2007 Spring Questions - The Producers

Posted Feb 22, 2007

Which under-the-radar teams will be the biggest pains in everyone's butt in each conference? Which familiar players, like new Nebraska QB Sam Keller, will go nuclear? Spring ball starts up next week, and we keep counting down with the big 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
- No. 10 to No. 6

5. The pain in the butt in each conference race will be ...
These teams don't have enough in the bag to win their respective leagues, but they're going to ruin the dreams of several favorites, or give a far tougher game than expected.

ACC - North Carolina
How will the Butch Davis team come out to start the season? Teams like Miami, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech might be mentally planning ahead for other games and could get burned if the defense makes a major immediate improvement.

Big East - Cincinnati
Louisville and West Virginia have to come to Cincinnati in what could be beartraps. New head coach Brian Kelly's offense will be a thorn in everyone's side, while the defense should build on a strong second half of 2006.

Big Ten - Illinois
The talent is there, and the attitude will follow. There are just enough young, athletic playmakers to quickly turn the close losses of last year into victories. Don't be shocked if the Big Ten title dreams of Penn State, Wisconsin or Michigan die in Champaign.

Big 12 - Iowa State
The Cyclone 2006 disaster was bizarre. The experience and talent was more than there to be far better than 4-8, and the experience and talent is there to be far, far better on offense. New head man Gene Chizik knows the Big 12 and should pay immediate dividends. While the team won't be good enough to be in the North race, it could screw up Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and/or Missouri.

Conference USA - SMU
Justin Willis is one of the nation's brightest young quarterbacks, and he came painfully close to leading the team to a bowl game. The Mustangs beat most of the Conference USA teams it was supposed to beat, and now it should get past at least one of the main challengers.

MAC - Ball State
With Nate Davis and the Cardinal passing game, Ball State will be one of the MAC's deep sleepers. It pushed Michigan late last year and won its final three conference games.

Mountain West - Wyoming
QB Karsten Sween and RB Wynel Seldon are great playmakers to build the offense around. After going 6-6 last season with four losses by a touchdown or less, it might not take much for the Cowboys to be an eight-win team and in the Mountain West race if everything breaks right.

Pac 10 - Washington
Ty Willingham doesn't have a Pac 10 title team, but there are plenty of exciting young players to cause a stir. While the Huskies can make a statement in before the conference race starts with Boise State and Ohio State coming to Seattle, the program can finally get back on track once and for all with a few upsets in home games against USC, Oregon and Cal.

SEC - Vanderbilt
Just ask Florida over the last two years how tough it is to put Vanderbilt away. With one of the SEC's most experienced teams, and QB Chris Nickson and WR Earl Bennett scaring the daylights out of opposing coordinators, this won't be the Commodores of past years. After losing four games by a touchdown or less last season, this is a team ready to start to win the close ones.

Sun Belt - Florida Atlantic
Anyone can make a big splash in the nation's most wide open conference. Howard Schnellenberger's club is loaded with experience with an offense that should be a bit more effective and consistent enough to flirt with the Sun Belt title.

WAC - New Mexico State
When you've got an offense that can throw for 400 yards on a normal day, you're going to freak some teams out. The Aggies might not be very good, but they'll light up the scoreboard like a pinball machine.

Who are some of the already known players who'll go nuclear in 2007?

Tommy Blake, DE TCU
The Mountain West's most unstoppable pass rushing force could become the signature player for a team on the way to a special season. He could've gone off to the NFL and been a second round draft pick, but now he'll be all but certain to crank out double-digit sacks and around 50 tackles.

Dan Connor, LB Penn State
Paul Posluszny kicked it in over the second half of last year to be the star linebacker everyone expected he'd be, but Connor, arguably, had the better, more consistent season with 113 tackles and five sacks. Now he'll be the star of the show.

Chase Daniel, QB Missouri
While he pressed a bit too much at the end of last year and made some big mistakes in key games, he also showed how good he can make the offense when everything's clicking with 996 passing yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions over the final three games. Now he knows what he's doing.

Bruce Davis, DE UCLA
Justin Hickman got all the attention after a splashy start, but Davis was the more consistent playmaker, especially over the second half of the year. Now that he has a year of experience as a pure end, he should improve on his 12.5 sack, 17.5 tackle for loss season.

Vince Hall, LB Virginia Tech

The best unknown national defensive star, Hall led the ACC in tackles combining with Xavier Adibi to wreak havoc all season long finishing up with 115 tackles. Expect him to be the leader of a suffocating defense, and to finally get some more All-America recognition.

Chad Henne, QB Michigan
All Henne has done in three years is throw for 7,777 yards and 70 touchdowns with just 28 interceptions. Finishing his career with well over 10,000 yards and 100 touchdown passes should be a lock with the talent around him. The only thing holding him back from a possible run to New York as a Heisman finalist is the play calling; the running game might be too effective for the passing numbers to explode.

Lawrence Jackson, DE USC
Jackson should probably be off to the NFL with his combination of size and pass rushing ability. With his experience and talent, he should emerge as a sure-thing All-American on one of the best defenses yet under head coach Pete Carroll.

Sam Keller, QB Nebraska
It's been a wild last two years for Keller after engineering a stunning 27-23 comeback win over Purdue in the 2004 Sun Bowl. He threw for 20 touchdowns in the first half of 2005, hurt his thumb, was out for the year, was named the starter for 2006, got demoted the next day, threw a hissy fit, and transferred to Nebraska. If you liked what Zac Taylor did for the passing game, you'll love Keller this year.

Anthony Morelli, QB Penn State
After a shaky first season as the starter, Morelli started to come through late leading the way to three straight wins including a bowl win over Tennessee. He played like a calm, cool passer who appears ready to be the star the team needs. It helps to have one of the nation's most experienced and talented receiving corps to throw to.

Curtis Painter, QB and Dorien Bryant, WR Purdue
Purdue's offense wasn't consistent, but the passing game blew up to average close to 300 yards per game. Interceptions were a problem for Painter with eight in the final four games and 14 in the final nine. After a year-and-a-half of starting experience, he should be much sharper with all his receiving weapons returning. Bryant has caught more than 80 passes in each of the last three years finishing 2006 with a career high 1,068 yards. If he can get into the end zone a bit more, he'll make a major national splash.

Next up ... the Heisman candidates