2007 Spring Questions - New Star Coaches

Posted Feb 21, 2007

Who, along with LSU's Les Miles, are the new coaching superstars? What players, coaches and programs have to start producing? Who are the unknown players who'll breakout this year? These and more in the latest installment of the Spring Questions.

- 2006 Spring Questions 14-20 | 7-13 | 4-6 | 1-3
2007 Spring Questions No. 20 to No. 16 | No. 15 to No. 11

10. Five new Urbans (the coaches on the verge of being superstars) ...

5. Brian Kelly, Cincinnati
Many were shocked that Kelly didn't wait for a bigger gig after leading Central Michigan to the MAC title in his third year on the job. He isn't just a spread offense coach; he's a young motivator who's great with quarterbacks and getting the most out of his teams. It'll be interesting to see where he is if he makes Cincinnati a Big East player.

4. Bronco Mendenhall, BYU
Talk about bringing back the glory, Mendenhall turned BYU back into a powerhouse. While the offense makes the most noise, Mendenhall is a defensive coach who gets creative around the personnel.

3. Gary Patterson, TCU
With four double-digit win seasons in the last five years along with three bowl wins and a stunning victory over Oklahoma two years ago, Patterson is one of the nation's most successful unknown head coaches. He hasn't gotten a sniff of an offer from one of the bigger job openings even though he's a winner, gets the most out of his players, and has the talent to make anyone a winner. He's done more than Dennis Franchione, who left TCU for Alabama six years ago.

2. Bret Bielema, Wisconsin
There's a reason Barry Alvarez locked up Bielema a year early. He came up with a whale of a first season at the helm going 12-1 with a Capital One Bowl win over Arkansas. With a few more big years, he could do the impossible and be even better than his mentor.

1. Les Miles, LSU
Is it finally time to give Miles his due? While he's been able to accomplish some big things with Nick Saban's recruits, he's been even more successful than his predecessor with two straight 11-win seasons; Saban only had one double-digit year in Baton Rouge. Navigating his way through the brutal SEC, the early concerns about his ability, and a massive hurricane, Miles is now on the verge of becoming a household college football name.

Five more on the verge of superstardom: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State; Todd Graham, Rice; Chris Petersen, Boise State; Ron Prince, Kansas State; Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee

9. Everyone will be complaining about ...

The BCS ... again.
The Florida win over Ohio State raised more questions than answers. Have there been other national champions college football has missed out on because of incorrect voting? Now, the system will undergo even more scrutiny and everyone will be clamoring for a playoff even more even if two top teams finish unbeaten. Maybe there's a Florida out there who has one loss thanks to a killer schedule, while someone else might be overrated playing an overblown slate. That's why people will get more into the ...

The BCS formulas don't take them into account like they should. Sure, Boise State proved to be fantastic last year, but the schedule, compared to those in some of the top conferences, wasn't even remotely close. The Broncos rocked in one really, really big game, while teams in the SEC, Big 12, Big East and Pac 10 had to deal with weekly landmines. Expect the fans of teams with one or two losses against a tough slate to be screaming more than ever, thanks to the success of Florida and LSU last year, while teams with great records, helped by mediocre schedules, will be complaining about a lack of respect.

The SEC compared to the other leagues
Will everyone go overboard the other way and overrate SEC teams now after the success of last year, or will pollsters properly judge the teams based on their own merits? For example, if LSU has one loss, expect Tiger fans to point out time and again how their team played Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Florida, Auburn, and Arkansas. Expect a weekly debate about how good the SEC teams are compared to the other big teams from the big leagues.

Notre Dame
And so the backlash begins. Everyone (but us) went overboard with their evaluation of last year's team before the season started, got burned, and will now go the other way and be too harsh in a rebuilding year for the Irish. With a brutal schedule to start the season, watch out for the "What's wrong with Notre Dame?" articles to come early and often before the end of October.

USC and the NCAA
Who says Los Angeles doesn't have a pro team? After the alleged Reggie Bush dealings with an agent, along with the alleged improper recruiting issues surrounding star back Joe McKnight, the NCAA spotlight is about to get red-hot on the best program in college football right now. Watch how SEC fans, especially those in Alabama, go ballistic if USC gets away with a slap on the wrist if more things are uncovered.

8. Everyone will be in love with ...

The Big East
After a brilliant year and a perfect bowl season, the gushing over the Big East will start early ... and rightly so. This is a loaded league from top to near bottom, unless Syracuse improves, and with the east coast media, the great stories, the better coaches, and Heisman caliber players like Steve Slaton, Pat White, Ray Rice and Brian Brohm, expect even more attention than ever.

Boise State and Chris Petersen
Boise State was one of the feel-good stories of last year, and now everyone will expect miracles every time out. The schedule isn't going to be all that bad, and with Boise State's history, anything other than yet another WAC title and a run at a BCS game will be seen as a disappointment.

Michigan's offense
Why did Ohio State get the preseason No. 1 spot last year? Why was everyone in love with Notre Dame? Offense and the superior skill players. Expect the same outpouring of hyperbole for the Michigan attack with Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington returning. Anything less than 35 points and 400 yards a game will be seen as a mega-disappointment.

Want to get in on the blue-chip stock early? Start thinking about Nebraska as a possible sleeper in the national title race. With former Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller taking over for Zac Taylor, in what might actually be an upgrade at the position, and with all the key weapons returning, the Husker offense has the potential to be unstoppable. A mid-September home date with USC will make-or-break the BCS Championship dreams, while road trips to Missouri and Texas will show just how good the team really is.

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. 2007 had better be big for these ten, or 2008 might not be a lot of fun.

10. Dan Hawkins
After the mediocre Dirk Koetter era at Arizona State, and Hawkins' disastrous 2-10 first season in Boulder, the jury's still out on whether or not successful Boise State head coaches can produce on a bigger scale. Remember, for all of Colorado's problems under Gary Barnett, the team was a regular in the Big 12 title game.

9. Kansas
After going 6-6 last season and missing out on a bowl bid, Kansas is now 25-35 in five years under head coach Mark Mangino. After being one of the nation's biggest hard-luck teams, losing four games by seven points or fewer and gagging in a historic ten-point loss to Oklahoma State, the expectations are for things to turn back around. With the other five North teams expected to be better, improving in Lawrence might be tough.

8. Chip Kelly and the Oregon offense
Gary Crowton is off to LSU, and New Hampshire assistant Chip Kelly is in to run the Oregon offense that's long on talent and short on consistency and production. An argument could be made that no Pac 10 team has a better trio of skill players than Jonathan Stewart at running back, Jaison Williams at receiver, and the Dennis Dixon/Brady Leaf quarterback combination, while enough experience returns on the line to give the stars time to operate. The offense finished ninth in the nation averaging 423 yards per game, but the points fizzled over the four-game losing streak to end the year.

7. The South Carolina offense
In year three of the Steve Spurrier era, the offense has to start kicking in as expected. Big games against Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic and Houston made the overall stats look nice, but the attack has to rely on more than trick plays to start scoring consistently on the better SEC teams.

6. Penn State WR Derrick Williams
For being the much heralded, number one recruit in the nation type of player who was going to make the Penn State offense explosive, Williams has been remarkably average catching 62 passes for 729 yards and two touchdowns in his first two years. He's been great on kick and punt returns, but Nittany Lion fans are waiting for more.

5. Ron Zook
One of the nation's best recruiters, Zook has put together a tremendous group of young prospects that every other Big Ten team would love to have. Now the wins have to come. Illinois lost the last seven games of last year and has lost 20 of the last 21 games against D-I teams.

4. Tim Tebow as a starter
You wanted Tebow, and now you've got him. It's not like Chris Leak was being pushed out the door as the Florida starting quarterback, but it wasn't until the final two games of his four-year career that he truly got his just due as an even-keel, steady playmaker for the offense. Tebow, for all the hype and all the attention, and for all the talent around him, now has to win a national title as the main man at some point over the next three years or his career will be seen as a disappointment.

3. Bobby Bowden
There's no question Bowden is among the greatest coaches to ever walk the sidelines, and his 2005 ACC championship with the Noles didn't get nearly enough credit, but for a place with ridiculously high standards, created by Bowden's success, 26 losses in the five years since the loss to Oklahoma in the 2001 Orange Bowl doesn't cut it with the spoiled fan base. To put the recent dive into perspective, Florida State lost 26 games from 1985 to 2000 with only one season with more than three losses.

2. Dave Wannstedt and Pitt
Yeah the Big East is better and yeah the overall athleticism wasn't up-to-snuff when Dave Wannstedt arrived, but two straight mediocre seasons and no bowl games wasn't exactly what the program signed on for. Remember, Pitt won the Big East and went to the BCS in 2004; the final year under Walt Harris.

1. Charlie Weis and Notre Dame against the top teams
By any standard, it's hard to argue with 19 wins and two BCS appearances in the first two years under Charlie Weis, but the Irish is 0-5 against teams that finished with ten wins or more. With that said, Notre Dame is sort of getting an unfair rap by many after getting blasted by USC, Michigan and LSU by a combined score of 132 to 59. The Irish beat Georgia Tech, Penn State, and UCLA, who all represented themselves well by the end of the season, and also beat Purdue and Navy teams that went to bowl games. However, Irish fans want their team to be back among the elite of the elite, and to do that, a win has to come over a truly big-name powerhouse.

6. The relatively unknown players you'll care about by the end of 2007 are ...

10. Damion Fletcher, RB Southern Miss
The freshman was the star of a middling USM offense tearing off 1,388 yards and 11 touchdowns while also showing steady hands as a receiver. He's a workhorse back who's always cranking out yards in chunks and is a 100-yard game waiting to happen.

9. Keenan Burton, WR Kentucky
Someone has to catch all of Andre Woodson's throws. His big play ability and talent were never a question, but he had a hard time staying healthy over the first two years of his career. After finally playing a full year, he busted out with 77 catches for 1,036 yards and 12 touchdowns including a stretch nine scoring grabs in four SEC games.

8. Donald Brown, RB Connecticut
It's next to impossible to get any publicity if you're a running back in a league with Steve Slaton and Ray Rice, but Brown should make a big name for himself this year. UConn has always run the ball well, and Brown showed why he might be the league's next big thing after rushing for 673 yards over the final five games of last year including a 199-yard outing against Rutgers and a 205-yard day against Pitt.

7. Ian Campbell, DE Kansas State
The tall, thin former walk-on went from being a nice player in the rotation to one of the Big 12's most productive defensive linemen with 67 tackles 11.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. As steady as they come, the junior-to-be had a sack in six straight Big 12 games.

6. J. Leman, LB Illinois
He'd have been an All-American had he played for Michigan or Ohio State, but it's hard to get noticed when you make 152 tackles and four sacks for a team that goes 2-10. He might not be the quickest or most athletic linebacker in the Big Ten, but he never, ever misses a stop.

5. Albert McClellan, DE Marshall
McClellan was the best defensive player in Conference USA last year, and soon the All-America honors will flowing in. He's an unblockable flash of lightning when he gets a half-step on a lineman and is fantastic at closing with 11.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and 77 stops last season.

4. Aqib Talib, CB Kansas
He's a safety-sized player at corner. The All-Big 12 talent is a sure tackler with a nose for the ball picking off four passes last season while getting in on 96 stops over the last two seasons.

3. Calais Campbell, DE Miami
And with the eight pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select .... Campbell was a bright spot in a dismal season made worse by the tragic death of linemate Bryan Pata. He's 6-8, 255 pounds and quick cranking out 10.5 sacks, 55 tackles and a whopping 20.5 tackles for loss.

2. Alex Brink, QB Washington State
You'd think a quarterback in a BCS conference with 50 career touchdown passes, 7,095 yards, and only 28 interceptions would be a household name among college football fans. Brink is just starting to get a little bit of recognition in his own conference. Winning a big game or two is a must before he starts to get his just due.

1. Chase Holbrook, QB & Chris Williams, WR New Mexico State
Who led the nation in passing last year? Colt Brennan? Troy Smith? Brady Quinn? No, nope and nyuh-uh. Holbrook completed 70% of his passes for 4,619 yards and 34 touchdowns with only nine interceptions. With just about everyone returning on offense, the numbers should only improve. Someone had to catch all those passes, and the diminutive Williams was the prime target leading the nation in receiving yards catching 92 passes for 1,415 yards and 12 scores.