2008 Spring Preview - The Pressure Is On ...
Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez
Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez
Posted Mar 12, 2008

As spring ball is getting underway, which players, teams and coaches have the most pressure on them?

Spring Preview 2008

The 20 Big Questions - No. 7

By Pete Fiutak 

- The 2008 Big Spring Questions  
No. 20 - Top 40 Non-Conference Games
No. 16-19 - BCS Busters, Rule Changes & More
No. 15 - Ranking the Conferences
No. 14 - Who Could Be This Year's Kansas?
(breaking through big after a bad year)
No. 13 - 5 Teams That Could Tumble

No. 12 - Who Could Be This Year's Missouri?
(going from good to special)
No. 11 - Ten Coaches Who Need Big Seasons
No. 10 - The New Superstar Coaches

No. 9 - Everyone Will Be Complaining About ...
No. 8 - Everyone Will Be Buzzing About ...

7. Which players, coaches and programs will have the heat turned up?
While not necessarily on a hot seat, these players, coaches and programs will feel the pressure.

10. Dave Wannstedt
Remember, the Panthers were playing in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl as the Big East champion under Walt Harris before deciding to change courses. It wasn't supposed to be a step back to take a leap forward, but that's what the Wannstedt era has become after three years without a bowl appearance, but now the talent level is the best in the Big East after a few tremendous classes. Now Wannstedt has to come up with a steady offense to beat the Connecticuts and South Floridas of the world. The win over West Virginia only teased Pitt fans setting the expectations sky high, and now there's no reason to shoot for anything less than a big bowl.

9. Florida State offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher
The next Florida State head coach has to prove he's worth the wait. Considered a top offensive mind after helping mold the LSU offense on the way to the 2003 national title, the Tiger offense did just fine without Fisher last year while Florida State actually got worse scoring 303 points after putting up 345 in 2006. The Seminole running game continued to do next to nothing, the passing game was inefficient, and there was only one game, an early win over UAB, when the attack put up more than 30 points. Even with the suspensions and the academic issues, there has to be some sign of improvement.

8. Maryland
Yes, there was actually a time when Maryland football was known for more than being a walking Under Armour ad. From 2001 to 2003 this was the hot new program on the block with 31 wins, but the Terps cranked out three losing seasons in the last four to take a flying leap off the pedestal. It's not like there hasn't been talent coming through College Park, especially on defense with a slew of NFL defensive backs, linemen like Shawne Merriman and Randy Starks, and linebackers like Erin Henderson and D'Qwell Jackson, but the results haven't been there. Can Ralph Friedgen finally get the mojo back and make the Terps relevant again?

7. Alabama vs. Auburn
Nick Saban was hired to make Alabama a national title contender again and lift the program out of mediocrity. He was made one of the highest paid coaches in the business to beat Auburn. It's been six long years for Tide fans since the 2001 31-7 win over the Tigers, but the tide appears to be turning. While Auburn is undergoing a major offensive face-lift, Alabama is amassing the troops on the border with one of the best recruiting classes in the school's history. So this should be the year when things change around, right? Auburn is the only really tough home game on the Bama schedule and there's two weeks off after a trip to LSU. Last year Saban got a bit of a free pass; not this year.

6. California
Down three and with no time outs with time running out, Cal was on the Oregon State 12-yard-line needing anything other than a sack or a running play to hit the chip-shot field goal to force overtime with all the momentum. Instead, rookie QB Kevin Riley tried to run the ball, couldn't stop the clock, and the 5-0 Bears lost to the Beavers, missed out on the No. 1 ranking, and went into the tank with one of the most stunning collapses in recent years finishing the regular season losing six of the final seven games. There were losses to bat Washington and Stanford teams, and the one win came by three at home over Washington State. There was a comeback win to beat Air Force 42-36 in something called the Armed Forces Bowl, but that game only showed how much explosion and potential the team actually had. While the program has been night-and-day better since Jeff Tedford took over, it hasn't gotten over the hump and always seems to disappoint just when it's time to be excited. The Pac 10 is improving, and Cal has to keep up.

5. Fresno State in the WAC
The knock on Pat Hill at Fresno State is that he gets his teams so focused on the big picture that they forget about the steps needed to be taken to get to the promised land. There's been plenty of success in The Valley with some great wins over bigger conference teams, and now Hill, with what should be his best team yet, has to finally be established as the big bad boy in the WAC. Boise State and Hawaii have gone to BCS games in the last two seasons, and while the schedule might be too tough for the Bulldogs to get there, there's no reason to not make things interesting and at least win the conference title.

4. USC and its talent
With the possible exception of LSU, who has two national titles in the last four years, every program in America would take USC's success and record over the last six seasons. But for all the hype and all the hosannas heaped upon the Trojans, there has only been one unbeaten season under Carroll, one real national title that didn't need an explanation, and two straight two-loss seasons despite fielding a who's who of superstar high school talent. While USC has a reputation for being a factory for pro prospects, and pro timing day has become legendary, it's not like the Trojans are living up to the hype at the next level. For every Lofa Tatupu there are several Dwayne Jarretts. Reggie Bush has had more success with Kim Kardashian than he has on the field, Matt Leinart thinks he's Vincent Chase, and very soon, USC prospects aren't going to get the benefit of the doubt from all the scouts. The point? Don't just assume USC should be the No. 1 team in the nation just because it's USC.

3. Paul Johnson and the new Georgia Tech offense
There was a time when the option offense rules the universe, and then everyone started to switch to pro-style attacks before morphing into the spread. Paul Johnson could show the world that there's still a place for the option survive and thrive, while showing off that it's not that all that different from some versions of the spread, at least like Illinois runs it. It'll be a grand experiment as Johnson, who worked miracles at Navy with no appreciable D-I talent, gets to work with a far better class of athlete. If this works, it could be the new-old movement for mid-range programs looking to improve.

2. The ACC
While it was Virginia Tech vs. Boston College for the 2007 ACC championship, the raiding of the Big East hasn't quite paid off as expected. The ACC was supposed to be the new SEC with Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College taking things to another level. While the league has been better, mainly because of those three, it's still a conference in transition with NC State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Miami, Boston College, Florida State and Duke all working through recent changes. 2008 should be the new ACC's best season yet; at least that's the hope after years of being relatively average.

1. Rich Rodriguez
After all the drama and all the jilted feelings and all the hullabaloo, West Virginia, at least on the field, appears to be moving on. Michigan is doing the same as it goes through a dramatic departure in philosophies, styles, and most of all, coaching personalities. Rich Rodriguez isn't Lloyd Carr in a lot of ways, and it'll show up soon with more entertaining press conferences and a lot more entertaining frankness. On the field, the Maize and Blue faithful are hoping beyond all reasonable hope that Terrelle Pryor doesn't go to Columbus, but Michigan has to go on and try to put the square pegs in the round holes and be productive in the new offensive system. RichRod will get a little bit of a grace period, but not too much of one; this is still Michigan. On the positive side, Ohio State should be one of the top three teams in America while few will expect much out of the Wolverines, so the chance is there to sneak up on everyone and be a surprise team, it that's possible for Michigan. No matter what happens, the pressure is on for everyone around the program to prove that Rodriguez was the right guy and that it wasn't worth waiting the extra few weeks for Les Miles.