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2008 Spring Preview - The Pains In The Butt
Posted Mar 12, 2008

While these teams might not be good enough to with a conference title, they come back improved enough to ruin someone else's season. Here are the teams that'll be the pains in the butt for the big boys.

Spring Preview 2008

The 20 Big Questions - No. 5

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 ...
No. 6 - The Relatively Unknown Players You'll Care About

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 - Duke
Sometimes a team need just a little change to make a monster difference. If Wake Forest can grow into an ACC champion, then Duke, well, Duke can be better. New head coach David Cutlciffe inherits seven starters on offense i
ncluding QB Thaddeus Lewis and dangerous receiver Eron Riley, while ten starters return on defense. Yeah, the Blue Devils went 1-11 last year with the lone victory coming by the skin of their teeth against Northwestern, but there was a three point loss to Navy, a tight battle in a ten-point loss to Miami, a five-point loss to Wake Forest, and an overtime loss to North Carolina. While winning at Clemson or at Virginia Tech will be too much to ask this season, Cutlcliffe's bunch could beat a Virginia or an NC State and could be in for the program's best campaign in years.

Big East - Connecticut
Defense good, offense bad. It was as simple as that last season, but the Huskies were still able to pull off a nine-win season with nice victories over Louisville and Rutgers. Just about everyone returns on offense, and it can't help but be more effective, while the defense shouldn't fall off too much, if at all. The coaching staff is working to make the D even faster which should only mean more takeaways for a group that was great at forcing mistakes. Cincinnati, Pitt and West Virginia will all have their sights set on winning the Big East title, and all have to go through East Hartford.

Big Ten - Minnesota
Tim Brewster was hired last year mostly due to his reputation for being a top-shelf recruiter, and while his team went through one of the ugliest seasons in the program's history, going 1-11 with the victory coming in overtime against Miami University, plenty of untested freshmen got their feet wet. The nation's worst defense gets eight young starters back, and while there's not a killer linebacker in the bunch, there's a lot of speed and decent potential to go along with an offense that could explode if the quarterback situation is settled. Adam Weber had a fantastic freshman season, but he'll have competition. Six of last year's losses came by a touchdown or less, so with a more experienced team and coaching staff, this could be a dangerous thorn in everyone's side. Starting off against Northern Illinois, at Bowling Green, Montana State and Florida Atlantic should tune the team up for a brutal start to the Big Ten season with road trips to Ohio State, Illinois and Purdue in the first four conference games, but home dates against Indiana, Michigan and Iowa could change the Brewster era around.

Big 12 - Kansas State
This year's Kansas State team is put together to win this year. Not tomorrow, not after breakfast, now. 20 JUCO transfers were brought in to reverse the ugly momentum shift from a four-game losing streak late last year, but it'll be up to two-year starting QB Josh Freeman to make the team better ... along with the D. The defense was the issue as the season went on, not the offense, and the coaching staff is paying its full attention to figuring out what to do with the hybrid 3-4 alignment that turned into a disaster. Now the Wildcats have to deal with being an afterthought. Missouri and Kansas will be the preseason North favorites. Everyone will be focusing on the expected reemergence of Colorado and Nebraska as powers, and Iowa State improved enough to be dangerous. But it'll be Kansas State that could make the biggest immediate leap even with road trips to Kansas and Missouri.

Conference USA - SMU
The Mustangs would be a lot more of a threat if QB Justin Willis wasn't in hot water, but with June Jones taking over, one of last year's most disappointing teams, which lost its final ten games of the year, should start bombing away. Don't expect 2007 Hawaii right away, but it won't be for a lack of trying. In a league with no one that could stop the pass, with Houston leading the conference in pass defense and still ranking 55th in the nation, and with seven teams ranking 100th or lower including Rice, if the passing attack that averaged 252 yards per game could blow up. Tulsa, Houston and Southern Miss will all go into the season thinking Conference USA title, and they'll all have to travel to Dallas.

MAC - Kent State
The Golden Flashes were 3-2 and coming off a win at Ohio. After a tough loss to Miami University, who ended up winning the East, and the expected blowout at Ohio State, they took on Bowling Green looking to turn things around with the meat of the MAC schedule still to deal with. Instead, QB Julian Edelman was injured and lost for the year and things turned from bad to worse finishing with a seven-game losing streak. Edelman's back along with 5-6 rushing dynamo Eugene Jarvis, and the chance is there, if the defense improves just a wee bit, to rally in a hurry and be in the MAC title hunt.

Mountain West - UNLV
The Mike Sanford spread offense has to start working at some point, doesn't it? With Omar Clayton and Travis Dixon back to battle for the time at quarterback, and a good receiving corps in place, there's no reason for the spread to not start cranking out some big numbers. No one will take the Rebels seriously after years of being in the dumpster, including last year's 2-10 season complete with an eight-game losing streak to close things out, but this could grow into a sneaky-tough team with a puncher's chance of beating anyone in the league. At least that's the hope for long suffering Rebel fans.

Pac 10 - Arizona
For what seems like the 37th straight season this should be the year Arizona finally turns the corner. A pain in the butt for the last few years under Mike Stoops, like they were by beating Oregon last season, the Wildcats have shown they can rise up and shine once in a while only to crash soon after. The Texas Tech-like passing attack that finished tenth in the nation should be more consistent with four starters back on the line to give Willie Tuitama yet another chance to be the star he's supposed to have grown into a few years ago. All the receivers are back,
Nicholas Grigsby is a solid runner, and Tuitama knows what he's doing. Getting the unbalanced schedule their way with five Pac 10 games in Tucson, including showdowns against Cal, USC and Arizona State, they'll be worth paying attention to.

SEC - Ole Miss
Everyone was having fun (at least for a little while) in the SEC last season. Mississippi State went bowling, Kentucky had a big year, and even Vanderbilt was 5-7 with a a chance to go to a bowl before losing its final four games. Ole Miss was left out of the party going 3-9, head coach Ed Orgeron was canned, and Houston Nutt has taken over. While there are still mega-flaws that need to be addressed, like a defense that couldn't stop anyone from running, Nutt has some excellent pieces in place. Orgeron did a better-than-he-got-credit-for job of recruiting, and now Nutt gets future NFL OT Michael Oher, former Texas QB Jevan Snead, pass rushing terror Greg Hardy, and a defense loaded with veterans. It's not a ridiculous stretch for the Rebels to dream of winning all their SEC home games against Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Auburn and Mississippi State.

Sun Belt - North Texas
Bombs away. Head coach Todd Dodge installed his high-octane passing offense with some wacky, wild results ... and no defense. Oh sure, there was a 601-yard passing game against SMU and 478 yards and eight touchdown passes against Navy, but the Mean Green loses both games. With the offense getting a year to jell, and with the defense getting the most immediate attention from the recruiting class, going from the dregs to the top of the Sun Belt might not be that long a journey. No, UNT won't have a great all-around team, but it'll bomb its way into a few wins.

WAC - San Jose State
2007 was an aberration. After a stunning breakthrough in 2006 under Dick Tomey, the Spartans went 5-7 with no running game, thanks to injuries to Yonus Davis and Patrick Perry, but things should be much better with a nasty defense and a great receiving corps to help ease in the new backfield. QB Adam Tafralis needs to be replaced, but there's a chance Davis can return if the NCAA grants him a medical hardship and Perry should be back full by the fall. There are trips to Hawaii and Nevada, but the two likely preseason WAC favorites, Fresno State and Boise State, have to find their way to San Jose.