2010 Spring Preview
- No. 3
How's Your Unit? ... Part 2
Your Unit? ... Part 1
18. Auburn Quarterbacks
The passer under offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is supposed to be a superstar (just ask Tulsa’s playmakers from a few years ago). The system is proven and the system works, but it didn’t do enough after the first few weeks of last season. Cameron Newton is a very big, very promising prospect who could be a superstar with a little bit of time, but even though he has been named the starter, he’ll have to fight off Neil Caudle, a senior who’s the safe choice, after Tyrik Rollison, a young, dynamic playmaker who was suspended last season, took off (or at least that’s what he’s saying he’s doing).
17. Oregon State Quarterbacks
This is ground zero for the Beavers in 2010, especially after Sean Canfield played so well last fall. Ryan Katz has the inside track after being the backup in 2009. He’ll be challenged by Peter Lalich, who’d earned some starts with Virginia before getting the boot and being forced to seek a fresh start. Of course, if former starter Lyle Moevao can get a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, the dynamics of this competition will change dramatically.
16. South Carolina Offensive Tackles
Finding pass rushers will be vital for the defense that loses Clifton Geathers and Eric Norwood, but there’s no way the Gamecocks can improve without getting far, far better play from an offensive line that has been a disaster under Steve Spurrier. Three starters return including tackles Kyle Nunn and Hutch Eckerson, but they were part of the problem for a front five that allowed 37 sacks. They were young and they needed the work, but they have to be great right away with new O line coach Shawn Elliott needing to get everything in place.
15. LSU Running Backs
Of all the disappointing aspects of last year’s team the running game was the biggest dud averaging just 123 yards per game. Keiland Williams led the team averaging just 33.45 yards per game and now the job is wide open. QB Russell Shepard will see plenty of action out of the backfield. Richard Murphy is still trying to get past a knee problem, thumping junior Stevan Ridley will get more of a role, and Michael Ford is looking like a potentially special runner with Murphy needing more time to heal.
14. Virginia Tech’s Defensive Line
Although Bud Foster’s entire defense is undergoing an overhaul, the front wall has the most work ahead of it. Not only is Jason Worilds taking his speed to the NFL, but top sacker Nekos Brown and DT Cordarrow Thompson are also gone. John Graves is the lone mainstay on the inside, leaving a bunch of unproven players, like Chris Drager, Kwamaine Battle, Steven Friday, and Antoine Hopkins to excel in expanded roles.
13. Tennessee Offensive Line
Aaron Douglas is the only returning starter to a decent line that did a not-that-bad job. If anything is keeping Dooley awake at night, this is the area with relatively unproven talents Dallas Thomas, JerQuari Schofield, and freshman Ja’Wuan James needing to shine right away. Every practice will be vital for a team that gets Oregon and Florida in Knoxville by mid-September.
12. Florida Running Backs
Yes, losing Tim Tebow, and Brandon Spikes, and Joe Haden, and Carlos Dunlap, and Aaron Hernandez, and Maurkice Pouncey might make it seem like the Gators are starting from scratch, there are enough good players in place to expect it to be business as usual. But as good as QB John Brantley is, he’s not a runner and he needs help from the running backs. That’s one area that Florida has no problems finding veterans with Emmanuel Moody ready to be even more of a factor (though Gator fans have heard that before) allowing Chris Rainey to become a Percy Harvin-like jack-of-all-trades.
11. Texas Tech Quarterbacks
Taylor Potts is the most talented quarterback on the team, but fan-favorite Steven Sheffield has a magical quality and has been fantastic when thrown into the mix. Former Troy offensive coordinator Neal Brown wants more bombing away from his quarterback, and he’d like to have more mobility, but he has said that Potts and Sheffield will get an equal shot at the job. There’s one problem, though; they’re both injured. It should be an interesting fall.
10. Ohio State Safeties
Kurt Coleman wasn’t always consistent, but when he was producing he was a big-time playmaker and game-changer (most notably in last year’s Wisconsin win), and Anderson Russell was a solid free safety. It’s Ohio State, so more talent is waiting in the wings, but Jermale Hines has to show he’s up to the task in place of Russell while Orhian Johnson leads a promising group to fight for the strong safety gig.
9. USC Secondary
USC must replace all four starters, each an All-Pac-10 selection from a year ago. While the biggest void is left by All-American S Taylor Mays, it won’t be easy without Kevin Thomas, Josh Pinkard, or Will Harris either. After CB Shareece Wright, who missed the year for academic reasons, Troy will lean on Carroll’s recruiting from the past few seasons. At safety, T.J. McDonald, Drew McAllister, and Jawanza Starling are poised for promotions. The battle to start opposite Wright could revolve around T.J. Bryant, Byron Moore, and Marshall Jones, who missed all of 2009.
8. Penn State Offensive Line
Lost in yet another impressive season was the poor play of an offensive front that didn’t open up enough holes for a loaded group of running backs, and the pass protection wasn’t up to snuff against the teams with a pass rush. Against the better lines, the Nittany Lions were shockingly manhandled. On the plus side, this is a veteran group with three returning starters and decent options ready to fight it out at tackle. Stefan Wisniewski should make space for the Rimington Award now, but with a new quarterback and so many concerns about the offense, the line has to grow from a problem to a plus.
7. Georgia Quarterbacks
Joe Cox was supposed to be a solid caretaker last season after he took over for Matthew Stafford, and while he was fine, he was hardly special. Logan Gray was the main backup throughout last season and got a little bit of work, but he might be moving to another spot with Aaron Murray a good all-around playmaker able to run and throw equally well and Zach Mettenberger was supposed to shine with a big-time arm and passing skills, but he transferred. In a perfect world, this is figured out and settled on as soon as possible. It’s Murray’s gig for now, but the job is still open.
6. Iowa Offensive Tackles
Bryan Bulaga went in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft (to Green Bay), and Kyle Calloway was an all-star caliber right tackle who’ll find a spot in The League after being drafted late. Even so, the Iowa O line was awful in pass protection and did next to nothing for the running game for long stretches. The interior should be fine, and Kirk Ferentz is always terrific at filling in the gaps at tackle, but if there’s one thing that could kill the season early on, this will be it.
5. Alabama Defensive Tackles
Yes, there are some major losses at linebacker, and yes, the secondary is an issue after losing three starters, but the biggest hole to fill, literally, is in the middle of the line where 354-pound (on a lucky day) Terrence Cody isn’t around to stuff things up anymore. While Bama always used a rotation with Josh Chapman seeing plenty of action, this spring session will be about seeing if Kerry Murphy, one of the team’s biggest players, and Nick Gentry can handle the work and the pounding.
4. Texas Receivers
Texas came up with a loaded haul of receiver talents a few seasons ago, and they have yet to prove they were worth the hype. Part of the problem, in a good way, was the emergence of Jordan Shipley as an elite player, but now is the time for Malcolm Williams, Marquise Goodwin, and James Kirkendoll to become good enough to help seamlessly ease the transition into the Garrett Gilbert era.
3. Nebraska Quarterbacks
Zac Lee was along for the ride last season throwing for 2,142 yards and 14 touchdowns with ten interceptions, and while he had his moments, he wasn’t good enough to be assured of holding down the gig this season. It’s going to take something special to unseat him, and Cody Green, Latravis Washington, and true freshman Taylor Martinez will give it a shot.
2. Notre Dame Quarterbacks
Dayne Crist, it’s all yours. After Jimmy Clausen ducked out early for the NFL, the Irish quarterback cupboard was a bit bare with the options Crist and … and … and … Crist. The problem is that he’s trying to get healthy after suffering a knee injury, and if he goes down for any significant length of time, Brian Kelly’s first year will rely on freshman Tommy Rees and junior Nate Montana (yeah, the son of that guy). Kelly gets production out of anyone who steps in under center, but this will still be a challenging year to make Crist the next Tony Pike in just a few months.
1. Michigan Quarterbacks
Rich Rodriguez supposedly had his guy in Tate Forcier from last year’s recruiting class, and while he’s a baller, he got beaten up. Denard Robinson simply isn’t good enough at quarterback to entrust the offense to him for this must-win year, and his talents can be better used elsewhere. Meanwhile, super-recruit Devin Gardner might be the special spread quarterback who can be the main man, but he’s going to have to do something truly special to beat out Forcier.
Your Unit? ... Part 1