Spring Preview 2009
The 20 Big Questions ...
spring ball underway, here are the 20 Big Questions to start off the
8. The Tennessee … The teams that will tumble.
Tennessee was supposed to be
decent last year, partly because of the talent level and partly because
of brand name. One 5-7 season with a fired head coach later and the Vols
are undergoing an overhaul. The same fate might not happen to the
big-name teams listed, but they are likely headed for a bit of a down
The Eagles were able to overcome a struggling offense, hurt mostly
by the graduation of Matt Ryan, by getting a great season from the
defense to get to the ACC title game. Former defensive coordinator Frank
Spaziani knows the team and should keep it from falling off the map, but
he’s got work to do losing NFL defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace
and Kevin Akins and Paul Anderson from the secondary. The offense that
was so inefficient needs to get more pop from the backfield and has to
hope that Dominique Davis can throw. While the Eagles might still come
up with a winning season, and might not lose more than the five games
they dropped last year, it’ll take something special to get back to the
championship for a third straight season.
will still be good, but it’ll be asking for too much for a third
straight double-digit win season. Head coach Brian Kelly has done a
great job of building the program into a Big East champion, but he
hasn’t had to come up with the replacements he’ll have to this year. Ten
starters are gone off the defense with only SS Aaron Webster returning
while two key starters, Trevor Canfield and Khalil El-Amin, are gone off
the offensive line. Punter Kevin Huber will also be missed. The schedule
is interesting with Oregon State, Fresno State, and Illinois on the
non-conference slate and Big East road games against Rutgers, South
Florida, and Pitt.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz came up with a nice rebound season out of
the blue, but sustaining the success might be hard it he can’t replace
the production in the middle of the defensive line with Mitch King and
Matt Kroul gone. However, the rest of the defense has the potential to
be fantastic with almost everyone else of note returning. Offensively,
the most attention will be paid to the loss of Shonn Greene, but there
are good replacements waiting in the wings. So what’s the problem? The
schedule. It’ll be tough to repeat the 9-4 record of last season with
road games at Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State.
No one in the
ACC is more hit-or-miss than Maryland. The Terps were flaky enough to
lose to Middle Tennessee and follow it up with a win over Cal. They were
blown out by Virginia 31-0 and shut out Wake Forest 26-0 the following
game. It should be more of the same with three key starters gone off the
offensive front and the passing game losing Darrius Heyward-Bey, Danny
Oquendo and tight end Dan Gronkowski. The backups are iffy at several
key spots; it’ll be a total disaster if injuries strike at quarterback
and linebacker. The schedule could be murder with an opener at Cal and
an ACC stretch of four road games in six weeks.
This year will be
the big test for Gary Pinkel. It’s one thing to get the program to a
high level, but it’s another to sustain the success. The Tigers will
have to go one without Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman, and
three other offensive starters. The defense loses three starters off the
front, MLB Brock Christopher, and three starters in the secondary
including FS William Moore. Adding to the problems is the loss of
ultra-accurate PK Jeff Wolfert and offensive coordinator Dave
Christensen (who took the head coaching job at Wyoming).
might be better than the team. While the Buckeyes will be tremendous in
2010 and beyond, thanks to terrific recruiting class after terrific
recruiting class, there will be a year to rebuild a defense that loses
five starters and an offense that loses seven including Beanie Wells and
receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline. Even though there’s a
massive talent void with so many all-stars gone to the next level, the
not-that-bad schedule could mean another BCS appearance with only two
games that OSU could be the underdog: USC and at Penn State. The second
toughest road trip, behind the date in Happy Valley, is at Michigan.
However, if the team needs a year to jell there could be problems at
home against Illinois, Wisconsin, and/or Iowa.
Mike Riley has put
together a ridiculously underappreciated three-year run going 10-4, 9-4,
and 9-4 with three bowl wins and last season’s shocker over USC. That
should all change this season with top targets Sammie Stroughter and
Shane Morales gone, all four starters needing to be replaced in the
secondary, pass rushing terrors Victor Butler and Slade Norris to be
sorely missed, and more of a reliance than ever placed on the Rodgers
brothers. Jacquizz and James have to prove they can hold up for a full
season and QB Lyle Moevao will have to come up with another strong year.
How’s this for a Pac 10 road slate? Arizona State, USC, Cal, Washington
State (yeah, but it’s a fifth conference road game), and Oregon.
are looking up for the program after a few strong recruiting classes,
but this year might be tough with four starters gone off the offensive
line, defensive backs Carlton Williams and Tyller Roberts gone, and a
few key skill players like RB Benjamin Williams and receivers Marcus
Edwards and Taurus Johnson needing to be replaced. If this year’s
recruiting class, especially from the JUCO ranks, doesn’t shine right
away, there will be problems. The schedule is a joke early on, but
playing Florida State and Miami from the ACC and going on the road to
face Pitt, Rutgers, and UConn over the second half of the season won’t
be a plus.
The system is sound, the system is proven, the system has been able
to overcome major personnel losses. However, there will be an adjustment
period of at least a year with seven starters gone off the offense
including Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree. The defense should be
able to carry things for a little while, if needed, but the secondary
has issues with FS Darcel McBath and SS Daniel Charbonnet gone. Losing
star pass rusher Brandon Williams will hurt, too. Playing at Nebraska
isn’t a break, but the bigger problem is November. At Texas, at Oklahoma
State, Oklahoma, and at Baylor.
Call this a rebuilding
year before a monster 2010 campaign. USC always reloads with new
superstars waiting to take the place of the departed ones. However,
considering the program has only gone unbeaten once in the Pete Carroll
era, and considering there are some major personnel changes, the
potential is there for this to be USC’s first season since 2001 with
more than two losses. Most of the defense needs to be replaced, both
kickers are gone, WR Patrick Turner is a key veteran
off to the next level, either Mitch Mustain or Aaron Corp has to prove
to be ready to handle the attack, and there’s an overhaul in the
coaching staff. Of course, no one’s going to be crying any tears for a
team that’ll still be the star of the Pac 10 going into the season, but
a stretch of six road games in eight would be trying for anyone. Fine,
so USC will likely be 10-2 at absolute worst, but it’s not going to be a
national title team without a few minor miracles.