2009 Spring Preview - The Pains In The Butt
Stanford RB Toby Gerhart
Stanford RB Toby Gerhart
Posted Mar 26, 2009

While these teams might not be good enough to win a conference title, they come back improved enough to ruin someone else's season. Here are the teams that will be the pains in the butt for the big boys. Check them out in the 2009 CFN Pre-Spring Preview

Spring Preview 2009

The 20 Big Questions ... No. 4

By Pete Fiutak 

Spring Preview 2009
20 Big Questions

- No. 5 - The pressure will be on ...
- 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.

4. The pain-in-the-butt team in each league.

While these teams might not be good enough to win a conference title, they come back improved enough to ruin someone else's season. Here are the teams that'll be the pains in the butt for the big boys.


NC State – Tom O’Brien’s squad came from out of nowhere last November and went on a four-game winning streak, screwing up Wake Forest, North Carolina, and Miami along the way thanks to a defense that forced 14 turnovers over the span. Most of the key pieces are back, and if the secondary can reload and QB Russell Wilson takes another step forward in his development, the Wolfpack could be the sleeper in the ACC title race.

Big 12
Texas A&M – The talent simply isn’t there to be any sort of threat in the Big 12 South race, but that doesn’t mean Mike Sherman’s crew can’t end a few national title dreams. The line play can’t be any worse, and it won’t be, Jerrod Johnson (if he holds on to the job) is good enough to explode for a big game or two, and the young team won’t be taken too seriously and can sneak up on everyone. Oklahoma gets the Aggies right after a trip to Nebraska and just before it goes to Texas Tech. Oklahoma State opens the year with A&M on the road, and Texas also has to go to College Station. Getting Kansas State, Iowa State, and Colorado from the North, and missing Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, is a big break.

Big 10
Northwestern – Northwestern is still Northwestern. As good as it has been at times over the last several years, it’s hard for teams to look past NU when Ohio State, Michigan, or Penn State is coming up. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald legitimately believes the potential is there for consistent trips to the Rose Bowl, and he might be right. There’s no Ohio State or Michigan (it’s still Michigan) to deal with and Penn State and Wisconsin have to come to Evanston. The Wildcats should go bowling again and with talent, depth, and the potential to beat at least two of the league’s better teams.

Big East
Syracuse – The Orange gets the role of spoiler almost by default with the other seven teams in the hunt for the Big East title. Fine, so maybe Louisville might need some help to be in the race in late November. SU was even worse than the 3-9 record might have shown with only two wins over FBS teams while failing to come within single-digits in any of the nine defeats. New head man Doug Maronne should instantly add more pop to the nation’s 114th ranked attack. There’s only one road trip in the first eight games meaning the team should be comfortable for games against South Florida, West Virginia and Cincinnati. Consider it a major plus is SU wins one of those games, and it’ll be parade time if it can win two.

Conference USA
UAB – Joe Webb, Joe Webb, Joe Webb. A punching bag for so many years, the Blazers were more competitive last year even though they weren’t consistent. Webb might not win many first-team all-star honors in a conference with Houston’s Case Keenum, he’s one of the league’s best all-around talents. There will be issues, particularly in the secondary, but the team got better as the season went on and it should flirt with a winning conference record at the expense of several teams looking to come up with big years.

Eastern Michigan – The offense was devastating over the final few games last year, but it was too little, too late. While QB Andy Schmitt returns after finishing the season with 1,000 passing yards and eight scores in the final two games, the focus will be on the defense with new head coach Ron English likely to improve things right away. In an already excellent MAC West, any wins over teams like Western Michigan, Central Michigan, and/or Northern Illinois could mess up the conference race.

Mountain West
UNLV – Most of the key parts are back on an offense that should be the most explosive yet in the Mike Sanford era. While the defense isn’t going to be a brick wall, eight starters are back and it should be a bit better in the back seven. Last year the Rebels went 2-6 in Mountain West play, but there was a one-point loss to Air Force and a seven point loss at BYU; a more experienced, healthy team would’ve won those games. It shouldn’t take that much to go from being a 5-7 team to having a winning season and a bowl bid. With the top teams, Utah, BYU and TCU all needing to rebuild, don’t be shocked if UNLV beats at least one of them, if not two.

Pac 10
Stanford – Head coach Jim Harbaugh has already bothered USC with a win two years ago and a garbage time score in last year’s loss. Now he’s hoping to annoy enough other teams to get to a bowl game. The recruiting classes have been strong, the secondary should improve considering it’s the focus of the staff, and RB Toby Garhart is a star to work around. The back half of the season should be interesting with four home games in the final five (with the one road trip at USC). With winnable conference home games against UCLA and Washington, and visits from Arizona State, Oregon, along the crosstown trip from Cal, the Cardinal should make plenty of Pac 10 noise.

Vanderbilt – Oh sure, Vandy was the story of the early part of last season and it made plenty of noise with a bowl appearance, but it’s still Vanderbilt. It’s not like most SEC teams will be focusing on this game when there are so many bigger name games to deal with. However, this year’s Commodore team should be better, far better, with an upgrade at receiver helped by a few transfers, a strong defensive front seven, and a good enough running game to get by. There are problems in the secondary and the quarterback play has to be better, but anything less than a second straight bowl win will be a major disappointment. Ole Miss, Georgia, and Kentucky could have major problems coming out of Nashville with a win.

Sun Belt
FIU – After years of trying to make the program competitive, Mario Cristobal should finally have a team good enough to be an interesting player for the Sun Belt race … at least on offense. QB Paul McCall and nine starters are back on offense that improved as the year went on. The defense needs to replace almost all the key players, but it’ll be athletic. There are way too many holes to fill to think about a bowl game, but the team that went 3-4 in Sun Belt play should be good enough to have a winning conference record.

Utah State – It might be hard to get too excited about a team that went 3-9 and is undergoing a coaching change, but the team was better than past years and there’s plenty of experience returning. New head man Gary Andersen welcomes back QB Diondre Borel, a sparkplug who’ll carry the attack, while eight starters are back on defense, Andersen’s specialty. The team won’t be good enough to win the WAC, but it’ll be strong enough to potentially get to six games and a bowl if there’s a little bit of luck.