2013 Spring Preview
CFN Pre-Preseason Independent Rankings
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Start: February 12, Spring Game: March 7
Why To Be Excited The Knights were experienced last year, and this year they're full of veterans again who should be ready to finally start moving forward. Eight starters return to a defense that sputtered, struggled and was gouged throughout the season until the Navy game. The entire defensive front returns and the underclassmen in the secondary last year are back to try to improve after getting beaten on a regular basis. Enough of the key parts of the offensive puzzle are back to be fine, with running back Raymond Maples almost certain to be a 100-yard per game producer.
Why To Be Grouchy There's a long, long way to go before the team can be consistent. There's still no size on the defensive front and the defensive backs have to prove they can actually play. Heart-and-soul quarterback Trent Steelman is finally done, and now it'll be a battle between A.J. Schurr and Angel Santiago to see who can handle the workload to direct the triple option attack. The offense is all about timing and precision, which is always good for a place like Army, but the left side of the line needs to be replaces with tackle Derek Bisgard and guard Frank Allen done. Also gone are kicker Eric Osteen and punter Chris Boldt.
What Needs Working On First and foremost, the defensive line has to be better. The passing game needs to be more efficient after failing to hit on anything deep and finishing with just three touchdown passes and 797 yards on the year, but that's a function of the offensive style. The undersized defense is the bigger issue after generating a pathetic 15 sacks – and with just five coming against Boston College – and not getting to quarterbacks to push them on a regular basis. The problems showed in a secondary that had to come up with plays against passers who got all day to throw, picking off just seven passes with three of those coming against Air Force.
Start: March 4, Spring Game: April 5
Why To Be Excited Last year the defense controlled the season, and this year it might be the offense. The attack wasn't too bad, but it was painfully inconsistent and struggled mightily against any defense with a pulse. However, this time around, with eight returning starters including receivers Cody Hoffman, JD Falsev and Ross Apo, who should make life far easier for whoever works under center. The defense isn't going to fall off the map with a good core returning including linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who might be on almost everyone's list of preseason All-Americans. Four starters are back in the secondary.
Why To Be Grouchy All three starters on the defensive front are gone including high-rising, freak of nature end Ezekiel Ansah, who started to put it all together last year on the end along with big Romney Fuga on the nose and Russell Tialavea on the other side. Also gone is top tackler Brandon Ogletree, who didn't get the pub of Van Noy because he wasn't as spectacular, but was every big as effective. The two best players on the offensive line, center Braden Hansen and tackle Braden Brown, are done.
What Needs Working On Improving the quarterback situation. And the starting quarterback will be … ? This was supposed to be when super-recruit Jake Heaps was going to hit his stride, but instead he's looking to be Charlie Weis's starting quarterback at Kansas. Between Riley Nelson and James Lark, the situation was never really settled throughout last season, and now both of them are gone. With a new set of offensive assistant coaches looking to come up with steady production right away this spring, it's looking more and more like it's going to be part-time starter Taysom Hill, who looked like the next big thing – adding a rushing element to the equation - before suffering a knee injury. Meanwhile, Jason Munns is also in the mix and he'll get every chance to grab the job by the horns.
Start: March 22, Spring Game: April 9
Why To Be Excited At least the drama about what was going to happen with the program after the WAC implosion is over. It's now about life as an independent, and new head man Paul Petrino has plenty of experience and lots of options to play around with. Nine starters are back with right guard A.J. Jones and running back Ryan Bass the only losses. The defense might have been lousy, but three starters are back up front with some decent size to work around in nose tackle QuayShawne Buckley and guard Jesse Davis on the inside.
Why To Be Grouchy For a team that struggled so much offensively, it needs as much time as possible to work on figuring out how to put points on the board. However, the defense might need just as much work with a massive turnover of talent to deal with. It's not like the D slowed anyone down, but it's still a problem to lose veteran tacklers like linebackers Homer Mauga, Robert Siavii and Su'a Tuala along with end Benson Mayowa. Safety Gary Walker led the team in tackles, and now he's gone along with sure-hitting corner Aaron Grymes.
What Needs Working On Offense, offense, offense. Idaho has rarely had a killer defense, but the offense was usually fun and exciting with lots of passing and plenty of fireworks. Last season, though, nothing worked with the nation's worst scoring offense that averaged under 16 points per game with no running game and a mediocre passing attack. When the O was able to get moving, drive after drive was killed by a bad turnover. Over the final ten games, the Vandals gave up three turnovers or more eight times. The defense came up with its share of takeaways, but it didn't generate enough of them to make up for the offensive issues.
Start: March 18, Spring Game: April 12
Why To Be Excited After getting back on track last season with an eight-win season and a bowl appearance, now it's time to start doing more with a defense that welcomes back seven starters and an offense that has one of its most exciting quarterbacks in the Ken Niumatalolo era. Keenan Reynolds showed a few glimpses of what he could do as a freshman, and now the attack is all his to run with Noah Copeland a good fullback to rely on and three starters back up front. The defense might not have been a rock against the run, but two starters are back on the front three and three starters return to a secondary that allowed just 215 yards per game.
Why To Be Grouchy Arizona State 62, Navy 28. The season ended with a crashing thud as the Sun Devils did whatever they wanted against the Midshipmen. Coming up with stops against the better offenses was a problem, and while the schedule might not be loaded with high-octane attacks, having to deal with Indiana, Duke, Pitt and Notre Dame on the road could be a problem unless the offense does a better job of hanging on to the ball to keep the D off the field. Linebacker Matt Warrick and leading pass rushers Keegan Wetzel and Wes Henderson are gone, which is a major problem because …
What Needs Working On Pass rush. Getting behind the line is always a problem for the Midshipmen, and last season it was a particular issue with inconsistent play behind the line and a totally absent pass rush in some key moments – check the tape of the ASU game to know how much the lack of a disruptive force hurt. Offensively, the running game might have been solid and it might have put up nice stats, but it has to be even more effective. When the offense hummed – like it did against East Carolina and Texas State – the results were generally positive, but there wasn't enough quite the normal pass efficiency wasn't there to take advantage of defenses who sold out against the run.
New Mexico State
Start: April 1, Spring Game: May 4
Why To Be Excited New head coach Doug Martin is getting plenty of time to work and figure out what he needs to do before a late spring start. Everything needs to start from scratch after losing the final 11 games following a season opening win over Sacramento State, and there are plenty of pieces to play around with. 15 starters return along with both specialists, and almost all the backups return, too, meaning it should be a spirited spring session with lots of fights for jobs. Quarterback Andrew Manley is a good place to start, but he needs more time to operate. Getting five starters back on the line should help. The defense returns most of the key defensive backs and top-tackling linebacker Trashaun Nixon.
Why To Be Grouchy It's going to take a lot just to make the team competitive. The Aggies didn't just lose, they lost to a lot of awful teams and very, very badly. Ten of the 11 losses came by double digits, including clunkers against UTSA, Texas State, UTEP and New Mexico. The defense needs more of a pass rush, but it loses top sacker Donte Savage along with defensive tackle Walton Taumoepeau. The offense has to find more pop and explosion, but second-leading receiver Kemonte Bateman is gone after serving as top-target Austin Franklin's running mate.
What Needs Working On The pass rush was bad, the running game was worse, and there wasn't nearly enough steady production on either side of the ball, but the Aggies can't begin to improve without first starting to win the turnover margin. The team just isn't good enough to make a slew of mistakes, and while turnovers weren't too much of a problem, generating them was. The defense managed to come up with a paltry four picks on the year, mainly because the defensive front was only able to generate ten sacks and rarely touched opposing passers. There wasn't much luck when the ball was on the ground, either, coming up with just five of 18 fumbles; the defense didn't recover a fumble over the final six games of the year and came up with just two after coming up with three in the first two games.
Start: March 20, Spring Game: April 20
Why To Be Excited The schedule isn't nearly as bad. While the Irish were able to get through the 2012 regular season slate unscathed, it appeared to be devastating before the season started with road games against USC and Oklahoma to go along with nasty battles with Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford and BYU. Most of the usual suspects are back on board, but the games against the Trojans, Spartans, Sooners and Cougars are all at home. Going to Michigan and Stanford won't be easy, and a neutral-site game against Arizona State in Jerry World in Arlington will be tough, but Temple, at Purdue, at Air Force, Navy and Pitt shouldn't be that big a problem - overall the slate isn't the same killer. On the field, with each Brian Kelly recruiting class the talent level is getting stronger with a defense that shouldn't slip too much despite the loss of Mr. Te'o, safety Zeke Motta and end Kapron Lewis-Moore. Even with eight starters gone on offense, there's enough speed and ability across the board to be more than fine.
Why To Be Grouchy Okay, so the schedule is still nastier than anything anyone outside of the SEC has to deal with, and losing an Heisman-caliber linebacker and eight offensive starters really does matter. Like last year, it's asking way, way too much to get through a regular season schedule like this one unscathed, but now the bar is set at BCS or bust. That might be tough to do with a revamped O line that has to find the right five this spring so the summer practices can be all about tuning up. The backfield needs to find a steady running back with Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood done, and Everett Golson – assuming it still is Everett Golson under center – needs a new No. 1 target with Tyler Eifert off to the big leagues.
What Needs Working On The return game has to be better. There's too much talent and too many good options to be so mediocre in any phase of the special teams. George Atkinson III is a touchdown waiting to happen every time he has the ball in his hands, but the Irish averaged fewer than 20 yards per kickoff return and Davonte Neal and the punt return game averaged a paltry 2.19 yards per try. The kicking game wasn't bad, but the kickoff coverage was pedestrian.
CFN Pre-Preseason Independent Rankings