Spring Preview 2009
The 20 Big Questions ...
spring ball underway, here are the 20 Big Questions to start off the
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 …
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.