2008 Spring Preview - The New Big Stars
Ole Miss DE Greg Hardy
Ole Miss DE Greg Hardy
Posted Mar 11, 2008

The names might seem familiar, but they're hardly stars ... at least not on a national scale. They're the players like Ole Miss DE Greg Hardy, who are coming off big years and should be the new stars of 2008. Get to know them now.

Spring Preview 2008

The 20 Big Questions - No. 6

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 ...
No. 7 - The Pressure Is On ...

6. The relatively unknown players you'll care about by the end of 2008 are ...

10. Chase Clement, QB Rice
While not all that big and with a decent, but not superior arm, Clement has grown into a statistical monster over the last two seasons. He emerged as an all-around playmaker under Todd Graham in 2006 throwing for 21 touchdowns and five interceptions, and running for 481 yards and four scores, despite only playing in eight games and missing time with injuries. It took a while to get going under David Bailiff throwing four interceptions and no touchdown passes in the first two games, losses to Nicholls State and Baylor, but he blew up over the second half of the year highlighted by the final four games of the year when he threw for 1,645 yards (411 per game) along with two 100-yard games. Now that he has a coaching staff in place, and with WR Jarett Dillard back, the numbers should be even more impressive after finishing sixth in the nation in total offense.

9. Justin Willis, QB SMU ...
... or Zach Rhodes or Logan Turner or freshmen Bo Levi Mitchell or Braden Smith. Willis would grow into a superstar if he could just stop being a mellonhead and could figure out where the classroom is (at least that's the rumor). Suspended from the team, the junior, who threw for 51 touchdowns and 4,991 yards in two years, might have blown his chance to run the June Jones system, so spring ball will be about finding a consistent passer to rely on. Jones will throw just like he did at Hawaii, and now it'll likely be up to Rhodes, an inexperienced quarterback, but a terrific overall athlete, to get the first shot at driving the Ferrari.

8. Emmanuel Moody, RB Florida
Moody might have been an also-ran in the USC rotation, even after a solid freshman season running for 459 yards, but he's expected to be a savior of sorts for the Florida running game. Tim Tebow will be protected more this season so he doesn't wear down late in the year again, and that'll only happen if there's a consistent ground attack. Whether it's Moody, or sophomore Mon Williams, who sat out last year with a torn ACL, or Kestahn Moore, or Brandon James, or Chris Rainey, who got knocked out last year with a shoulder injury, or true freshman Jeffrey Demps, someone other than No. 15 is going to do the lion's share of the running.

7. Maurice Evans, DE Penn State
The big buzz coming out of 2007 Penn State spring ball surrounded a true sophomore who bulked up to 270 pounds but didn't lose and quickness and was unblockable on the outside. Maurice Evans got his feet wet with a nice freshman year as a backup, and then he blew up last season making 54 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. While he struggled to get to the quarterback over the second half of the season, going sackless in four of the final five games, he was still effective against the run. If he can be consistent for a full season, talk of being a top 15-caliber draft pick is going to start.

6. Eugene Jarvis, RB Kent State
Jarvis might be the best running back you've never seen, literally and figuratively. Only 5-5, he disappears behind linemen only to use his tremendous quickness to dart from out of nowhere to crank out big runs. He started out the year as one of the nation's leading rushers, tearing off four straight 100-yard games followed up by a 230-yard, two touchdown performance against Ohio, and even though QB Julian Edelman was lost for the year, Jarvis still produced finishing up with 1,669 yards and ten scores. Edelman's back, the offensive line should be decent, and Jarvis should be what former Northern Illinois star Garrett Wolfe was a few years ago making a big splash on a national scale.

5. Albert McClellan, DE Marshall
Those Lombardi Watch List types might want to make a little room for the man from Marshall. The best Conference USA defensive player in 2006 was on this list last year before he tore up his knee in the preseason and was out for the year. On the plus side, it happened early enough to get a full season to heal, and now McClellan appears to be as good as new. A breakout star who
made 77 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles, he should be an instant game-changer for a defense in desperate need of one.

4. Javon Ringer, RB Michigan State
The thunder and lightning tandem was working. Javon Ringer set them up with 1,447 yards, and Jehuu Caulcrick knocked them down with 21 rushing scores. Caulcrick is gone meaning the workload now falls all to Ringer, at least early on, and it also means more opportunities around the goal line. A tremendous home-run hitter who tore off six 100-yard games and averaged 5.9 yards per carry, Ringer just needs a little room and he's off. After scoring just six times last year, and failing to get into the end zone in the final six games, he'll get more of the glory.

3. Greg Middleton, DE Indiana
Who was going to take over for
Kenny Kendal? That was the big question on the Indiana defense that needed to find pass rushing help early last year. Enter Middleton, a then-sophomore who had a ton of potential, but no proven production. All the 6-3, 265-pounder did was lead the nation with 16 sacks while making 50 tackles as the Big Ten's newest defensive star. While he was neutralized in the bowl game blowout against Oklahoma State, he was a consistent force throughout the season with six, two-sack games and a sack in every game but four. Now he's the centerpiece of the Hoosier defense and will command double and triple teams on every play.

2. Greg Hardy, DE Ole Miss
Kentrell Lockett, a basketball player, was supposed to be the new Ole Miss pass rushing star. The lanky, athletic 6-5, 225-pound redshirt freshman came up with seven tackles and a sack. Meanwhile, fellow hoopster, sophomore Greg Hardy, was coming off a nice year with 49 tackles and three sacks. And then everything changed, as it was Hardy who grew into the unstoppable pass rushing force with eight in the first seven games, highlighted by a three sack, 11-tackle performance against Alabama. Suspended for a few games for violating team rules, he game back to make two sacks against LSU. Now, after finishing with ten sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss, and 64 stops, Hardy will be the main man for the Houston Nutt defense.

1. Scott McKillop, LB Pitt
16 tackles against Rutgers. 18 against South Florida. 17 against Michigan State. Then-junior Scott McKillop emerged from out of H.B. Blades' shadow to become the backbone of a Pitt defense that didn't get nearly enough credit. It was the offense that stunk it up in the disappointing 5-7 season, not the defense. While not a dangerous threat to get into the backfield, the nation's leading tackler in 2007 is a premier run-stopper who gummed up the works time and again, and was the main reason West Virginia's offense didn't get off the ground in the now-classic 13-9 national-title-dream killing upset. With Pitt on the verge of becoming one of the new hot teams, McKillop's profile will only grow bigger.