2009 Spring Preview - Teams That'll Surprise
Clemson RB C.J. Spiller
Clemson RB C.J. Spiller
Posted Mar 20, 2009

What teams have the potential to be like Ole Miss and go from good to great? Which teams could be coming out of the blue to become the story of 2009? Check out a few prospects in the next installment of the CFN 2009 Pre-Spring Overview.

Spring Preview 2009

The 20 Big Questions ... No. 9

By Pete Fiutak 

Spring Preview 2009
20 Big Questions

- No, 10 - The 10 coaches who must win now
- No, 11 - Is the SEC worth the hype?

- No. 12 - Will the Pac 10 finally get some respect?
- No, 13 - The top BCS. vs. non-BCS games

- No. 14 - Why no Big East love?
- No, 15 - Does the Big Ten suck?

- No. 16 - Was the Big 12 exposed?

- No, 17 - Just how good is the ACC?
- No. 18 - Are we any closer to a playoff?

- No, 19 - Potential BCS Busters

- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 1 to 10)
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 11 to 20)
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 21 to 30)
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 31 to 40)
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 41 to 50
With spring ball underway, here are the 20 Big Questions to start off the offseason.

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.

The Tigers 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.

North Carolina
This was 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.

Notre Dame
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 Purdue.

Oklahoma State
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.

The Commodores 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.