard Brandon Davis and center Ryan McMahon – who have played a down of college football. It appears there will be three sophomores and seven freshmen on the offensive line two-deep depth chart.
• A bit of good news for Washington, which certainly can use it. The Seattle Times reports that Washington senior center Juan Garcia – whose career appeared to be over after he sustained a foot injury during spring ball – hopes to return some time in September. Garcia didn't have surgery and instead hoped the foot would heal quickly on its own; it appears his decision paid off. Garcia still may miss the first three games of the season, games that could make or break the Huskies' season – at Oregon, vs. BYU and vs. Oklahoma. Still, his return would mean four offensive line starters are back from last season.
• Boise State is changing its playing surface. But fear not, the blue hue isn't going anywhere. The school is spending about $800,000 to upgrade the playing surface, but the surface itself will remain blue.
• Finally, Michigan and new coach Rich Rodriguez have agreed to pay the $4 million buyout to West Virginia. Maybe now WVU fans – including a lot of the "media" in West Virginia – can quit obsessing over the guy.
• To the surprise of no one, Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis has been reinstated. Lewis, who will be a junior, was suspended four months ago for undisclosed reasons. His return gives the Hoosiers hope they can go bowling again.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.