By Ben Johnson - Special to SBNation.com
We are inside the bubble zone ladies and gentlemen. Twelve days and counting to the kickoff of the 2012 college football campaign. With Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Nebraska setting the uniform industry a blaze (at least that's what they should do with those hideous contraptions), LSU jettisoning their star player who has checked into a drug rehab program (my blessings towards getting his tremendous opportunity in life back in order) and all eyes on a potential PAC-12 vs SEC showdown for the national championship, we have much to look forward to as our ravenous hunger for college football races onward as we end our annual pigskin hibernation.
This is always an exciting time of the year for me, but also a nervous time for any college football writer in organizing his or her thoughts in getting a jump on the direction that college football will take us. To me, these final days before the season kicks off truly are my 12 days of Christmas for this is the most wonderful time of year, that is until the month of June arrives and the road to the College World Series begins.
I am set to offer four articles per week, each with a differing tone.
My college football week kicks off on Thursday, since this is always the beginning of the weekend and the tune of the first article of the week will be on MY Favorite 5, which are the five teams that I truly follow each and every season.
There are really only four, with the fifth being my Wildcard-Kaleidoscope category where I will follow a kaleidoscope of teams that will all be major contributors in the race to the BCS Championship as the 2012 story of college football unfolds. It may be a group of teams, or a group of themes, but in the end, it will contribute greatly to the TV dramas we witness each and every Saturday afternoon.
So without further ado, here is the framework of how my first article of the week (a Thursday article) will be created and unmasked for all college football fans to preview.
My Favorite 5:
There are four teams in college football that I have followed for years, USC, Michigan, Boise State and Arkansas. I grew up thinking John McKay and Bo Schembeggler were the next coming as their infamous teams have been largely responsible for crafting the backbone of the sport we love today.
My father was an Arkansas alum and I followed this team religiously through the years given my first bowl game was the 1976 Cotton Bowl between Arkansas and Georgia in which the Hogs overcame a 10-0 first half deficit to run away with the game 31-10. It was a banner year for the Hogs, a cinderella story with Arkansas defeating Houston, Texas A&M and Texas in successive weeks to close the season, coming out of nowhere to win the SWC Championship.
The SWC was akin to the SEC in those days and Arkansas created much of the passion I have for the sport which continues onward to this day.
Most people believe I am a front-runner in jumping on the Boise State bandwagon, but my reason for following this team takes on a different slant. When Boise State head coach Chris Peterson was a young rising assistant on Mike Bellotti's staff in Duckville, I would attend and watch practices religiously.
Within weeks of each other, Peterson's son was diagnosed with Cancer at the age of 1, and my wife was diagnosed with B-Cell "Burkits-like" Lymphoma while seven months pregnant. It was a trying time for both us, and although brief, we spoke on occasion at the Eugene Cancer Center, wishing each other well amid trying times.
Both outcomes ended favorably, and I have a strong connection to coach Peterson due to similarity and timing of our battle with cancer so I have followed this program long before Peterson took the helm and guided it into a bonafide national power.
Peterson may in fact be the best coach in the country at preparing and developing a team given the fact that he is not getting those so-called four and 5-star athletes, but in the end, he is creating four and 5-star athletes within his program.
The neat thing about this season, is each team within the My Favorite 5 category will truly be in the race for the national championship.
The stars have aligned perfectly to carry this weekly preview on Conquest Chronicles and even though it is largely a USC site, I think all Trojan fans will enjoy the flavor full spectrum that these teams will bring to the table in 2012.
1. The USC Preview: I will preview the USC match-up each week - the first of which will be USC vs Hawaii. All eyes will be on that Trojan offense, which could end up being the most prolific offense in the history of college football.
What I enjoy most of all about the potential of that scenario, is that the USC offense is a pro-style offense with a TE (or two, or sometimes three), a full-back and a base of three wideouts.
Of course the offense can go to a four-quick set (eliminating the full-back) or an empty-set where the TB will either line up or motion out to empty the backfield, but the point is, this offense is built around preparing its players for the next level, not a gimmick spread offense that does not translate to NFL success.
To have success in the NFL, you need a TE and a FB!
While all eyes will be on the Trojan offense, I will be glued to the defense, mostly because of my coaching background in being a defensive specialist, but also due to the fact that defense is what usually guides a team to the championship.
I will be looking mostly for first down and third down proficiency. What happens on first down will typically determine third down proficiency, since your third down proficiency will be much higher when its third-and-12, versus third-and-2 for obvious reasons.
All great defenses have tremendous third down proficiency (they can get off the field on third down with consistency (see Alabama, LSU and Texas last year) and all great defenses create positive turnover ratio's (see Oklahoma State and Boise State last year), but only the championship defenses will have both (See Alabama and well, Alabama).
We know the offense will be in tune, but the major question is the front-four creating a pass-rush which can pressure the QB into throwing interceptions and incompletions. Stopping the run will also be paramount. Without a stiff surge from the front-four the brunt of the responsibility for stopping a team within the pass-happy PAC-12 will fall to the secondary, which will not be a good sign for our championship hopes of dethroning the SEC if this occurs.
Throw in the Kiffin vs Norm Chow flavoring, and you have yourself a little magic dust to sprinkle your appetite on opening weekend.
2. The Michigan Preview: Saturday morning starts early in the Johnson household with the ESPN Gameday Kickoff at 7 AM, but the first game of the day for me is always generally the Michigan game. The fancy helmets, which still, after all these years, remain the classiest helmet in the land and the tune of "Hail to Victors" blasting off the living room surround-sound is a mix that captured my heart at a young age.
Between the USC fight song "Conquest" and Michigan's "Hail to the Victors," I have always enjoyed the pageantry these two teams bring into your living room on Saturday's during the fall, and this was always the Rose Bowl Match-up that I looked forward to the most.
It is a fabulous year indeed when we eat our annual New Years Day Prime-Rib in front of the USC-Michigan Rose Bowl, but this year we could be postponing our Prime Rib dinner for a week if both Michigan and USC play in the BCS National Championship.
It would be a feather in the hat of the Rose Bowl alliance indeed if this were to come to fruition.
And yes, I despise UCLA and I despise Ohio State, no gettin' around it, although I do root for UCLA when they play out of conference given my affiliation and love for the Conference of Champions, but since I have no Big-Ten allegiances, I will never root for Ohio State.
I can remember learning to read with my father as he would devoutly devour the Saturday morning sports page and many college football magazines looking for game day statistical nuggets and potential individual match-ups to focus on and I will provide these as I see them. I have been doing this for years, a pre-cursor to my love and addiction for sports Sabermetrics!
I met Michigan coach Brady Hoke last January at the annual coaches convention in San Antonio and was very impressed with both he and his staff. Michigan will be back as a national force and very much in the mix for the 2012 national championship.
3. The Arkansas Preview: My father was an Arkansas alum, and I grew up in this part of the country during my youngest of years as my father lived between Denton (TX), Muskogee (OK) and Springdale (AR) most of his life. I can remember Arkansas being treated like Texas' red-headed step-child for many years so I have tended to root against the Horns simply due to the fact that they have manhandled the Hogs over the years.
Like the Eugene faithful here in Oregon, Arkansas fans are special where loyalty, honor and tradition, not to mention intense crowd noise, is on display weekly.
I was a tremendous Bobby Patrino fan as a play caller when he was at Louisville and it will be interesting to see if John L. Smith can continue the epic climb back to national relevance that Arkansas has experienced. I can still remember the days when USC manhandled this program in back-to-back seasons.
I just hope that newly hired Nick Holt never gets anywhere near that Razorback defense!
4. The Boise State Preview: I have already mentioned my connection to Chris Peterson, but I love the under dog story as this is the true story of America, overcoming long odds by sticking together with a strong moral fiber.
America was founded upon a group of people who took a stance against monarchy and the brutish crusade tactics inflicted by the Catholic Church, to form the strongest nation in history bounded by freedom and equality.
Although the Broncos are a bit thuggish (Miami style in the middle 80's), this team has whipped generally every major team that has waltzed their direction, yet they will never get a shot at the national title under the strong arm monopoly tactics of the BCS, the same tactics that our founding fathers ran from in creating the US today
I think in the end, all of America has lost in the process of boycotting the Boise State's, TCU's and Utah's of the world under a BCS grading system that flies in the face of the university value system of everyone having equal opportunity and access without any hints of bias or discrimination.
Somewhere in the near future, the ethical compass of the university system is in need of a tremendous cleansing.
I will enjoy the day greatly when a Chris Peterson Bronco team can finally hoist the crystal ball.
5. The Kaleidoscope Preview: This is an apt term because I will be following a number of teams across the country weekly, and the list could and very well change from week to week. I mentioned earlier that a Kaleidoscope creates a triangulated mirror where prism and color are reflected at differing levels, so my Inside The Kaleidoscope Preview will compare a group of three Wildcard teams that I will be focused on each weekend, based on similar themes.
It could take a "Rising or Falling" form, a "Coaches Hot Seat" form or a "Comparison & Contrasting of Styles" form, but each week this category will be of a different flavor highlighting coaches, players or simply the traditions of college football.