Preview 2010 - The 40 Key Questions No. 11-20
Texas' Garrett Gilbert & Florida's John Brantley
Texas' Garrett Gilbert & Florida's John Brantley
Posted Aug 13, 2010

Who has the biggest shoes to fill, Florida's John Brantley or UT's Garrett Gilbert? Is this Joe Paterno's final season? Will Nebraska take another step forward? Will LSU rebound? Who's going to win the ACC? Richard Cirminiello answers these questions or more in part three of the 40 Key Questions of 2010.

Preview 2010 ... Turning 40 

The Key Questions For 11-20

By Richard Cirminiello

The 40 Key Questions
No. 1 to 10 | No. 21 to 30 | No. 31 to 40

20. Is Dave Wannstedt poised to win his first Big East title as the Pittsburgh head coach?

Preseason voters who made the Panthers a near unanimous choice sure think so. It's taken five methodical years for the coach to build up to this point, where the school has depth on both lines and as much talent as anyone in the conference. To its credit, Pitt will boast both the league's best offensive and defensive player, RB Dion Lewis and DE Greg Romeus, respectively. There's also a quality cast supporting the stars, like WR Jonathan Baldwin, LT Jason Pinkston, DE Jabaal Sheard, and S Dom DeCicco. There's one tiny little problem. Actually, one Tino little problem. Sophomore Tino Sunseri takes over under center with just 17 career pass attempts on his resume.

19. Is Miami poised to take the next leap forward in Randy Shannon's fourth year at the helm?

The coach might be ready to reap the rewards after meticulously laying each brick in the new foundation since accepting this promotion. He has the talent, which has rarely been the issue for the ‘Canes. Now he just needs more consistency on both sides of the ball, but especially from turnover-prone QB Jacory Harris. Don't forget that this is a school that opened 5-1 a year ago, beating Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Oklahoma, and climbing into the Top 10. Its final three losses were by an average of just six points, so this program is not that far away from breaking through in a big way.

18. Is there a bigger jump ball for a league crown than in the ACC?

Everyone has issues this season, and presumably a crack at a conference title and the BCS bowl berth that goes along with it. Parity is the buzzword in the ACC these days. Seven of the dozen teams have legitimate hopes of vying for a spot in the final Top 25. In the Atlantic Division, Florida State, Clemson, and Boston College believe they'll be in Charlotte on Dec. 4. Over in the Coastal, have fun trying to find the separation between Virginia Tech, Miami, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina. It's nominal, which means a break here or a bad bounce there could be the difference between the Orange Bowl and the Meineke Bowl. The ACC may not have a national title contender, but its race to a title could be as entertaining as any other this fall.

17. So what's up with LSU?

Under Les Miles, the Tigers were the winners of the 2007 BCS national championship. Since then? Just 17-9 and an improbable 8-8 in SEC games. Neither mark is even close to cutting it in Baton Rouge. Making matters worse, this year's edition doesn't appear capable of breaking the recent trend or narrowing the gap on Alabama in the West Division. Heck, Arkansas and Auburn might be about to pull even with LSU. Although the team has players and former top recruits, there's little that stands out as exceptional and the offense is littered with question marks. If the Tigers fail to gain any traction for a third straight year, expect things to become very uncomfortable for Miles.

16. Will Nebraska make the next leap forward under Bo Pelini?

Considering where the program was at when he replaced Bill Callahan, Pelini has done a terrific job in two seasons, going 20-8 and making the Huskers relevant in the Big 12 once again. Nebraska enters 2010 on the brink of the top 10 and a heavy favorite to win the North Division, but can it get over the hump by surpassing South heavyweights Texas and Oklahoma? That's the obvious next hurdle for Pelini & Co. Even without Ndamukong Suh, the defense ought to be surly, leaving the offense to carry more weight than in recent seasons. More specifically, it's incumbent on one of the quarterbacks, either senior Zac Lee, sophomore Cody Green, or redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez, to stabilize a passing attack that ranked 101st nationally in 2009.

15. What can Florida State expect in the first year since the mid-1970s without Bobby Bowden?

No doubt it'll be a little strange in Tallahassee this fall without Bowden, who's been supplanted by former coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher. While it was clearly time for a change, it'll be hard not to miss the charm and drawl that Bowden brought to the game for so many years. Fisher, who was greatly influenced by his time with Nick Saban at LSU, will run a process-oriented program and pay close attention to every detail that might impact success. If you're not accountable, you're not going to play. You can also expect to see more of an up-tempo in all facets of the program, from the way the ‘Noles practice to the way they hit the recruiting trail.

14. Is this the final year of Joe Paterno's storied career in Happy Valley?

If it's not the last one, it sure looks as if it's the next to last. After 44 seasons as the head coach of Penn State—and six decades overall with the program—JoePa still has the passion and the drive to win football games and impact the lives of young men. However, 83 is 83, which is another way of saying that even legends must eventually contend with Father Time. Plus, those wintry outdoor games in November are tough for a man his age to endure for four hours. Make it a point to soak in one of the legends of American coaching, regardless of the sport, because you never know if this could be his victory lap through college football.

13. If Paterno is winding down, who has the best shot of being his final quarterback?

In terms of personnel, this is going to be the operative question around State College for the foreseeable future. If the Nittany Lions had, say Darryl Clark for another year, they'd be right in the mix with Iowa and Wisconsin, challenging to dethrone Ohio State. However, from Clark Penn State goes to a collection of unproven players with virtually no experience between them. Last year's backup, Kevin Newsome, has a slight edge over former walk-on Matt McGloin, but nothing is set in stone. And it'd be foolish to count out true freshmen Paul Jones and Robert Bolden, whose own battle could be for a lot more than just tomorrow. Shame on current Delaware QB Pat Devlin, who would have gotten the ball had he not scurried out of town at the end of 2008 after being passed by Clark.

12. Has there been a more inspirational story over the last decade than the one being authored by Boston College LB Mark Herzlich?

That's a rhetorical. Keep the Puffs nearby the first time No. 94 trots on the field the first time since being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer a little over a year ago. It'll be tough for anyone to suppress emotions. Herzlich has made a remarkable recovery from Ewing's Sarcoma, targeting the opener for his return to the Eagles. Even more than the physical recovery, he's shown uncommon poise, grace, and resolve throughout this unexpected turn of events. In an offseason marked by some of the more unsavory individuals surrounding the sport, Herzlich stands to be the poster boy for all that's good and admirable in today's student-athletes.

11. Who has bigger shoes to fill, John Brantley in Gainesville or Garrett Gilbert in Austin?

It's Brantley, but both first-time starting quarterbacks are succeeding legends, Tim Tebow in Florida and Colt McCoy at Texas. While it's no small chore, it's worth noting that both heir apparents were mega-recruits coming out of high school. Brantley is a 6-3, 218-pound junior from Ocala (Fla.), with an NFL arm and enough time in this system to hit the ground running without a hitch. Gilbert is a strong-armed 6-4, 212-pounder from Austin, who acquitted himself well in the second half of the national championship game with Alabama. Both are loaded with physical ability, but how smooth the transition goes will depend on how they navigate the marquee match ups on the 2010 schedule.

The 40 Key Questions
No. 1 to 10 | No. 21 to 30 | No. 31 to 40