Spring ball has already begun with North Texas kicking off its
off-season sessions on February 13th and with Texas, Auburn and UCLA
starting soon. Here are twenty questions heading into this important
time to keep you going during this brutally painful time before March
Spring Questions 14-20
Spring Questions 4-6 |
Spring Questions 1-3
What teams are likely to take a tumble this year?
Penn State. The Nittany Lions are coming off an incredible 11-1
season and should be strong again, but there's a fine line between a
one-loss, BCS performance and being a four-loss Big Ten also ran. That
fine line is Michael Robinson, who never got the respect he deserved
last year as the Big Ten's most valuable player (he had a stunningly
tough time getting All-Big Ten votes). His leadership and clutch
play will be sorely missed. Can Anthony Morelli finally play up to
the hype he had coming in as a hot-shot recruit? He hasn't shown
anything so far, but he has to be a star this spring and show that
he can use all the good young weapons around him. Remember, Robinson
didn't exactly set the world on fire as a quarterback until 2005, so
it's not a stretch to think Morelli can make the same jump. It also
helps that the overall talent level is back up to snuff in Happy
Valley, but it's tough to maintain such a high level record-wise in
a conference like the Big Ten.
Remember, Penn State had to battle to beat Northwestern, Ohio State,
Michigan State and Florida State. A big play the other way in each
of those games and the final record would've been much different. To
be fair, Penn State created its own breaks, but teams rarely win all
of the close ones (Michigan finish aside) two years in a row. Road
trips to Notre Dame, Ohio State, Minnesota, Purdue (who'll make up
for last year, more on that in a moment), and Wisconsin should mean
at least two losses, if not three. Fortunately, the rest of the
slate isn't that bad with the only home games to break a sweat over
coming against Michigan and Michigan State.
Georgia would be due for a bit of a fall with a rough loss of
personnel for what seems like the 26th year in a row, but the
schedule is too forgiving with a joke of a home slate and the tough
road games at South Carolina and Auburn along with the neutral site
battle with Florida. UCLA will almost definitely slip after a 10-2
season with the loss of RB Maurice Drew, QB Drew Olson, to go along
with road trips to Oregon, Notre Dame, Cal and Arizona State to go
along with tough home games against Utah and USC.
On a much smaller scale, Arkansas State will have a nasty time
trying to win a second straight Sun Belt title. A "home" game
against Oklahoma State to be played in Little Rock kicks off a
string of eight road games in ten dates including conference battles
with UL Lafayette and Troy.
12. Which teams are likely to bounce back?
Washington State. It's hard to lose a runner like Jerome Harrison
and hope to be better, but the return of WR Jason Hill for his
senior year ensures the Cougars will have one of the Pac 10's most
fearsome passing attacks. With five of their seven losses coming by
four points or fewer (a total of 17 points against Stanford, UCLA,
Cal, Arizona State and Oregon), the Cougars are way due to be on the
right side of a few wins this year. The key will be to not get down
after a likely opening day loss at Auburn and a late September home
date with USC. The rest of the schedule is nice enough to hope for
an 8-4 season.
Michigan State and Purdue, two of 2005's bigger disappointments,
will be players again. MSU's Drew Stanton should be among the
nation's best quarterbacks and has a schedule just favorable enough
to hope for a big turnaround with Notre Dame and Ohio State coming
to East Lansing and road trips to Pitt, Northwestern and Indiana to
go along with the rough dates at Michigan and Penn State. For the
second year in a row Purdue doesn't play Michigan or Ohio State, and
starts off its schedule at home against Indiana State, Miami
University, Ball State and Minnesota. Five of the following seven
are on the road, but two of those games are against Northwestern and
Illinois before closing out against Indiana and at Hawaii.
The biggest bounce-back team of 2006 should be Tennessee after a
stunning 5-6 campaign. The Vols still have as much talent and
athleticism as anyone in the country, and now it has David Cutcliffe
coaching the offense; things can't be any worse as long as Erik
Ainge plays like a seasoned quarterback. The opening four games
aren't breathers playing Cal, Air Force, Florida and Marshall, but
if they can get off to a 4-0 start before going to Memphis and
Georgia, the confidence and swagger will be back. However, the
potential is there for another disaster considering the great teams
on the slate. Cal, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, LSU,
and Arkansas will all spend time in the top 25, if not the top 15.
11. The coaches who have to win this year are
Call it a hot seat, a make-or-break year, or anything else you'd
like to, but there might not be a 2007 for these ten coaches if they
don't have big seasons. Don't expect too many firings since most of
the usual bottom-feeders have made recent coaching changes.
10. Houston Nutt, Arkansas
After eight years at Arkansas, Nutt
needs to coming up with his first winning season since 2003 or he
might not get a chance to let franchise recruit Mitch Mustain turn
the program around.
9. Chuck Amato, NC State
Few are able to pull out the job-saving
win better than Amato, but he'll have work to do with all the future
NFL stars leaving his defense.
8. John Bunting, North Carolina
He has done a tremendous job
considering the schedules his team has had to deal with, but there
has been only one bowl game in the last four years.
7. Greg Robinson, Syracuse
He has only been there one year, but
another season like last year's 1-10 disaster could start talk of a quick
6. Rich Brooks, Kentucky
Yes, he's still there. Seven wins
over D-I teams in three years appears to be acceptable. The best win
during the Brooks regime came against Vanderbilt last year. The
other eight wins were against Idaho State and Murray State (both D-IAAers),
Indiana, Ohio, and Mississippi State (who all went 2-10 in 2003),
Indiana (3-8 in 2004), Vanderbilt (2-9 in 2004), and Mississippi
State (3-8 last year).
5. Fisher DeBerry, Air Force
All the religious and racial
controversies would blow over easier if DeBerry could come up with
his first winning season in three years.
4. Dennis Franchione, Texas A&M
Only one winning season in the
last three has many Aggie fans still wondering what was so bad about R.C. Slocum.
3. Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee
Not winning the SEC title puts
coaches on the hot seat in Knoxville. Going 5-6 makes the buns burn.
2. Lloyd Carr, Michigan
Not being in the national title race since
1997 - bad. Struggling in the non-conference games, especially on
the road - really bad. Losing to Ohio State four times in the last
five years - nuclear.
1. Larry Coker, Miami
Not playing for national title at Da You is
cause enough for putting a coach on the hot seat, but not winning
conference titles is cause for a fire alarm. You can only blame the
assistant coaches once.
10. The biggest new
overall changes to the game this year are ...
Uniform instant replay and a 12-game schedule. All the extra game means
is a Cupcake U. or two sprinkled throughout the schedules. The smart
big-time teams are using the extra revenue lamb-for-the-slaughter home
game to start the year with a tune-up for the important battles ahead.
Some are using it as a breather late in the year. On the plus side, the
12-game slate means all the Pac 10 teams play each other so there'll be
a true conference champion, unlike the unfair Big Ten where teams like
Purdue don't play Ohio State or Michigan, and without the gimmicky
championship money grubbing games like several other leagues have.
Instant replay will generate the biggest buzz throughout 2006. Outside
of the pathologically grouchy who enjoy missed calls and controversy, no
one can fault the college version of instant replay when compared to the
bizarre and unfair pro version.
Here's the poop. Instant replay will be like normal with a man in a
replay booth looking at every play. He'll signal down to the referee
when a play should be reviewed upstairs, and everything will function
like before. The problem last year was when it took too long for the process
to occur and a play couldn't get reviewed in time. That meant coaches
sometimes had to burn a time out just to buy more time, and that,
everyone could agree, wasn't fair. To change it, the NCAA has allowed
coaches one challenge per game by calling a time out. If the play isn't
overturned, then the team loses a timeout and there aren't any more
Here's where it gets tricky. If a play is challenged and gets
overturned, the team doesn't lose a time out and doesn't lose its
challenge. Let it ride. Theoretically, a coach can challenge 743 times a
game as long as he's always right, however, he can't challenge if he
doesn't have any timeouts left. Technically, that's fine since bad calls
should get overturned. Now for the real kicker; the coaches will be
flying blind. There won't be monitors in the coaches booth, so unlike
the NFL when an assistant upstairs yells at the head coach to challenge
a call, a head coach will have to hope that he's right. Expect this to
get very, very interesting as the season goes on.
And finally, a rule change that will fly under the radar but will make a
big impact involves the kicking game. The height of the kicking tee has
been reduced to one inch meaning more big returns and better overall
field position for the return teams. Expect this to play a really big role late in games when
a team needs to go on a final scoring drive.
9. Everyone will be complaining about ...
The BCS. Again. With the new 12-game schedule, and with some playing 13
games thanks to conference championships, it'll be harder and harder for
teams to stay healthy through the long season and there are bound to be
more slip ups. No one appears to have a dominant team going into the
season, and no one has a sure-thing schedule that assures 12-0. Of
course, someone could go unbeaten, but who? Finding two teams at this
point in the off-season is next to impossible.
We all got a nice break in 2005 with the cut-and-dry Texas vs. USC
national title, but the odds are solid that we'll all have to waste our
time comparing apples to oranges, SEC to Pac 10, Big 12 to Big Ten,
and/or some other configuration of things before some deserving team is
out of the national title game. We're also overdue for a mega-blowup
with five deserving one-loss teams jockeying for a spot in the national
Also, get ready for a year of ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 10 and SEC fans
banding together to complain about the Big East. West Virginia achieved
a major measure of respect with the Sugar Bowl win over Georgia, but
there's still a general feeling by SEC fans that the Bulldogs simply
took the game too lightly and that the Mountaineers would have never
survived an SEC schedule. Just wait until this year.
West Virginia has a three game season hosting Maryland before road games
later on against Louisville and Pitt. Louisville has a very respectable
home game against Miami and a trip to Kansas State along with a road
date with Pitt and the showdown with West Virginia. What happens if
Louisville or West Virginia goes 12-0 and, for example, Texas, Ohio
State, USC, Florida State and Florida all have one loss? We're talking a
hypothetical situation here, but be prepared for a knock down, drag out
conference debate. However ...
8. Everyone will be in love with ...
West Virginia. Even with the three other scintillating BCS games and the
all-timer Rose Bowl, a lot of the buzz after the bowl season was about
West Virginia and their unbelievable young talents QB Pat White and RB
Steve Slaton. Now the pressure will really be on being tagged as this
year's version of the "it" team. However, hyped teams hardly ever play
like everyone's darling.
2005's hot team, Wyoming, crashed and burned and 2004's next-big-thing,
West Virginia, fell off the map after a decent start. Certainly you
remember the fashionable team going into 2003, Auburn, with magazine
covers and a preseason number one ranking before cranking out an 8-5
season. Michigan State, with Charles Rogers and Jeff Smoker, was
supposed to shine in 2002 and then came up with a 4-8 campaign. How
about Sports Illustrated's Oregon State team going into 2001? 5-6.
The 2006 Mountaineers should be rock-solid, but can they handle having
the bull's-eye on their back? Can they handle the pressure of being
ranked in the preseason top five by some, and how will they deal with
the pressure of being
picked to play in the national title game by others? The combination of
above-average overall talent, sensational coaching and a powder-puff
schedule will generate all the hype the program can handle.
7. Which players, coaches and programs have to
finally start producing?
While not necessarily on a hot seat, these players, coaches and programs
have to start coming through after a few years of hype. 2006 had better
be big for these ten, or 2007 might not be a lot of fun.
10. Ralph Friedgen and Maryland
He set the bar too high winning 31 games in his first three years. Two
straight 5-6 seasons doesn't mean he'll get fired with another down
year, but it'll get Terp fans rumbling.
9. Fresno State
To paraphrase a classic line from GoodFellas, "Screw you, pay
me." For all the bluster and big performances from Fresno State over the
last few years, it still can't seem to win the WAC. After last year's
epic choke job, Pat Hill's bunch needs to finally get over the hump.
8. San Diego State RB Lynell Hamilton
He has all the talent to be a next-level runner, but he has to get
through a season healthy. If he can last for a full 12 games, he'll be in
the mix for Mountain West Player of the Year honors.
7. John L. Smith and Michigan State
Three signs that things aren't working out as planned. 1) You hired the
guy from another team at halftime of a bowl game. Bad karma is kicking
in. 2) The former team (Louisville) is better than the current one. 3)
Two straight losing seasons.
6. Mike Stoops and Arizona
After two straight 3-8 seasons and only four wins over D-I teams, it's
time for the Stoops era to start coming up with victories, or at least be more
competitive. This is now his team.
5. Sylvester Croom and Mississippi State
Putting aside the social significance of Croom's hiring, he needs to
start putting some wins on the board after only five victories against
D-I teams in two years.
The offense simply can't be so awful for a third straight year.
Fox did a great job with the Cotton Bowl over the last few years, so
there's hope that it'll
handle the BCS and national title game without a problem.
However, considering the network still believes Tim McCarver should be a part of
anything related to the World Series, there's just cause for die-hard
college fans to be a little bit concerned. (Two words: Steve Stone. Look
3. Florida QB Chris Leak
Leak will be done with his eligibility by next year and
Tim Tebow will take over, so this is the final chance to win an
SEC title and be more than just the transition quarterback from the Spurrier era
what Gators fans hope are the new glory days.
2. Former NFL coaches - Dave Wannstedt, Al Groh, Chan Gailey
They can't all be Pete Carroll. The jury is still out on Wannstedt,
but another losing season at Pitt will mean 2007 will be a make or break
year. Groh and Gailey have done good jobs, but the haven't been able to
make much noise when it comes to ACC title races.
1. Florida State RB Lorenzo Booker
1,773 rushing yards, 575 receiving yards and 13 total touchdowns
aren't exactly what the Noles were hoping for from, arguably, the
nation's top recruit in 2002. Blame the
coaching staff for not using Booker's blinding speed correctly and blame
the problems on the offensive line over the last few years. In any
event, he likely would've been a second round draft pick had he come out
early, and now he has to be more of a factor in the Seminole offense.