Spring Preview 2009
The 20 Big Questions ...
spring ball underway, here are the 20 Big Questions to start off the
6. How’s your unit? (The areas that could prove to be the downfall of
Every top team (at least those we project to be around the top 25
for most of the year) will have at least one major area of concern going
into the season. While all the big-time programs reload, there’s one
unit, one spot, that needs to be worked on and improved or else it could
be an Achilles heel and the team’s downfall (think quarterback for last
year’s preseason top 15 Wisconsin team or the entire offense for
Auburn). Here are the most important unit issues to deal with this
John Parker Wilson might not have been flashy and he
might not have always come through with the big win, but he was the
team’s leader who got the starting call for 40 games in a row. Greg
McElroy isn’t Wilson and he is hardly a sure-thing for the No. 1 spot,
but he’s been around long enough to know what he’s doing. He could be a
good caretaker, but it’s Star Jackson who has everyone buzzing with his
pocket passing skills. If they don’t shine, true freshman A.J. McCarron
might have an opening to take the job this fall.
Boise State Receivers
The running game was hardly a problem last season, but it was QB Kellen
Moore and the passing game that made the 2008 Broncos special finishing
13th in the nation and 11th in efficiency. It’ll
be Austin Pettis and a major hope for the rest of the young corps to
come around with Jeremy Childs, Vinny Perretta and Julian Hawkins gone
after combining for 134 catches and 12 touchdowns. On the plus side,
Pettis led the team with nine touchdown grabs. However, he needs help.
Moore will make everyone around him better, and he’ll get the time to
operate, but the receiving corps has to be ready to roll when Oregon
comes to town on September 5th.
Cal is always known for its great
offenses, but the defense was better last season thanks to a linebacking
corps that was all over the field. Zack Follett would’ve been the star
of the of the Pac 10 linebackers except for all the success from the
USCers. He’s gone after doing a little bit of everything, Worrell
Williams was a rock on the inside, and Anthony Felder had a nice season
as one of the team’s leading tacklers. There are decent veterans
returning in Eddie Young and Devin Bishop, but it could take half the
season before the defense jells and produces like it did in 2008. If
that’s true, there will be problems with a sneaky-tough September to
deal with playing Maryland, at Minnesota and at Oregon before getting
USC in Berkeley.
This was the team’s downfall from day one last
year. Actually, it was the downfall from before day one with problems
throughout spring ball. The line was constantly changing and was never
consistent in any one phase. There are some excellent skill players in
RB C.J. Spiller and QB Willy Korn who can carry the team to a big
season, but it’s not going to happen unless the line, which at the very
least is full of veterans, can improve.
The defense gets everyone back, the offensive line is solid, and there’s
Mr. Tebow under center to run the whole show. However, as good as the
Gators were last year and as good as they’ll be this year, they have to
prove they can get back to the promised land without Percy Harvin and
the extremely underappreciated Louis Murphy. Florida wouldn’t have won
the BCS Championship without Harvin, while Murphy always seemed to come
up with the backbreaking play to put games away. David Nelson became a
star late in the season and there are a slew of uber-talents from the
last few recruiting classes, highlighted by T.J. Lawrence, looking to be
the new playmakers. Florida is going to be terrific, but it’s not going
to win another national title without a big year from the receivers.
Georgia Defensive Line
The Dawgs always have good players ready to step in and shine at the
skill spots. Joe Cox isn’t Matthew Stafford, but he’s a veteran backup
quarterback who’ll be fine now that it’s his offense to run. The O line
should be terrific, A.J. Green leads a good receiving corps, and the
defensive back seven will be good, as always. Georgia will find new
replacements for an underwhelming defensive front with the biggest goal
to find steady pass rushers. There will be several interesting battles
going on with Justin Houston a strong prospect to be the team’s new
star. No matter who gets the jobs, finishing 72nd in the
nation in sacks, and 10th in the SEC, isn’t going to cut it.
Georgia Tech Defensive Line
With all the talk about the new offense when Paul Johnson took over the
Yellow Jackets last season, and all the publicity over the success late
in the season, the tremendous defensive front wasn’t given its proper
due. Johnson inherited a heater of a defensive front four, led by
Michael Johnson and Vance Walker, that finished second in the ACC in
sacks and tackles for loss and helped the D allow just 120 rushing yards
per game. With only one starter returning, Derrick Morgan, the spotlight
will be on. There are great prospects waiting in the wings, but this
will still be an early area of concern.
LSU Defensive Line
Over the last few years,
no team in the country has been better at cranking out star college
defensive linemen than LSU. The place has been a factory, but there are
ten-mile wide holes needing to be filled from a line that had
multi-million dollar talent and $5 worth of production (at least when
compared to the talent level). New defensive line coach Brick Haley has
some good prospects in Al Woods and Lazarius Levingston to start with,
but there isn’t a Glenn Dorsey who’ll dominate from day one and be the
star for the defense to build around.
Ganz would’ve been in the mix for all-star honors in just about any
other year. In last year’s Big 12? Yeah, right. Ganz will be appreciated
far more now that he’s gone. Even though the Huskers are hardly
complete, they might be the kings of the Big 12 North if they can get
some steady play from the new starting quarterback, whoever that might
be. Cody Green was the hot shot freshman who was supposed to be the
early leader for the job before he suffered a slight hip injury. With
Patrick Witt choosing to transfer, the Huskers will be down to Zac Lee
and Kody Spano for a bulk of spring ball. Green will be back, but for a
player right out of high school in such a key position, he needs all the
work he can get.
Carolina Wide Receiver
Carolina has the potential to win the
ACC, but it’s not going to happen if opposing defenses can tee off on
the running game. The defense is loaded and there’s plenty of promise on
an offense that should get better and better as the season goes on.
However, the passing game that was the ACC’s most efficient is missing
its top targets with Hakeem Nicks, Brooks Foster, and Brandon Tate gone.
Tate will still be missed even though he was knocked out early last year
with a knee injury. Greg Little is the main returning target, and he’s
still getting used to the position after starting out as a running back.
Ohio State Running Back
Things aren’t quite as bad as they might appear. You might not be
able to name any Buckeyes other than Terrelle Pryor, but that doesn’t
mean there isn’t talent all across the board. The linebackers will turn
out to be fine, the corners have some great former hot shot recruits
waiting to shine, and the offensive line might be better even though
several new starters will step in. What
the OSU doesn’t have is
Beanie Wells. With Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie off to the NFL, the
passing game isn’t going to start exploding and Pryor needs all the help
he can get for the ground game. Star recruits Carlos Hyde and Jaamal
Berry will likely be thrown to the wolves early on this fall, but it
could be Dan Herron’s job to lose after spring ball.
Oklahoma Offensive Line
Unfortunately, the OU O line might be remembered for being unable to
power the ball in to the end zone in a key moment in the national
championship loss to Florida. It was the nation’s best front five and
was a major reason why the record-setting offense was so unstoppable. OT
Trent Williams will be starting in the NFL soon, but his return will be
welcomed by a Sooner offense that loses all its other star blockers.
While the Sooners will replace superstar linemen with others who will be
superstars, it should take a little while for the machine to be nearly
as smooth as it was over the second half of last season.
Oklahoma State Safeties
It’s all there. The offense will be unstoppable with the star
weapons returning to almost assure OSU will finish among the top five in
the nation in yards. The Cowboys will simply outbomb its way to wins,
but to win the Big 12 South they’ll need to find a way to get to Colt
McCoy, Sam Bradford, and all the other good conference passers. The
defensive line needs to do more than just generate pressure; it needs to
come up with more sacks. Until that happens, the secondary needs more
production from the safeties even though two new starters need to be
found. Shane Jarka and Swanson Miller are good prospects who could be
the Big 12’s biggest under-the-radar difference makers in the race.
Ole Miss Defensive Backs
The Rebel pass defense was the worst in the SEC allowing 222 yards
per game even though there were games against Memphis, Wake Forest, and
Auburn. Texas Tech, Florida and South Carolina all had big games, too.
There might not be a who’s who of passing attacks on the schedule, but
if Ole Miss wants to come up with the huge season its fans are hoping
for (in other words, an SEC West title), the secondary will have to be a
strength by the end of the year. Don’t let the stats fool you as the
season goes on; it’ll all come down to an SEC title game against Florida
or Georgia if the Rebels can get there. Look at the Arkansas game on
October 24th for the true indicator of whether or not things
The Duck running game was fantastic thanks to a
terrific stable of backs, along with mobile QB Jeremiah Masoli, and they
had plenty of room to move behind a big-time offensive line that got
better and better as the season went on. Now, four starters are gone,
including all-everything center Max Unger, but there are decent veterans
ready to step in and produce. It’s going to take a little while to come
up with the right combination. Finding the right players for the right
spots will be job one. Getting everyone on the same page is vital with
at trip to Boise State early on.
Penn State Receivers
There are major problems in a few areas that were big strengths last
year. Offensive line, secondary, defensive end, and most importantly,
wide receiver, will all need work. The Nittany Lions lose an epic class
of targets that was so strong over the last four years as Derrick
Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood aren’t going to be quickly
replaced. QB Daryll Clark is a good veteran who’ll make the new targets
better, but there isn’t anyone who’ll be as good, at least right away,
as any of the top three former stars. The top returning wide receiver is
Graham Zug, but he only caught 11 passes for 174 yards and two
Was it the offensive line or the running backs? Colt McCoy
led the team in rushing, and that wasn’t a positive in any way. The
talent is there in the backfield, with more help to be added to the mix
with Tre Newton showing the potential to be a factor and Chris Whaley
the star recruit who should see time right away. Vondrell McGee,
Foswhitt Whitaker and Cody Johnson form the working definition of
running back by committee production, and now they need to do more to
make sure McCoy doesn’t have to carry the ground game. By design, expect
McCoy to run less which means the backs will have to produce more.
course, much of the attention will be on the defense, especially the
linebackers, but the reloading might not take all that long, if at all.
The big question mark is at quarterback where Mitch Mustain, Aaron Corp
and Matt Barkley will battle it out to see who gets the keys to the car.
New quarterback coach Jeremy Bates will play a key role in
getting a bit more consistency out of a passing game that was good, but
wasn’t as devastating as it should’ve been on a consistent basis. Yes,
USC finished first in the Pac 10 in both passing and passing efficiency,
but it’s not like there was a ton of competition in a league woefully
short on good air attacks. But it’s not about passing stats at USC; it’s
about playing for a national championship. John David Booty couldn’t do
it. Neither could Mark Sanchez or Carson Palmer. The Trojans can go to
Pasadena for the national title, instead of another Rose Bowl, if one of
the quarterback options turns out to be a star right away. The Ohio
State game comes up early on the slate.
Virginia Tech Offensive Line
The defense will get the most work this spring with several new
starters needing to shine in key spots. But it’s Virginia Tech;
everything will be fine. The offense that was 103rd in the
country in yards and 90th in scoring needs to be far better
until the D can come around. The line has to be far, far better in pass
protection after allowing 42 sacks. To be far, mobile QB Tyrod Taylor
had a lot to do with the bad stats, but the line really was a problem.
Pounding away for the ground game won’t be enough.
West Virginia Offensive Line
The Mountaineers always come up with good linemen who fit the
system. However, considering this will be the first year without Pat
White under center since the program became a part of the college
football elite again, the last thing the team needs is a shaky front
five. New starting quarterback Jarrett Brown will be more than fine, and
he could be special if the line replaces the three lost starters.
Considering last year’s line was so average, this group could be the
difference between a good season and a trip to the BCS.