East Carolina Spring
practice starts March 2, Spring Game April 8
The big spring question is ... Can the Pirates figure out how
to put points on the board? Skip Holtz's attack will have few problems
moving the ball, but the offense that averaged close to 400 yards per
game last year only averaged 24 points per outing. The light went on at
the end of the year with 65 combined points against Marshall and UAB,
but the failures against UCF and Tulsa killed bowl hopes. With all the
top skill players back, 30+ points per game is a must.
The most important position to watch is ... Offensive
lineman. Especially on the right side. 330-pound center Gary Freeman is
gone, as is right guard Chris Sellers and right tackle Guy Whimper. Step
one this spring will be to jockey around the lineup to make the pieces
fit to find some cohesion going into the summer.
Spring attitude... Time to take another step. Holtz halted
the free-fall in his first season, and now it's time to make ECU a
Conference USA power again. Big strides need to be made on the run
defense, and the offense needs to tighten up and be more consistent, but
the talent is there to be in the hunt for the East title. If last year's
team can go 5-6, this year's team can go at least 7-5 with a bowl bid.
practice starts March 28, Spring Game April 22
The big spring question is ... Whatever happened to the
Marshall offense? The days of Pennington, Moss and Leftwich are long
gone with the Herd finishing dead last in the league in scoring
averaging a mere 18.55 points per game and only 16.8 against D-I teams.
Under head coach Mark Snyder, the defense will always be fine, but the
offense needs to be more explosive and far more consistent. That begins
with settling on a starting quarterback, something the coaching staff
wasn't able to do last year.
The most important position to watch is ... Defensive back.
The back seven needs some attending to losing five starters, but the
biggest loss is in the secondary with three starters gone from the
league's best pass defense that finished the year 12th in the nation
allowing a mere 178 yards per game. Finding a few shut down corners this
spring would go a long way to settling down the D going into the summer.
Spring attitude... It might not take that much to be a
contender. The Herd won its share of close games last year beating SMU,
UAB and Tulane by a total of five points, but there was also a
two-point, self-inflicted loss to Kansas State, and overtime loss to
Southern Miss and a 34-29 home loss to East Carolina. A few good bounces
the right way and a winning season and bowl bid are possible. The team
needs to use this spring to make its own breaks.
practice starts March 14, Spring Game April 8
The big spring question is ... Can the momentum continue?
With three straight winning seasons and three straight bowl appearances,
this could be considered the best stretch ever in Memphis football
history. After all the adversity with the quarterback situation last
year, the program has to feel like it can overcome anything. However,
the East is stronger this year and the team will have to get over the
loss of star RB DeAngelo Williams.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback.
Maurice Avery saved the season with the move from receiver to
quarterback, but he's gone now. Will Hudgens and Patrick Byrne, who both
got knocked out for the year with broken legs, are expected to be back
in time for spring ball with one of them needing to shine early on. The
ground game will be in good hands with Joseph Doss a speedy back good
enough to ease the loss of Williams, but the passing game has to do more
than 130 yards per game.
Spring attitude... Win the conference title. There are big
holes to fill, but the program is in a position, and the schedule is
favorable enough, to finally get over the hump and play for the
championship. With Southern Miss and UCF coming to Memphis, and the road
games spread out, the team might never get a better chance. However,
it's not going to happen unless the defense patches things up right away
on the front six and the offense becomes more diverse.
Spring practice starts March 10, Spring Game April 1
The big spring question is ... Can Southern Miss get back to
having a Southern Miss-like defense? To win the Conference USA title,
the Golden Eagles need more production on both sides of the ball. The D
allowed close to 400 yards per game, but while it bent, it didn't break
much with the league's best scoring defense. The secondary has to be
much tighter, and the run defense has to make more plays at the point of
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. USM
always seems able to plug in the holes on defense, but the offense has
always been a problem. Eight starters return, but the big loss is at
quarterback where long-time starter Dustin Almond is gone after playing
in 46 games. Jeremy Young isn't starting from scratch after seeing time
in 2004, but he wasn't all that great completing 18 of 46 passes for 213
yards and two interceptions. However, he adds a rushing element that
Almond never had.
Spring attitude... Anyone, anywhere, any time is nice, but
taking care of business is the first priority. Southern Miss has always
prided itself on being a nasty out against the big boys, but winning the
Conference USA title has to be the main goal. That might be hard to
focus on with the season opener at Florida and a home date with NC State
on September 16th. Playing 2005 title game combatants UCF and Tulsa on
the road in the first two conference games means the Golden Eagles had
better be rolling right away.
The big spring question is ... Can UAB figure out how to win
all the games it's supposed to? There were wins over UTEP and Memphis
last year, but there was also a stunning loss to SMU along with the
bowl-eligibility killing loss to East Carolina to close out the regular
season. There won't be heart-and-soul QB Darrell Hackney to count on
anymore, so it'll be up to the veterans to provide some stability and
consistency throughout the season. That means new leaders have to emerge
The most important position to watch is ... Defensive tackle.
Along with seeing if Chris Williams can take Hackney's place at
quarterback, the Blazers have to find replacements for Sam Williamson
and Ernest Respress on the defensive interior. They were the key cogs in
the run defense, and now Sam Kendrick and Clarence Respress have to take
Spring attitude... Win the East. Even without Hackney, there
are enough returning talent on both sides of the ball to hope for a
bounce-back season and a bowl bid. With 14 starters coming back and
kicker/punter Parker Mullins, there's no reason the division title can't
be there for the taking going into season-ending road trips to Southern
Miss and UCF.
Spring practice starts March 22, Spring Game April 15
The big spring question is ... How will the team use the
heartbreaking Hawaii Bowl loss to Nevada? Considering the winless 2004
season, there can't be too much hand wringing over losing the Conference
USA title game and a bowl game on a missed kick. Those disappointments
should be turned into positives for this young and very experienced
team. The coaching staff has more than enough motivation to use all
The most important position to watch is ... Defensive
lineman. Everyone else returns on both sides of the ball, so it'll be
all about improving and tweaking in most areas. However, the line loses
two key players in pass rushing terror Paul Carrington and strong tackle
Friser Nelson. 320-pound tackle Bryan Gabourel has to play more of a
role, and Chris Welsh and Kareem Reid have to replace Carrington's nine
sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss.
Spring attitude... Anything less than a Conference USA title
will be a disappointment. With 17 starters and punter Aaron Horne
returning, the foundation is there to improve on last year's fantastic
season. With Southern Miss the first Conference game followed up by a
road trip to Marshall, the Golden Knights won't be able to afford an
practice starts March 8, Spring Game April 8
The big spring question is ... After three years under Art
Briles, is Houston finally in a position to challenge for the Conference
USA title? Thanks to the return of QB Kevin Kolb, the offense should
still be explosive. The defense wasn't a prize last year, but just about
everyone comes back meaning there's hope the experience turns into
production. Briles has done a great job making the program relevant, and
now it's time to take the next step.
The most important position to watch is ... Receiver. Vincent Marshall's 71 catches, 939 yards and six touchdowns
makes for a big return, but the Cougars lose dependable target Kendal Briles
and his 45 grabs, 369 yards and a score. Donnie Avery is a solid deep
threat who has to become a top number two target, and Anthony Alridge has to play more of a role.
If they can all come through, Kolb should have a monster year.
Spring attitude... Every close game has to belong to Houston.
Five Cougar games were decided by a touchdown or less with Houston
winning two of them. There can't be any home losses like the ones to
Memphis and SMU with the Cougars needing to own Robertson Stadium with
UTEP, UCF and Tulsa coming to town during a pivotal three-game stretch.
Everything is in place to win, so the attitude has to be Conference USA
title or bust.
Spring practice starts March 1, Spring Game April 8
The big spring question is ... How many square pegs can fit
into the round holes? Rice has been such a one-dimensional team for such
a long time, it's not going to be easy for Todd Graham and the new
coaching staff to hit the ground running, so to speak. It'll take all
spring to do the proper talent evaluation to come up with the right
skill players for the right spots. There's a lot of work to be done.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. With
the changes in the coaching staff and the move to more of a passing
game, does Rice have a quarterback who can throw? The nation's worst
passing team last year has three quarterbacks in the mix with Joel
Armstrong, Chase Clement and John Shepherd all getting chances to show
what they can do. Expect Armstrong to eventually switch positions, but
someone has to emerge this spring.
Spring attitude... Patience. Conference USA has more teams
with returning experience than just about any other conference, so there
might be some big-time lumps taken. There might be plenty of returning
starters for the Owls, but seven road games and early home dates against
Houston and Texas will make for a tough year. That's fine; Rice isn't
going bowling. There are so many young players that this year has to be
used as a stepping stone to 2007.
Spring practice starts March 3, Spring Game April 8
The big spring question is ... Can SMU stop being so flaky?
How could a team that lost to Texas A&M 66-8 and a nomadic Tulane team
31-10 also beat TCU, Houston and UTEP? Had the Mustangs been able to
pull out an overtime win over Marshall, they would've been bowl
eligible. Things are definitely on the upswing for Phil Bennett's club,
but consistency has to be the key.
The most important position to watch is ... Linebacker. The
quarterback situation will eventually be fine with Chris Philips good
enough to handle the job, but the defense has to maintain the relatively
high standard it set last year when it finished second in the league
against the run and in the top half in most of the other categories.
Safety/linebacker Alvin Nnabuife was a top playmaker who'll be sorely
missed on the strongside, while Reggie Carrington has to prove he can
replace the man in the middle, D.D. Lee.
Spring attitude... Build on the three game winning streak
that ended 2005. Not only did SMU win it final three games, it beat bowl
bound Houston and UTEP teams. There was even a great battle with
eventual Conference USA champions Tulsa before the streak. In other
words, the program has taken a big leap forward to become more
competitive. Now the extra step needs to be taken to become bowl
eligible. The team has to have that sort of positive attitude from day
The big spring question is ... Can Lester Ricard be Lester
Ricard again? Scott Elliott took over the starting quarterback job late
last year, but he wasn't fantastic. Nick Cannon has talent, but the job
has to be Ricard's, who has to regain the form he had pre-injury in
2004. He struggled with his accuracy all year and couldn't keep the
offense moving. The 6-5, 222-pound junior has NFL skills, but he has to
play up to his talent.
The most important position to watch is ... Linebacker and
defensive back. The run D was one of the worst in the country last year,
but it doesn't help to lose six members of the defensive back seven
including all three starting linebackers. Long-time man in the middle
Anthony Cannon hurts the most, but the losses in the secondary will
really sting with Houston's passing attack coming up in the opener.
Spring attitude... It can't be any worse than last year. Has
any team ever had to deal with more bizarre off-the-field adversity than
Tulane did in the aftermath of Katrina? With an 11-game road trip and
with all the concerns about home and real life issues, Tulane can be
forgiven for going 2-9 and falling apart over the final eight games.
However, this is a talented team that won't want to use any excuses this
season. There's no reason the offense can't be among the best in the
Spring practice starts March 28, Spring Game April 1
The big spring question is ... Can the team be that solid
again? Where was the weakness last year? The Golden Hurricane was strong
in every area with the league's best scoring offense, one of the
league's best pass defenses, and finished fourth in the nation in
turnover margin. The team has to focus on doing all the little things
right again; that shouldn't be a problem with this coaching staff.
The most important position to watch is ... Receiver. Tight
ends who catch 87 passes for 1,235 yards and nine touchdowns don't come
around Tulsa every year. Garrett Mills will be the biggest loss, while
kick returner/receiver Ashlan Davis and his 35 catches for 451 yards and
five scores will also be missed. It doesn't help that former RB Uril
Parrish was the team's third leading receiver. Tarrion Adams and Idris
Moss have to establish themselves as top targets early on this spring.
Spring attitude... Be prepared for every team's best shot.
Tulsa has to realize it'll have a bull's-eye on its back in every league
game and can't afford to take a week off. The title season might have
been a shocker, but the team really was good as evidenced by the bowl
win over Fresno State. There's hope for a repeat performance with the
lines returning virtually intact and QB Paul Smith a good leader.
The big spring question is ... Can the team live up to
expectations? Considering where the program was a few years ago, it's
strange to say a year could be a disappointment, but the losses to UAB
and SMU to blow a chance at playing for the Conference USA title and the
ugly blowout loss to Toledo in the GMAC Bowl put a sour note on an
otherwise good season. With 14 returning starters including QB Jordan
Palmer, the team has to start playing well week-in-and-week-out.
The most important position to watch is ... Offensive
lineman. The skill positions will be fine, and there isn't one big area
of loss on the defense, so the only real concern will be to improve the
offensive line. Three starters return from the GMAC Bowl team, but left
tackle Josh House and 320-pound left guard Jose Garcia are gone. Depth
will be important to develop on the right side losing the two main
Spring attitude... Tighten up. UTEP has the firepower to be
the favorite to win the title, but the turnovers were appalling giving
away a whopping 34 last year. It starts with Palmer, who couldn't stop
giving the ball away over the final few games with eight interceptions
in his final three games and 19 thrown picks on the year. If he cuts his
turnovers in half, UTEP will be much better.