2009 Spring Preview - The Pressure Is On ...
Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen
Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen
Posted Mar 26, 2009

Who'll be feeling the most heat? What players, coaches, programs, and aspects of college football will feel the most pressure? Here are ten of the most interesting storylines going into 2009 in the Pre-Spring Overview.

Spring Preview 2009

The 20 Big Questions ... No. 5

By Pete Fiutak 

Spring Preview 2009
20 Big Questions

- No. 6 - The major unit issues
- No, 7 - Ranking the leagues

- No, 8 - The teams that could tumble

- No, 9 - The teams that could surprise

- 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.

5. The pressure is on.

From hot seats to programs needing to bounce back to players needing to fill some big shoes, the pressure will be on this season for …

10. Wisconsin
The Badgers were hovering just outside of the elite club over the last several years but were never able to get past the velvet rope. The program is almost a decade removed from the Rose Bowl win over Stanford and has a come up with a bad habit of disappointing when the expectations are high. Head coach Bret Bielema needs to come up with a good year in a mediocre Big Ten to show that things aren’t sliding and further and that last season’s bizarre disappointment was an aberration. Otherwise, the move will be complete; Michigan State, always decent but always flaky under past regimes, will have officially swapped places in the Big Ten pecking order with Wisconsin.

9. Steve Spurrier
You can’t fire Steve Spurrier. Well, you can if you’re the Washington Redskins, but how could South Carolina possibly push the Ball Coach out the door if he comes up with another mediocre season? He’s the Ball Coach! While South Carolina isn’t Alabama or Tennessee and it doesn’t have the same sky-high expectations, the program that’s mostly been known for its insanely loyal through-thick-and-thin fan base is starving to be among the SEC elite. If Ole Miss could turn into a power in a year, and if Arkansas could get to an SEC title game, then why can’t the Gamecocks put it all together? This won’t be an SEC championship season in Columbia, and Spurrier won’t be canned unless that’s a total meltdown, but the team needs to show some hope and some promise that it’s not going to remain in also-ran status.

8. Miami
It’s Miami. Da U. It can fall out of bed, open up the door, and get most the city’s best talent to show up. So why has the program become so mediocre since it joined the ACC? John Swofford and the ACC thought it was picking off the Big East’s bright shining jewel, but instead they got a shadow of its former self that has gone 9-3, 9-3, 7-6, 5-7 and 7-6 since joining. There haven’t been any appearances in the ACC title game and the best bowl win over the last four years was a 21-20 battle over Nevada in the MPC Computers Bowl. Head coach Randy Shannon has put together some excellent recruiting classes and this is his third year to try to restore the glory, so this has to be the season when Miami takes a huge step forward. However, Shannon will have a tough time coming up with a big record with a nasty, brutal schedule starting out the year at Florida State, Georgia Tech, at Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma. Yeeeeeeesh. There’s a layup against Florida A&M, and it’s more than forgiven with the other non-conference games (outside of the date with the Sooners) on the road against UCF and South Florida teams desperate to make a big statement. Heyday Miami teams would’ve rolled through this slate without breaking a sweat. This year’s team will show just how far Shannon and the staff have to go.

7. Tim Tebow
How’s this for the expectations coming into the season? Considering Florida will be the preseason No. 1, and after winning two titles in three years, anything less than an SEC title and an appearance in the BCS Championship will be a failure. Sorry, but the team is too good, and the schedule, surprisingly, too light to ask for anything less. For Tebow, whose little Tony Robbins moment after the Ole Miss loss has been immortalized in plaque form, his reputation is all about his leadership and his ability to carry a team through thick and thin. He likes the pressure of being the main man, he thrives on it, so if Florida isn’t in Pasadena for the national championship, fair or not, it will reflect on him just as much as winning the 2009 BCS Championship did.

6. Jarrett Brown
West Virginia would probably be the third or fourth best team in the SEC or Big 12, but it’ll be good enough to be a national title contender coming out of the Big East. QB Jarrett Brown has experience and was great at times when he had to fill in for Pat White, but West Virginia lost in two huge games with him under center, at least for key parts of the games, in the 2007 defeat to South Florida and the national-title appearance-killing loss to Pitt that same year. This is Brown’s offense now, and all he’ll be asked to do is carry the team to a Big East title, and possibly a lot more, while filling the shoes of the greatest running quarterback in college football history.

5. Gus Malzahn
The pressure is really on head coach Gene Chizik considering his lousy record at Iowa State, but if there’s going to be a big turnaround it’ll come from Malzahn. The last time Malzahn was working his offensive wizardry in the SEC, or was at least trying to, he was losing out in a clash of styles with Houston Nutt at Arkansas. Malzahn moved on and the stars who went to Fayetteville to play for him, QB Mitch Mustain and WR Damian Williams, bolted for USC. Malzahn went to Tulsa where his offenses led the nation over the last few years. Now it’ll be up to him to make his attack work at Auburn, where offensive coordinators go to be chewed up and spit out. He can’t make things any worse after the Tigers finished 110th in the nation in scoring, 104th in yards, 99th in passing and 106th in passing efficiency.

4. Jimmy Clausen
Okay, hotshot, now it’s time to show why you really are good enough to arrive to your signing announcement in a limo. The Notre Dame junior really is that talented and he has a receiving corps to work with that could be the program’s best in a long, long time (and that includes the Jeff Samardzija-led corps of the early part of the Charlie Weis era). Now it’s time to save your coach’s job. This is the year when the Weis recruiting classes will mature and will need to succeed to make the Irish a superpower again, or at least the team has to come close. It’ll be mainly up to Clausen to build on the success of the Hawaii Bowl blowout of Hawaii and make the jump from his sophomore to junior season that Brady Quinn made at the same point.

3. The bowls
Bowl executives work year-round to make sure their party will be fun, entertaining, and attended by as many people as possible. There are few things more demoralizing than a mid-December bowl game full of empty seats, and thanks to the tanking economy, the bowls will be doing everything possible to bring in teams that make geographical sense. Unfortunately, it might come at the expense of good matchups (like the South Florida yawner over Memphis in the St. Petersburg Bowl). The pressure will be on for the bowls to do more wheeling and dealing with the conferences, and amongst themselves, to make sure fans don’t have to travel too far to blow the discretionary income they don’t have. The pressure will also be on the teams to be thriftier. Most programs, if they’re lucky, break even on the bowls after bringing everyone but the janitor to the game. In today’s world of cash-strapped athletic departments, going to a bowl will take on a whole new meaning.

2. Lane Kiffin
My man, you had better be good. Really good. A great family name, a brash attitude, and a next-level hot wife will get you far in this world, but in the land of the SEC, the conference of ridiculously high expectations and short tempers, wins are all that matters. How much pressure will be on Kiffin? Remember, Tennessee played in the 2007 SEC Championship game and pushed LSU, the eventual national champion, in a 21-14 loss on the way to a ten-win season. One 5-7 season later, in comes Kiffin. Just getting to bowl games isn’t enough at Tennessee for any coach, much less one who’s been ruffling as many feathers as Kiffin has. There have to be SEC championships (with an emphasis on the s on the end) and flirtations with the national title every other year or so. If nothing else, the coaching staff is in place to make it all happen (hiring Ed Orgeron was a major coup), and the talent will follow.

Kiffin has kicked some butt from day one inside the program, and he has poked the bear down in Gainesville to make daily SEC noise. Is it all a masterful mind game to show that it’s football time in Tennessee, or is he just rubbing everyone the wrong way? We’ll know on September 19th when the Vols play the defending national champion.

1. The BCS system
The powers-that-be keep trying to tweak, massage, and refine the BCS system so it’ll do everything short of creating a living, working playoff, but with every change comes more and more silliness.

The Big 12 took it on the chin last year for using the BCS rankings as its it’ll-never-happen-in-a-million-years, perfect storm of a tie-breaker, but the leagues can’t really be blamed for trying to figure out their way through this mess. The BCS backers say they’re for the little guy, yet Ohio State got the Fiesta Bowl nod over a higher-ranked Boise State. Texas Tech finished higher in the BCS rankings than BCS-bound Penn State, Ohio State, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati but got left out in the cold. Meanwhile, Utah, USC, Penn State and Texas all had legitimate gripes about why Florida and Oklahoma turned out to be the slam-dunk choices to play for the national title.

Now the pressure is on the BCS to be more efficient and more effective, and the pressure is on for the media, fans, and coaches to start scrutinizing the people who choose to keep the system as is like an AIG executive keeping his million-dollar bonus.

The BCS is going nowhere after all the money being pumped into the system by ESPN, meaning the boo-yas could soon start to handle college football analysis with the same soft pillows they handle any controversy that conflicts with their own interests (like the Barry Bonds fiasco when he had a reality show on the network). You’ll be able to count on one hand the number of times the word playoff is uttered on ESPN over the next several years.

With the mind-numbingly disastrous, prestige-killing move to put the national championship on cable starting next year, and with the BCS confusing the average fans and demeaning the die-hards, the pressure is on for the BCS, as of right now, to prove why it’s necessary and why the sport isn’t taking a major step backwards.