The Chinese New Year is upon us and while briefly paying attention to the celebration on various news channels and websites throughout the weekend it came to my attention that it happens to be the "Year of the Tiger." Of course my immediate thought is as always…what does this mean to college football? So let's take a few minutes to discuss the possibilities of "The Year of the Tiger" becoming a reality in the 2010 College Football season.
One thing that I found interesting when looking at what the Year of the Tiger means was that the motto is "I Win." Makes sense for College Football so we will go on reviewing the five Tiger Mascot programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision and decide if it is in fact going to be the Year of the Tiger.
In Gene Chizik's second season the Auburn Tigers bring back a potent offense led by coordinator Gus Malzahn, but there will be a new quarterback for the second straight season. Junior college transfer and former Florida Gator Cameron Newton looks like he is a great fit for the offense that Malzahn will run but Auburn did lose their best offensive weapon in running back Ben Tate. The offensive line will be a strength with four starters returning and the receivers will look to take another step forward after a breakthrough year in 2009.
The Auburn defense was a sore spot last year due to a lack of depth and injuries, the Tigers gave up almost 28 points a game which was last in the SEC. They do return eight starters on defense and with some injured players returning it could become a more formidable unit, but it is hard to see them becoming a championship defensive unit so soon. A healthy defense could make some noise, but injuries could force freshmen meant to play on special teams on the field for meaningful defensive downs.
Is if the Year of the Auburn Tiger?
Even years tend to be good in terms of schedule for Auburn; they play Arkansas, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina at home this year but they do get the defending National Champion, Alabama, on the road to close out the year. If the offense stays as good with all the new additions and the defense improves a little this could be a 9 or 10 win team. But in a tough SEC West it is hard to see them winning any championships this year, so the early analysis says no.
The focus of this off-season is the quarterback position for the Tigers of Clemson, last year's starter, Kyle Parker, is expected to return but with the possibility of playing baseball it is still to be determined. Without Parker the offense will have some growing pains with Clemson handling the loss of potential first round pick CJ Spiller and speedy WR Jacoby Ford. An underrated loss will be Parker's safety outlet Michael Palmer who seemed to have Velcro hands on third downs. Without Parker, Taj Boyd looks to be the man and it will be helpful that four out of five offensive linemen return, all of whom are well over 300 pounds.
The defense lost five starters but those losses seem to be balanced against the players returning…both corners are gone but the starting safeties are back. Ricky Sapp graduates but Daquan Bowers has even more potential at defensive end. Two starters at linebacker have moved on, but the backups look to be a little faster and just as physical. Kevin Steele should have a very salty defense that looks like it can absorb the losses and be just as aggressive as the group that was ranked 20th in the nation last year in total defense.
Is if the Year of the Clemson Tiger?
The ACC schedule has something to do with this, but Clemson might be the most likely Tiger this year to prove the Chinese New Year correct if they have Kyle Parker. The home games are manageable but they play on the road at Auburn, North Carolina, Boston College, Wake Forest and Florida State. Even with the nasty slate of road games, playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference makes Clemson the most likely Tiger to win a Championship game in 2010 and play in the BCS.
2009 was an odd year for the LSU Tigers, a team with so many weapons on offense and a seemingly dominant offense line struggled to move the ball all year. They were 10th in the SEC in Scoring Offense and last in the SEC in Total offense. The Fighting Tigers lost a lot on offense with senior leaders like Ciron Black, Trindon Holliday, Brandon Lafell, Charles Scott and Keiland Williams all graduating but starting QB Jordan Jefferson returns and will only be a junior. The receivers should be strong again this year with Terrance Toliver and Rueben Randle but the running game might be a question mark.
The defense, similar to the offense, lost a lot of talented players to graduation but there is plenty of great talent left on the field. Patrick Peterson is the best cornerback in college football and the rest of the secondary is very good. The defensive line needs to be rebuilt around senior Drake Nevis, but LSU has never had a problem with elite D-line talent. John Chavis in his second season as defensive coordinator should make a large impact since the players are adjusting to his system.
Is if the Year of the LSU Tiger?
The offense was obviously not very good last year and with all the losses it is hard to see if making a vast improvement this season. Even with a very capable returning starter at QB it is hard to see how LSU will be able to run the ball effectively with big losses on the offensive line and at running back. Talent has never been an issue so a breakout year is not out of the question, but right now it doesn't look like 2010 will be the year of the LSU Tiger. A division championship…maybe, but even that seems unlikely with all the work this team needs between now and August.
The crossover between Tiger teams continues in 2010, Auburn and Clemson meet in September in a battle of Tigers and the Memphis Tigers have a new head coach who was coaching for the LSU Tigers this time last year. Former Memphis running back/former LSU running back coach Larry Porter has taken over as the Tiger head coach and he has his work cut out for him.
A year ago Memphis was 2-10 and they had a lot of senior leadership on offense, the top three running backs were seniors and they will lose seven starters from that offense. Two quarterbacks played a lot last year, Will Hudgens and Arkelon Hall, but Hudgens' numbers were better over the year. The defense loses another large amount of starters, eight, from a defense that was abused quite a bit last year. The defense was ranked 116th out of 120 FBS teams and once again that was with a lot of experience in the group that has now moved on.
Is if the Year of the Memphis Tiger?
The immediate answer to this question is no, Memphis has too many changes this year to be a championship team and the schedule is pretty nasty as well. Their annual game against Ole Miss has been swapped out for Mississippi State, which this year may not be a good thing for the Tigers. They play at Louisville, at East Carolina and get a home visit from Tennessee. Porter is a good coach, but it will take him time to rebuild this program and put in the offense that he wants to run. There won't be any championships for the Memphis Tigers this year, but there will be some improvement in the program.
Missouri may be out of excuses this year; they have a ton of players coming back, a schedule that most teams would kill for and an experienced quarterback. This team really underachieved last year and should have won 10 games, but two total choke jobs to Baylor and Navy ended a promising 2009 with an 8-5 record. This team should be better in 2010 and for Gary Pinkel's sake, they better be. Blaine Gabbert returns as the Mizzou quarterback and even with the nations leading receiver, Danario Alexander gone, the Tiger offense should be able to pass effectively with 10 of their 12 receivers returning this year. All the running backs are back along with nearly the entire offensive line, only guard Kurtis Gregory is graduating. The 32nd ranked total offense and 49th ranked scoring offense should benefit from a year of starting QB experience and stability on the O-line.
Defensively is where this program needs a boost, finishing 59th in scoring defense and 64th in total defense isn't good enough and the end of the year was full of let downs. They gave up 24 or more point in 6 out of the last 8 games where they went 4-4. This year the defense returns 8 starters including the entire secondary. The back seven is extremely physical with every linebacker over 230 lbs and the smallest player in the secondary is 195 lb corner Kevin Rutland. This group should be better and if the offense can limit turnovers, expect the defense to play at a much higher level.
Is if the Year of the Missouri Tiger?
The Missouri Tigers are looking like a sleeper team in the Big 12 this year with 17 returning starters and a schedule that seems more than manageable. On second thought, this looks like a dream schedule. The out of conference games are weak with the toughest being a neutral site matchup against Illinois and they play at Nebraska which might decide the Big 12 North. They miss Texas this year, get Oklahoma at home and the Kansas game will be played in a neutral site in Kansas City. With the experience coming back there is no excuse for the Tigers not to have a very good year; the pressure should be on Gary Pinkel to deliver this year. A championship, at least the North, is not out of the question.
One final thought before you completely ignore this information and moving on, 2009 was "The Year of the Ox." Oxen have long horns, the University of Texas' mascot is the Longhorns, and Texas was in the BCS National Championship game last year. Does this mean a team with a striped mascot will be in Glendale, Arizona in 2011…probably not but it is fun to talk about the possibility.
Does anyone expect this to be the year of the Tiger and is my analysis on any Tiger teams different than you expected? E-mail
me Brian Harbach