Spring Preview 2009
The 20 Big Questions ...
spring ball underway, here are the 20 Big Questions to start off the
9. The Ole Miss … The teams that will surprise.
Ole Miss wasn’t
expected to do too much last year, but Houston Nutt inherited a
tremendous defensive line, a solid quarterback in Jevan Snead, and a
good enough group of players to build into a big season that came out of
the blue. Two years ago it was Illinois and Kansas that shocked the
college football world and came up with huge seasons. Going into this
year, what ten teams have a chance to go from being an afterthought to
playing in a 2010 bowl game?
It’s not like the
Tigers were all that far away from having a good year. Going 5-7 doesn’t
fly around Auburn, and worse yet, getting blasted by Alabama
really doesn’t sit well.
However, the Tigers lost four games by five points or fewer and would’ve
won those games if they had any semblance of consistency on offense.
After finishing 104th in the nation in total offense and 110th
in scoring, if new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn can work his magic
and provide more pop to the attack, a winning season will be a lock.
rallied over the second half of the season with four wins in the final
five regular season games, highlighted by a 31-14 blowout of South
Carolina. While the bowl loss to Nebraska ended things with a thud, it
was a good performance that showed why the team has the potential to
come back strong. Like Ole Miss last year, a new head coach is in place
to reap the rewards from some great recruiting classes. Helped by the
return of RB C.J. Spiller, and considering the offensive line can’t be
any worse and the defensive line can fall out of bed and come up with
more sacks, the potential is there for Clemson to finally be a real,
live player in the ACC title race.
It was another disappointing season under Dan
Hawkins, but the Buffs went 5-7 with a win over West Virginia. The
program is half empty view would point out that CU won four of its five
games by a touchdown or less, and beat West Virginia, Kansas State, and
Iowa State by a total of eight points. However, there was a rash of
injuries that destroyed any hope of a consistent season on either side
of the ball. Now the valid excuse of last year should turn into a
positive with an influx of top players coming back. If the Buffs can go
5-7 last year with so many problems, this year they should be at least
three games better if they can stay healthy.
Things can’t be
any worse. After the stunningly bad 3-9 campaign in the first year under
Rich Rodriguez, the potential is there for a far better year with more
of the pieces in place to run the attack. Turnovers were the biggest
problem, with a comedy of errors at times and 30 giveaways on the year,
the sputtering offense screwed up more than it helped at times. It’s not
going to be a Rose Bowl season this year and Michigan won’t be
Michigan again for at least another season, but the team should be
far better. While last year’s loss to Toledo showed that the program
can’t take anyone lightly, the schedule isn’t all that bad with four
home games to start against Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern
Michigan and Indiana coming to the Big House. Delaware State and Purdue
are also on the slate.
It was a tale of two seasons for Minnesota. The team
looked like a world-beater for the first eight games, and then it all
fell apart as the turnovers started flowing and the offense went into
the tank. An injury to WR Eric Decker was a big problem, but the defense
going bye-bye was the bigger issue. Losing the coordinators will be a
bit of a problem, but with some good recruiting classes, a shiny new
stadium, the return of Decker and QB Adam Weber, and a schedule with
just enough winnable games to get back to a bowl game, the Gophers could
rise up and be a surprise team if the offense can find a running game
again and if the defense keeps taking the ball away.
one of teams on last year’s list of teams that could surprise, and it
did with a nice 8-5 season even though there was a collapse in the last
four games. The recruiting classes have been so good, and the upgrade in
the overall athleticism so impressive that the Tar Heels have the
potential to jump up even further and win the ACC title. It’ll take some
more pop from an offense that loses some key players, and the defense
needs to do more against the pass, but seven of the first ten games are
at home before going on the road for key dates at Boston College and NC
State. The young team should be jelled by late November; at least that’s
Butch Davis’s hope.
Fine, so Notre Dame, like North Carolina, was on this list
last year, too. But the Irish really did make a jump back into the
spotlight with a 7-6 season that might not have seemed like much, but
was night-and-day better than the 2007 debacle. While the last two years
were hardly acceptable to Irish fans, the team really did need to be
rebuilt with new talent. The biggest sin was that the young recruits
didn’t rock right away, but there’s a chance, and a good one, that
there’s another big jump in overall production with so many key players
returning with so much experience. And then there’s a schedule with only
two true road trips until mid-November, and one of those games is at
The Cowboys went 9-4 last season with the three regular season
losses coming against the stars of the South, Texas, Texas Tech, and
Oklahoma before losing the Holiday Bowl against Oregon. So why are they
on this list after such a successful year? There’s a chance they’ll be
even better … a lot better. The nation’s ninth ranked scoring offense
and sixth ranked offense overall gets everyone back of note other than
TE Brandon Pettigrew. Zac Robinson, Dez Bryant, Kendall Hunter and
Russell Okung are all stars who’ll help combine for an attack that won’t
be light on the firepower. If they can beat Georgia in the season
opener, the hype will kick in for what should be a big start. Playing
Missouri, at Texas A&M and Baylor won’t be walks in the park, but if the
Cowboys can get by Georgia, they’ll likely be 7-0 with Texas coming to
town. Win that, and barring a monster upset, they’ll be 11-0 before
going to Oklahoma.
Now it’s time to see if the guy can actually coach. At
least Lane Kiffin has put together a strong assistant coaching staff to
help out the cause, and if nothing else, the overall change in the
program’s attitude and energy should make a difference. Despite going
115th in the nation in total offense and 107th in
passing efficiency, the Vols still had chances to come up with a winning
season going 5-7 with a loss to UCLA that easily could’ve gone the other
way. Losses to Auburn and Wyoming were also close to being on the plus
side of the ledger sheet. Games against Florida and Alabama will almost
certainly be losses anyway, so they might as well be on the road. There
are only four away games (Ole Miss and Kentucky are the other ones) and
the home slate, outside of a game against Georgia, isn’t bad.
got over the bowl hump and to a post-season game for the first time
since 1982, but it was hardly smooth sailing. Vandy was the hot story to
start the season, going 5-0 with wins over South Carolina, Ole Miss, and
Auburn, but it sputtered from then on with five losses in the final six
games and with an offense that was the third worst in America. It was a
cute story that had an amazing ending with a Music City Bowl win over a
Boston College team that lost the ACC title game. The program will go
back to being a punching back for the rest of the SEC, right? Maybe not.
The entire offensive line is back and should be fantastic, the receiving
corps might be without Justin Wheeler, who injured his knee, but it’s
getting a major upgrade with Terence Jeffers coming in from UConn and
Tray Herndon transferring over from Minnesota. The secondary has issues,
but the front seven should be fantastic.