Preview 2010 ... Turning 40
The Key Questions - 21-30
The 40 Key Questions No. 1
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30. How far can Bobby Petrino’s offense carry Arkansas this season?
Well, that didn’t take very long, did it? Just two seasons into his tenure in Fayetteville, Petrino has the attack on cruise control, leading the league in passing and scoring a year ago. Now, he has a next-level quarterback, Ryan Mallett, back for another year as the starter and a slew of talent at the skill positions, led by receivers Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, and D.J. Williams. The SEC’s version of Houston, Arkansas is capable of winning 10 games and knocking off anyone in the league, especially if the D starts providing more support.
29. Is there life after Brian Kelly in Cincinnati?
While the Bearcats knew this day would come eventually, it doesn’t make replacing Kelly any easier. All he did in three years was go 34-6 and win back-to-back Big East championship at a relatively dormant school. And although Butch Jones did a nice job of succeeding him at Central Michigan, this is a much harder challenge. On the bright side of things, the coach does inherit a lot of offensive talent and will be running a similar system as his predecessor. With Isaiah Pead running the ball and Zach Collaros pitching to Armon Binns, DJ Woods, Vidal Hazelton, and Ben Guidugli, Cincy might still lead the league in scoring.
28. Jeremiah Masoli is in the SEC? Really?
Talk about strange bedfellows, how about the former Pac-10 cult hero winding up at Ole Miss after being booted by Oregon after a spate of off-field issues? If he can keep his nose clean, he certainly can help an offense that lost Jevan Snead to the NFL and backup QB Raymond Cotton to South Alabama. Still, Houston Nutt is taking an enormous risk for a one-year rental, especially since Masoli was at his best in a Chip Kelly spread attack that accentuated his running ability. Hey, there’s no denying that the quarterback is one of the most entertaining playmakers around, giving the SEC yet another feature attraction.
27. Is Oregon still the favorite in the Pac-10?
Yeah, losing Masoli to a dismissal is an enormous blow, but is anyone in the conference clearly better? USC can’t go to the Rose Bowl, and other contenders, like Oregon State, Stanford, Washington, Cal, and Arizona, have at least as many flaws as the Ducks. While the staff tries to sort out the intriguing battle between Nate Costa and Darron Thomas at quarterback, the offense will lean heavily on backs LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, and a line that returns all five starters. It could be enough in a league that figures to be wide-open and up for grabs until the final weekend of the regular season.
26. Who is Cameron Newton and why is he this year’s most important JUCO transfer?
Auburn needs a quarterback to run Gus Malzahn’s pass-happy system this fall. Newton needs a home to showcase his big arm and considerable upside. At least on paper, it’s one of those eHarmony matches. While Newton officially comes by way of Blinn (Tex.) College, SEC fans remember him as the heavily-recruited kid from Atlanta who began his career at Florida three years ago. Now a super-sized 6-6, 250 pounds, he has the arm strength and measurables that have fans on the Plains salivating over what he and receivers Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery might be able to accomplish in this system.
25.Did Jake Locker make the right decision by returning to Washington for his senior year?
Considering he would have been someone’s first round draft choice right now, it certainly was a peculiar decision. However, that’s in the past now. Locker’s a Husky for one more season, and it could be a special one considering how the program has been trending since last November. Plus, he gets another four months to sharpen his passing skills under the watchful eyes of head coach Steve Sarkisian and coordinator Doug Nussmeier, which will make for a smoother transition once he does get to the NFL. While it’s unlikely Locker will boost a draft grade that was already going to be in the stratosphere, in terms of personal development, he still has plenty to achieve in 2010.
24. Besides the obvious—Boise State—which non-AQ school has the best shot of playing in a BCS bowl game?
For starters, you can forget about the rest of the WAC, the MAC, and the Sun Belt. Basically, that brings you to Houston out of Conference USA and the three heavyweights from the Mountain West. The Cougars will always be intriguing, as long as they’re putting up video game passing numbers on a weekly basis. The defense, however, has to come around if the program is going to navigate road trips to UCLA and Texas Tech, and pass-happy league opponents. In the Mountain West, the pecking order goes TCU, Utah, and BYU, though dreams of another big payday could be dashed early. In one of the biggest opening weekends ever for the conference, the Big 3 face Oregon State, Pitt, and Washington, respectively, in high-profile battles for more national respect.
23. Is this the year that Steve Spurrier breaks through at South Carolina and competes for an SEC championship?
After five seasons of mostly going sideways, this might be as close to the throne as Spurrier has come one in Columbia. Or maybe not. The coach has a nice mix of youth and veteran talent, but this is also a school that’s perennially unable to get over the hump and one that finished 2009 on a 2-5 slump. Remember the PapaJohns.com Bowl disaster versus Connecticut? A lot will depend on the development of enigmatic QB Stephen Garcia, and if the line can come up with a block for the first time in the Spurrier era. The secondary will be terrific, the D line will be great, and RB Marcus Lattimore should be a dangerous star. If you’re going to catch the Gators in the East, this is the year to do it.
22. Which coaches are in the greatest danger of joining the ranks of the unemployed by December?
Ahhh, the hot seat, always a popular offseason topic and never without a handful unfortunate contenders. Among the major conferences, Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez, Colorado’s Dan Hawkins, Illinois’ Ron Zook, Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen, Arizona State’s Dennis Erickson, NC State’s Tom O’Brien, Washington State’s Paul Wulff, Texas A&M’s Mike Sherman, Minnesota’s Tim Brewster, and Indiana’ Bill Lynch are in the greatest need of a turnaround season. Don’t be surprised if half of them are out of work by the time you’re decorating the house with Christmas lights.
21. So what does Rich Rodriguez need to do in order to make it back in 2011?
What a mess. In two years, Rodriguez has sunk from one of the game’s hottest coaches to a punchline, dragging Michigan further into the abyss. He’s gone 8-16, making more headlines for NCAA rules accusations and his school’s inability to regroup. Time is quickly running out on an experiment that has the seeds of becoming one of the biggest disasters in college coaching history. Under his watch, the Wolverines have lost to Toledo and gone 3-13 in Big Ten play. While no one has put a number on it, you’ve got to figure Michigan will need at least eight wins to keep Coach Rod from becoming a free agent.
The 40 Key Questions No. 1
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