If you know your three P's this season, College Football 128 should be a snap.
Peyton's in place at Tennessee, Penn State is atop the preseason poll and Ron Powlus is back for one last fling at remodeled Notre Dame.
"I haven't been this excited since my freshman year," said Powlus, the Irish quarterback who returns to play for new coach Bob Davie after four mostly sour seasons under Lou Holtz.
Peyton Manning chose to stay around, too, saying NFL millions can wait because he's having so much fun at Tennessee. Chances are, the Heisman Trophy front-runner also wants another shot at Florida, the defending national champion who has beaten the Vols the past four years. He gets the chance Sept. 20 at Gainesville.
"I guess everybody expected me to leave," said Manning, eighth in the 1996 Heisman balloting and the only Top 10 finisher returning. "I really love college football, and it has a lot to do with how positive my experience has been here, guys on the team, coaches, the friends I'm making."
Penn State coach Joe Paterno has other concerns - his Nittany Lions are No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason Top 25 for the first time in school history.
"It's nice to be recognized, but it sets you up like a sitting duck," said Paterno, who enters his 32nd season only 11 wins shy of victory No. 300. "I hope we are prepared to handle it."
In this 128th college football season, there are numerous new faces, including 24 new coaches in Division I-A.
While Holtz resigned after 11 seasons in South Bend - he's preparing for his rookie campaign as a CBS analyst - Mike DuBose takes over for Gene Stallings at Alabama; Walt Harris moves in for Johnny Majors at Pittsburgh; and the Big Ten has four new coaches: Ron Turner at Illinois, Cam Cameron at Indiana, Glen Mason at Minnesota and Joe Tiller at Purdue.
Not since 1987 have there been so many new coaches.
"The bottom line is if you don't win or attendance starts to fall, college presidents are going to make a change," said Brigham Young coach LaVell Edwards, beginning his 26th year with the Cougars.
At Grambling, 78-year-old Eddie Robinson gets to coach his 57th and final season after he was nearly ousted during the offseason. The Tigers, with two straight losing seasons, were placed on NCAA probation last month for minor rules violations, but Robinson was cleared of any wrongdoing.
"I'd like to coach to about 100, if I could live that long," said Robinson, football's winningest coach, college or pro, with 405 victories. "This is the only thing I've ever done."
The bowl alliance enters its final year under the current format, with the Pac-10 and Big Ten conferences and Rose Bowl joining next season. The change will make it easier for the alliance to match the top two teams for a true national title game.
This season, the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2 will serve as the top alliance game, with the Pac-10 and Big Ten champs headed to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl. The Sugar and Fiesta bowls are the other alliance games.
Two new bowls - the Motor City Bowl and Sports Humanitarian Bowl - have been added to the postseason.
Bowling and coaching aside, it's the players who make the season. And even though 44 underclassmen chose the NFL - Orlando Pace, Darnell Autry, Troy Davis and Byron Hanspard among them - there are plenty of stars for '97.
Start with Manning, who threw for 3,287 yards and 20 touchdowns in leading the Vols to a 10-2 record, including a 38-28 win over Northwestern in the Citrus Bowl. With receivers such as Peerless Price and Marcus Nash still around, the Vols begin the season ranked No. 5.
Powlus, a passer held in check by Holtz's ball-control offense, still enters the season with more TD passes (43) than any other Notre Dame quarterback. Last season, he threw for 1,942 yards and 12 TDs.
The Irish are ranked 11th in the preseason poll.
"I think he felt he hadn't written his final chapter at Notre Dame and would always wonder what would have been," Davie said. "That's probably what it came down to."
Other quarterbacks apparently ready for breakthrough seasons include Donovan McNabb of Syracuse, Brock Huard of Washington, Chad Hutchinson of Stanford, Ryan Clement of Miami and Chris Keldorf of North Carolina.
Wisconsin's Ron Dayne, who took the Big Ten Conference by storm with 1,863 yards and 18 TDs as a freshman, could be ready for a 2,000-yard season, while Penn State's Curtis Enis (1,210 and 13 TDs) is capable of similar numbers if Paterno chooses to showcase his star.
And don't forget LSU's Kevin Faulk, who ran for 1,282 yards and 13 TDs and was fourth in the nation in punt returns with a 15.63-yard average.
Look for several other backs to shine, too, including Ricky Williams of Texas, Autry Denson of Notre Dame, Sedrick Irvin of Michigan State and Ahman Green of Nebraska.
On defense, big seasons could come from ends Grant Wistrom (Nebraska), Andre Wadsworth (Florida State), tackle Michael Myers (Alabama), linebackers Andy Katzenmoyer (Ohio State), Anthony Simmons (Clemson) and Brian Simmons (North Carolina), and cornerbacks Dre' Bly (North Carolina) and Charles Woodson (Michigan).
Even with a new quarterback - fifth-year local product Mike McQueary - there's reason for title talk at Penn State.
In addition to Enis, 11 starters return, including wide receivers Joe Jurevicius and Joe Nastasi, and linebackers Aaron Collins, Jim Nelson and Brandon Short.
In short, the Lions are loaded, and their two biggest games - against Ohio State on Oct. 11 and Michigan on Nov. 8 - are at home.
"We're definitely looking for a national title," Nastasi said. "I think we're going to be more powerful, more potent. I have a lot of confidence in Mike. He's not afraid to let it go. And we've got the best linebackers in the nation, I feel."
Coach Steve Spurrier's Gators should not be ignored, despite the departure of Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel and top receivers Ike Hilliard and Reidel Anthony.
Doug Johnson is expected to fit right in with the Fun 'N' Gun offense, while a strong running game is led by Fred Taylor and Terry Jackson. Jacquez Green will be Johnson's chief target, and the offensive line is loaded with veterans. On defense, six starters return, led by tackle Ed Chester and cornerback Fred Weary.
"We all realize if we don't finish No. 1, we've gone down a little," said Spurrier, whose Gators start the season at No. 2. "If we hit all of our goals, we'll go sideways this year."
And Florida State wants to move up a few notches after a 52-20 loss to the Gators in the Sugar Bowl last Jan. 2.
Thad Busby returns to quarterback the Seminoles, who handed Florida its only loss last season before getting beaten by the Gators in the rematch.
Dee Feaster gets first crack at replacing Warrick Dunn at tailback, while E.G. Green could be a force at wide receiver.
Wadsworth and linebackers Sam Cowart and Daryl Bush will help offset the loss of All-American ends Peter Boulware and Reinard Wilson.
But Florida State, with road games against Southern California, Clemson, North Carolina and Florida, might have a tough time challenging for another title.
"I think it's a transition year, not a rebuilding year," coach Bobby Bowden said. "Our goal is to win a national championship. We can't have a goal less than that, not in the state we're in."
New in the preseason elite is No. 4 Washington, which appears ready to make a run at its first national title after finishing 9-3 in '96.
"If we go 11-0, which is our dream, everything else will take care of itself," said Huard, a left-hander who threw for 1,678 yards and 13 TDs in his freshman season.
Eight starters return on defense, led by linebacker Jason Chorak. Rashaan Shehee, who ran for 957 yards two years ago, replaces the departed Corey Dillon.
If the Huskies and Nittany Lions finish ranked No. 1 and 2 and play in the Rose Bowl for the national title, add a fourth P to the season - for Pasadena.
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