Winter workouts a springboard for 2006 season

If you're reading this in February, you're enough of a college football fan to understand that the players work more than 12 Saturdays a year. You understand that they report for preseason practice in August. You may know that they show up for volunteer workouts in the summer, which they "volunteer" for in the same way that you "volunteered" to do your chores as a kid.

Surely you know all about spring practice, and, if you're the kind of a fan whose cell phone rings with your school's fight song, you even know about winter conditioning, the pre-spring workouts that, truth be told, are the kickoff to the 2006 season next fall.

Trust me, as someone embarking on his 20th season of covering college football, on that. Better yet, trust Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

"People have no idea of the really hard work that the players put in right now," Stoops said.

Think of it this way: by the time you stumble out to the car to drive to work, Balance Bar in one hand, coffee mug in the other, a lot of Division I-A players have already showered and eaten breakfast after a one- or two-hour workout more intense than anything you've ever done in shorts and Nikes.

Over the next three days, come with me to visit pre-dawn workouts at a perennial top-10 team bouncing back from an 8-4 season (Oklahoma), an upstart power trying to maintain its hold on national prominence (TCU), and, beginning today, a traditional Eastern power trying to dig out of its worst season in more than a century (Syracuse).

We'll also stand alongside the machines and poolside as Penn State All-American linebacker and Butkus Award winner Paul Posluszny rehabs the right knee that prematurely ended his Orange Bowl and any lingering thoughts he had about coming out early for the 2006 NFL draft.

I'll be honest with you -- I don't normally get this kind of access. If you're a serious college football fan, come with me.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.