2008 Spring Preview - The Big Storylines
USC QB Mark Sanchez
USC QB Mark Sanchez
Posted Mar 23, 2008

And the starting quarterback at LSU, Michigan and UCLA will be ... ? Are the Notre Dame and Clemson offensive lines going to be any better? Who's the key player in the Big Ten race? Can Mark Sanchez make the USC passing game more explosive? These questions and more in the Ten Big Off-Season Storylines.

Spring Preview 2008

The 20 Big Questions - No. 2

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
No. 5 - Every League's Pain In the Butt Team
No. 4 - Already Known Players Who'll Go Nuclear

No. 3 - The Heisman contenders

Ten biggest spring ball/off-season storylines

10. Allan Evridge
Want to get in early on the blue-chip stock? If you're looking for that team that's been sort of hanging around outside the velvet rope for the last few years and might now finally be showing enough cleavage to catch the eye of the BCS bouncer, watch out for Wisconsin. The Badgers are loaded with four excellent running backs, led by P.J. Hill, Mackey Award favorite Travis Beckum, a tremendous O line with four returning starters, a potential brick wall of a defense
as soon as CB Allen Langford and DT Jason Chapman return from injury, and a not-that-bad schedule. There's an early road trip to Fresno State which will be much, much nastier than it might appear, there's a date in Ann Arbor, but this should be the year to face Michigan in the Big House, especially early on, and there are very winnable road games at Iowa, Michigan State and Indiana. Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois all have to come to Camp Randall. All that's missing is a settled quarterback situation.

Allan Evridge had some success early on at Kansas State, but he was stuck in a logjam of quarterbacks and transferred to Wisconsin. He wasn't able to beat out Tyler Donovan over the last few seasons, but now the job should be his, and he's ready. Even so, Dustin Sherer, James Stallons, Scott Tolzien and Curt Phillips will all get a shot at the gig, but Evridge needs to take the job by the horns early in UW's spring ball. If he's good, really good, Wisconsin will quickly become a team to focus on from the start.

Does Oklahoma have a running back?
The big guns are hurt, but they're expected to be back. It doesn't really matter who's toting the rock, you and I could tear off a 110-yard day behind the best offensive line in the country, but the running attack could end up being the difference between OU being a Big 12 title favorite and a true national title contender.
The potential is there for the Sooners to have a devastating rotation of runners if Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray are back from their knee injuries, but this is OU; there are always more backs waiting in the wings. Mossis Madu and true freshmen Jermie Calhoun and Justin Johnson can keep the offense moving, but it'll take Murray being healthy for the ground game to be special.

8. Clemson's offensive line
The backfield might be the best in America. QB Cullen Harper is an efficient passing machine and the running back tandem of James Davis (who's out this spring mending a shoulder injury) and C.J. Spiller would make any NFL team happy, but they need time to operate. Even with future ten-year pro starter Barry Richardson at tackle, the Tiger O line allowed a whopping 35 sacks and didn't do nearly enough for the running game. Considering the defense was ninth in the nation and all the skill position players were in place, the line was the difference between a good year and something special.

Everything is there for Clemson to be the favorite to win the ACC title, but it could all unravel, and any dreams of playing for the national title, will go kaput if the front five isn't better. That's asking a lot considering Richardson and two other starters are gone. Every practice is vital for the new line to jell considering the season opener is against Alabama in Atlanta.

Notre Dame's offensive line
Much was made of the all-timer of an inept Notre Dame offense that finished last in the nation averaging 242 yards per game and was 116th in scoring averaging 16.42 points per outing. Sure, the new skill players needed to get their feet wet, but they didn't get any time to work behind an abysmal offensive line. The line was a horror show two years ago, especially in pass protection, but it wasn't exposed thanks to Brady Quinn, a veteran receiving corps, and Darius Walker able to keep things moving. That wasn't the case last season when the line allowed 58 sacks, the most in the nation, and got shoved around when it came time to get the hard yards on the ground. On the plus side, this was a young line with three sophomores starting, and now everyone is back. Sam Young, one of the star recruits a few years ago, has gotten much bigger and stronger as he's finally filling out his 6-8 frame, but that needs to be just the start. The offense won't be much better unless this group can start producing.

6. The LSU quarterback situation
Ryan Perrilloux is a doorknob. He's a talented doorknob, but he's a doorknob nonetheless. He can't seem to stay out of trouble, and now the one-time superstar recruit who once proclaimed that he'd win four Heismans has to fight to get back into the quarterback mix. At least that's what head coach Les Miles has stated, but let's be real here; if Perrilloux is ready and if he's on the team, he's the man. The team might not be able to count on him for a full season, but the guy who started in the SEC title game win over Tennessee is the type of player who could lead LSU to another national title. However, at the moment, LSU has to come up with a backup plan with the suspension likely to stick until the fall. Redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee and junior Andrew Hatch will be battling it out for the job. Neither has Perrilloux's arm or talent, but by all indications they're both able to move the offense.

5. The Florida running game
Georgia might be everyone's SEC darling right now, but Florida should be every bit as good, if not better, after reloading and revamping. The goal this spring is to come up with a living, breathing running game from someone other than Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, and the Gators have the prospects to do it. Chris Rainey and Brandon James have the speed, and Mon Williams and Kestahn Moore should get their share of work this off-season, but all eyes are on USC transfer Emmanuel Moody. He's a power back with just enough speed and quickness to be the back to balance out the offense. If he turns out to be the real deal, Tebow should be far fresher and can concentrate more on being an even more dangerous passer.

4. The UCLA quarterback situation
There were injuries all over the place for the Bruins, who started out the year a nice 6-2 before the train went flying off the track once Pat Cowan and Ben Olson got hurt. But it's more than just getting healthy; Olson can't stink. He completed four of ten passes in the 20-6 loss to Notre Dame and threw three picks in the 44-6 loss to Utah, and he still hasn't come close to living up to his tremendous potential. On the plus side, quarterback wizard Norm Chow is running the offense and should work wonders for the passing game once his passers are fully healthy. Both Cowan and Olson are expected to be ready to roll after getting knocked out with knee injuries, but Osaar Rasshan, who was awful when thrown into the fire. Chris Forcier, top recruit Nick Crissman, and Kevin Craft, a JUCO transfer who started out at San Diego State, all need to be ready if/when the top two guys go down again.

3. The Michigan quarterback situation
Now with the impossible dream of Terrelle Pryor gone, Michigan actually has to find a starting quarterback. The first order of business is to take an honest look in the mirror and come up with a plan. Either the offense can go with Georgia Tech transfer Steven Threet, a big pro-style passer who can run just enough to be effective, or it can take its lumps with a truly inexperienced player who actually fits the system in a one step back for a possible giant leap forward type of attitude. Threet ran the spread in high school, but he's not exactly Pat White. If you hire Rich Rodriguez, then you hire his offense and you're hoping to get the West Virginia-like production. That requires the right quarterback, and that option might end up being Justin Feagin, a true freshman who's a poor man's Pryor. However, he's not entering the mix until this fall, and the Wolverines need to have a quarterback to count on from day one. It's vital for Threet, or possibly David Cone, to show enough to be a productive starter who can allow Feagin to work his way in for a few series a game.

2. The USC passing game
All the focus and attention is on the quarterback situation with Mark Sanchez (who's the leader in the clubhouse) and Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain battling it out to replace John David Booty, but the real issue could be the receiving corps after the Trojans averaged just 238 passing yards per game. Mackey Award winner Fred Davis is gone, and Patrick Turner and Vidal Hazelton have to be better. They weren't awful, combining for 98 catches for 1,109 yards and seven touchdowns, but they were hardly special considering the numbers put up by Dwayne Jarrett and Mike Williams over the last few years. David Ausberry, Ronald Johnson and Travon Patterson, who was out for almost all of last year with an injured foot, will have chances to make a splash, but the real excitement surrounds Arkansas transfer Damian Williams and top freshmen D.J. Shoemate and Brice Butler. It's going to be a big-time battle for playing time with everyone getting a shot to shine.

1. The Georgia passing game
Georgia did just fine with an inconsistent passing game that finished 83rd in the nation averaging 198 yards per game, but it needs to be able to air it out more effectively if it wants to win a national title. The team's X factor will be a receiving corps that could be devastating if everyone plays up to their potential.
Having a quarterback like Matthew Stafford makes everyone look better, and there will certainly be plenty of chances for big plays and plenty of opportunities to shine. Now it's time for the receivers to be a strength and not just a collection of guys. Stafford has all the tools, a great line to work behind, and a terrific running game to take the pressure off. Everything is in place, and now the receiving corps has to pull its weight. It just hasn't happened yet for Mo Massaquoi, Kris Durham or Kenneth Harris, and while they'll all get plenty of chances, A.J. Green and Tavarres King might become the top two options by the end of the year.



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