Preview 2010 ... Turning 40
The Key Questions For 31-40
The 40 Key Questions No. 1
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Can Nick Saban and Alabama win back-to-back national championships? Will Boise State be its opponent in Glendale on Jan. 10? Or will Terrelle Pryor lead Ohio State on a title run? As always, there’s no shortage of delicious questions, storylines, and sub plots on the minds of college football fans as the 2010 season rapidly approaches.
The following 40 queries will define the upcoming campaign and be fodder for endless debate until the opening kickoff in early September.
40. What will June Jones do for an encore at SMU?
In just his second season on the Hilltop, Jones turned back the clock at SMU, guiding the program to eight wins and its first postseason appearance in a quarter-century? Now what? In sophomore Kyle Padron, the Mustangs have the right man to pilot the offense and continue to transform the roster to Jones’ liking. Seemingly dissatisfied with being second best in Conference USA, the Ponies have their sights set on Case Keenum-led Houston, the prohibitive favorites to win the league title.
39. Is Navy QB Ricky Dobbs really poised to contend for national honors?
This isn’t some gimmick born out of the desire to simply promote one of the good guys in the sport. Dobbs is the real deal, on and away from the field. The numbers are all there to be in the hunt for the big prize, seamlessly running the Navy option and scoring 27 touchdowns, a single-season NCAA record for a quarterback. Considering some of the off-field stories that have sullied the game in the offseason, he’s the kind of complete student-athlete who’ll be easy for voters to get behind, especially if the Mids make a run at 10 wins.
38. If you can watch just one non-conference game all year, which would get the strongest consideration?
Right out of the gate, the opening weekend is going to have some can’t-miss, neutral site match ups, like Boise State vs. Virginia Tech (Landover, Md.), North Carolina vs. LSU (Atlanta), and Oregon State vs. TCU (Arlington, Tex.). Plus, the following Saturday has an intriguing buffet of powerhouse programs that includes Penn State at Alabama, Miami at Ohio State, and Florida State at Oklahoma. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, but if you can settle in for just one, it might have to be the Broncos and Hokies for its unique impact on how the national title chase will play out.
37. How about the conference games?
As always, there are a slew of tantalizing league games and rivalries to choose from, but it’d be hard to overlook Florida at Alabama and Texas vs. Oklahoma on Oct. 2. While a lot can change, especially as November approaches, this shapes up as a pivotal weekend for a lot more reasons than just the SEC and Big 12 title hunts. The winners of these two showdowns will immediately be labeled as the teams to beat in the chase for a spot in the BCS Championship game. Of course, that’s to take nothing away from Oct. 16, which will feature a couple of mega-tilts, Texas at Nebraska and Ohio State at Wisconsin.
36. Is there enough offensive firepower in College Station to make Texas A&M relevant again?
On paper, it certainly appears so. From an offense that ranked No. 5 nationally in 2009 returns star QB Jerrod Johnson, top backs Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray, and a slew of quality receivers led by Jeff Fuller. However, will it be enough to compensate for a shaky offensive line and a defense that ranked 105th nationally in scoring and overall? Head coach Mike Sherman is keeping his fingers crossed because at the end of his third season on the job, the Aggie brass is demanding a considerable step in the right direction.
35. Does anyone in America have a better starting defense than North Carolina?
It’s going to depend if the NCAA dings anyone for off-field violations. If everyone is available, you can make the argument that the Heels have as much front-line talent as any program in the country. And win that argument. Carolina is gushing with future pros at every level, many of whom could have left following the 2009 season and cashed in big time. With Robert Quinn and Marvin Austin up front, Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter at linebacker, and Kendric Burney, Deunta Williams, and Charles Brown in the secondary, this D is going to be brutal to navigate. You almost have to root for everyone to be at Butch Davis’ disposal in the fall just to see how ornery this group can be.
34. Can Tommy Tuberville keep the good times rolling in Lubbock?
No matter how the saga ended, replacing a coach as successful and popular as Mike Leach will not be easy. It’s a good thing Tuberville has been around the block a few times, courtesy of stints with Ole Miss and Auburn in the SEC. Obviously the delivery will be different, as if Leach can ever be duplicated, but Tuberville inherits enough quality players on both sides of the ball to enjoy a positive debut in Lubbock. The key will be to get the players adjusted to a new staff as quickly as possible and try to revamp a defense that’s missing four starters from the front seven. Tuberville was one of the best hires of the offseason. This is his first chance to prove it.
33. Is the run of sophomore Heisman winners about to come to an end?
No sophomore had ever won the award before Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, and Mark Ingram brought home the hardware in successive years. The best bets to keep the streak alive are Stanford QB Andrew Luck and three precocious running backs, Pitt’s Dion Lewis, Oregon’s LaMichael James, and Virginia Tech’s Ryan Williams. It’s more likely that Ingram will end the trend he perpetuated in 2009, joining Archie Griffin as the only two-time winners. Or that Boise State QB Kellen Moore, Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor, Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett, Washington QB Jake Locker, or Houston QB Case Keenum will return the trophy back to the upperclassmen.
32. Which true freshmen won’t play like rookies this fall?
Although some 500 or so rookies will get on the field this fall, only a handful will leave a lasting impression, such as Pitt’s Dion Lewis, Arizona State’s Vontaze Burfict, and Boston College’s Luke Kuechly did in 2009. Naturally, there’s a slew of viable candidates, who’ll start making their cases for more playing as August progresses. If you want to look like a genius in November, start confidently tossing around the names of Florida S Matt Elam, Michigan State DE William Gholston, USC RB Dillon Baxter, Texas DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Auburn RB Michael Dyer, South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore, and Gator defensive linemen Ronald Powell and Shariff Floyd. All have the talent and size to play as if they’ve been on campus for years instead of months.
31. After Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley, will Tennessee start appreciating Phil Fulmer more?
Okay, so it’s unfair to judge Dooley since he’s yet to coach his first game in Knoxville, but it’s not as if he was the program’s first choice after Kiffin returned to USC. Listen, while he has a very bright on the sidelines, he also has no head coaching experience beyond Louisiana Tech and inherits the weakest Volunteer squad in years. There are all kinds of issues on the 2010 team and not nearly enough transformational figures to be a threat in the conference. The best Dooley can hope for this season is a mid-tier bowl invitation and plenty of patience from a fan base that hasn’t celebrated an SEC title since 1998.
The 40 Key Questions No. 1
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