Q: Should the NCAA ban the use of colored fields?
Wow! Sorry about that prolonged absence. I had no idea it had been this long since I last updated this site. At any rate, let's press on with some of the preseason questions regarding the college football scene.
If you haven't heard, Central Arkansas is getting a new field. And it's not a purple field. Well, sorta. It's actually a multicolored field with stripes of purple and silver. Yeah, and you thought Boise State and Eastern Washington were radical.
What many in the UCA community and the college football community at-large thought was a funny joke as this report was released on April Fool's Day, this turns out to be legit (unlike LSU's joke of a purple field a few years ago). Many outlets did confirm earlier this month that this was indeed a legit proposal and will take effect this season (I believe the installation may be underway right now).
This begs the question, is this the future of college football? I respect tradition as much as the next guy, but I am also a big fan of iconoclasts. Being iconoclastic for the sake of attention may not be held in as high esteem, but these schools are looking for something to latch on to and I won't begrudge them that. After all, Boise State's initial decision over 20 years ago to install blue turf has done wonders for their program. It feels like the fad is wearing thin, but the decision should be left up to the individual schools. Eventually if too many schools start doing it, attention-getting will not be a benefit of the switch.
I wonder what the ugliest fields would possibly be? Can you imagine Wyoming with a brown field? How about Oregon State with an orange field? UCLA or North Carolina with a powder blue field? Tennessee with the yellowish-orange? The possibilities are endless!
Questions? Links? (Insert Corny Joke About Being Mad About Something I Wrote)? E-Mail me at: email@example.com
Q: Should the NCAA ban the use of colored fields?
Q: Will the SEC be the Best Conference in 2011?
When people put their eggs all in one basket, usually things don't turn out as planned. Case in point, check out how the Big East did in the 2011 NCAA tournament. After all the hype, only two of the eleven teams made it into the Sweet 16 (and one of those was 11-seed Marquette). Granted, two second-round games were between Big East teams, but I think the point still stands. The SEC, even though they abused the Big 10 on New Year's, had a rather average bowl season, at least early. A 6-5 mark isn't anything to cry over, but the bottom end of the conference (which is where it is thought the strength of the conference comes from) was a paltry 1-4 in bowl games (counting Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia; leaving out the underrated Mississippi State).
Are there any conclusions we can derive from last year's bowl games though? Not really. It's a one-and-done for most of the teams involved and you can never purely assess the teams' psychological makeup heading into an exhibition game after a long lay off. Clearly, even though the SEC was fairly average compared to recent seasons' outputs, I can't think of any other conference that was quite as good last year. The Pac-10 was terrible with USC, UCLA, Cal, and Oregon State not holding up their end of the bargain. Arizona and Washington were nothing to write home about while Stanford and Oregon were great. The Big 12 had Texas losing a step to go along with an incredibly weak bowl showing (A&M getting blown out by LSU, Nebraska blown out by Washington, Baylor blown out by Illinois, Kansas State losing to Syracuse, Missouri losing to tailspinning Iowa). The Big 10 was completely invalidated for 2010 after New Year's. The Big East was mediocre as ever. And the ACC was the usual above-average ACC.
Without a lot of competition and after yet another year of domination in the recruiting rankings, I have to give the nod to the SEC yet again, but this year, more than any other in the last handful, will see the rise of a challenger somewhere. Florida is adjusting to a new coach, South Carolina will be South Carolina again (8-4ish), Kentucky will be Kentucky again, Vandy is going to struggle, Tennessee has a lot of work to do, Georgia will disappoint again more than likely, Ole Miss will remain in neutral, and Alabama will be breaking in a new QB. Not to mention last year's national champion, Auburn, will practically be fielding a different team next season with all of the departures.
Okay, so who is to challenge the SEC if there is to be a challenger? I think it's the Big 10. Yes, as a Michigan man maybe I'm a little biased, but a post-suspension Ohio State team will be as good as anybody in the nation. Michigan may learn how to play defense. Illinois is returning enough guys to be dangerous. Michigan State was a bit of a fraud last season, but very solid. Iowa will be your usual Iowa team. Wisconsin will pound the rock and likely be the favorites in the 2011 conference title chase. Add Nebraska to the mix and this looks like a conference that could pose a threat to the SEC.
So I'm a little non-committal on this question. If I were a betting man, ESPN will give the SEC an automatic pass thanks to their billion dollar partnership, but the bottom half of this conference will be all sorts of weak. Tennessee I think could easily be a top 15 team next season if Bray and the youngsters make the expected progress, but beyond that, Auburn will dip, Alabama will dip, Arkansas will dip without Mallett, while Florida and Georgia are in relative states of flux. Those are your usual conference powerhouses and none seem to be able to dominate the college football field this year. Could Mississippi State take advantage? Time will tell.
Q: Which team is most likely to be a top 25 dark horse near the end of the 2011 season?
Tulsa is going to be a hot pick to do a lot of damage this year. The reason being 19 starters come back, 10 on one of the nation's most potent offenses. However, there are a few set backs and reasons to be worried. First off, there's the schedule. The odds of Tulsa competing for a spot in the BCS are extremely slim considering they face Oklahoma and Boise State in the non-conference schedule on the road with a pretty solid Oklahoma State team tossed in for good measure. However, in C-USA, this is a team that will likely have a margin of victory hovering around 20+ points per game. Houston and SMU have to come to Skelly Stadium and for the rest of their slate, C-USA has notoriously put up some of the leakier defenses in the nation. Secondly, Todd Graham has abandoned ship and taken over the Pitt Panthers, so there will a bit of a transition with Bill Blankenship getting his first college head coaching job after building a powerhouse high school program at Union High, although Blakenship has been on this staff for the last three seasons. Just ask Todd Dodge how easy going from high school to college is.
But Tulsa put on an offensive fireworks show in their last game against Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl thanks to an uncharacteristic game from Moniz and the Warriors' run n' shoot, but it is momentum nonetheless. As mentioned, there is experience aplenty on the nation's 5th ranked total offense and 6th ranked scoring offense. Damaris Johnson is back as well and ready to return kicks and punts as well as being a stud as far as all-purpose yardage goes. While Houston and SMU will be very, very dangerous threats to win this division and/or finish in the top 25, I think Tulsa will roll through October and November with an undefeated conference record; that'll be impressive enough for them to enter the top 25 heading into bowl season.
Being a little late to the Tressel-bashing party, I can't help but feel like this whole thing is just an idiotic charade put on by the NCAA to maintain what they feel as "preserving the integrity of the game." A quick background on the matter, five Ohio State players (including DeVier Posey and Terrelle Pryor) sold their 2010 Rose Bowl memorabilia last year and purchased tattoos in exchange for the items. As it turns out via an e-mail, Tressel knew about the situation when he scolded them this January for putting the well-being of the team at risk. Conveniently enough, all five of the Ohio State guys involved in the situation were not suspended for the Sugar Bowl, a game in which the Bucks pulled out a squeaker in the last moments.
Because Tressel failed to notify the athletic director or anybody in the NCAA that matter (Tressel pled ignorance in saying he didn't know what the chain of command was), he was suspended for two games, but asked that he serve the same penalty as that of the players. The Sweater Vest will now miss four non-conference games (two being against Miami and Colorado) and the Big 10 opener against the Michigan State Spartans.
Big whoop. Does anybody care? Sure, the preaching that Tressel did during the press conferences before the Sugar Bowl to the players looks absolutely silly in light of these revelations. Here Tressel was, behind his feigned sense of dignity, telling the players that they need to make up for this mistake all the while being aware of the entire situation. So basically, he lied. A pretty slimy thing to do if you ask me.
However, the bigger issue as I see it is with the NCAA. Tressel lied for sure, but I take offense to the fact that the NCAA is creating these imaginary crimes and then basically forcing people like Jim Tressel to weave their way through the loopholes. Let's keep in mind, Dez Bryant didn't entirely get suspended two seasons ago for hanging out with Deion Sanders; he was suspended for lying about it. Why did he lie? Because of what he thought the NCAA Storm Troopers would do to him if he told the truth.
It's ridiculous in the first place to have this prohibition on selling materials. It's theirs; let them sell or keep the items if they wish. Even though they technically broke the rules, I don't care if they lie about it because this rule is completely inane and illegitimate in my eyes. The reason it is completely inane and illegitimate? Well, that would probably be because the NCAA makes so much money off of the backs of their student athletes. It's true that you may as well be paying student athletes (on scholarships) so that they don't wind up tens of thousands of dollars in debt and coming out of it with an education, but that's another matter for another day. The point is, the players are kept in a non-profiteering stranglehold and restricted from benefiting themselves, all the while the NCAA makes a ton of money and jersey sales, ticket sales, and all that jazz.
It was a good year in the Desert. Arizona, even though they ended the year on a sour note against Nebraska 33-0, exceeded most expectations. Most who saw the Wildcats making a bowl were thinking 6-6 was going to do it, and there was no shame in any of the four regular season losses. What are the odds that Stoops, now safe, can have a repeat-type season?
THE OFFENSE: It actually wasn't quite as good as previously thought to be. The offense in 2008 under the newly-hired Sonny Dykes managed to average 36 points per game whereas the 2009 version only 27 points a game. Yes there was that 70-0 win against Idaho and that shutout against Nebraska that may have tilted the scales, but overall it was less efficient. At the QB position, I think Nick Foles has the ability to bust out. While Foles has a good reputation as being the leader of an explosive offense (namely for those who saw him against Stanford), Foles was only ranked 70th in passing efficiency. Another year in the system and I expect that number to skyrocket. It also helps that David Douglas and Delashaun Dean are also returning at WR. Both have potential to be solid playmakers in the 2010 season along with juniors such as Juron Criner and David Roberts. So the receivers are set in their third year of the Dykes spread, what about the running backs? More than set, it appears. Nic Grigsby comes back for his senior season and should be the main focus of the offense. Grigsby has been the focus of the rushing game and the savior of said rushing game for the last 3 seasons and some thought he would leave for the NFL this year. He's joined by Keola Antolin who actually saw a diminished role from his 2008 to his 2009 season. However, Antolin still has a load of potential and this being his first year as an upperclassmen should see an increased pass-catching role and more handoffs. The offensive line was fantastic last season allowing only one sack per game, and while they have to replace the tackles, they return the interior in tact.
THE DEFENSE: This was a solid group in 2009. However, after finishing 25th in scoring defense, this team has to replace roughly 7 starters from a year ago. The most secure position on the field will be the pass rush for the 'Cats. Donald Horton and Earl Mitchell have moved on, but Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed will be back on the ends. Reed had a great 2008 season but was hampered with a mid-season injury, so having him healthy will try to maintain that sack total from a year ago. The linebacker corps is a big question mark heading into the year. C.J. Price has some experience in the systems, but has never started any meaningful games. R.J. Young also may get a shot as a sophomore in the starting rotation. Put simply, Xavier Kelly was kind of the anchor of the group when blitzing and is no longer there, so it may be a rough transition to generate pressure. CB Devin Ross was one of the biggest playmakers last season as a senior and without him in the secondary, the tackle production may slip. However, CB Trevin Wade will be returning, last year's leader in interceptions.
Sep. 4 at Toledo
Sep. 11 The Citadel
Sep. 18 Iowa
Oct. 2 California
Oct. 9 Oregon State
Oct. 16 at Washington State
Oct. 23 Washington
Oct. 30 at UCLA
Nov. 6 at Stanford
Nov. 13 USC
Nov. 20 at Oregon
Dec. 2 Arizona State
It is a bit interesting. The Pac-10 only can schedule 3 non-conference games as it stands, and while Toledo and The Citadel shouldn't be a problem, that home game against Iowa makes it very interesting. I think this is actually a very favorable schedule getting Arizona State, Washington, Oregon State, USC, and Cal all at home.
Don't Even Think About It:
Ehhhhh.....Maybe....: Iowa, USC, @ Oregon
Good/Probable Shot At It: @ Toledo, Citadel, Cal, Oregon State, @ Washington State, Washington, @ UCLA, @ Stanford, Arizona State
THE OUTLOOK: This is a good team. But I'm afraid that's all I have to say about the matter. Arizona isn't going to shock the world this year and make another Pac-10 run deep into November, but they will win another 6 or 7 games and try to keep building on the momentum they had created over the last two years. The offense will be above-average and the defense will try to solve some continuity issues in September, but even with the favorable schedule I think the potential defensive struggles will prevent them from hanging with USC and Oregon late in the year. They'll make it into a decent bowl and will then try to be better in 2011.
BOWL GAME?: Sun Bowl.
Arizona State Sun Devils
It's safe to say that Dennis Erickson is losing steam in Tempe. After a surprise run made in 2007 and a push for respectability, Arizona State has gone bowless the last two years marred by two 6-game losing streaks in the last two years. Is there hope for a change or will Arizona State change their head coach at the end of the year?
THE OFFENSE: There's not much to talk about here. Arizona State will be scratching their head regarding their QB situation, the RB situation is depleted by graduation, and the top two WRs from last year's team are gone. It's rebuilding time on this side of the ball and they'll try their hand at utilizing Noel Mazzone who has been hired all over the place. Mazzone will install a more no-huddleish, fast-pace type offense to try and light a spark under this team. At QB, I would say as a Michigan fan, Brock Osweiler all but has this job. He's battling Michigan-transfer Steven Threet who I honestly think has potential with his arm and that frame, but I doubt he'll figure it out any time soon. Don't mark me down as surprised if the Osweiler experiment fails miserably and Threet gets some looks past the midway point of the season, but Osweiler has the upside and the potential so he'll get the nod early on. The RB situation isn't quite as bad as I previously stated with Cameron Marshall, a sophomore with tons of talent, figuring to get the bulk of the work. Depth is an issue, but it will cease to be if James Morrison provides power running off of the bench. At receiver, it'll be Gerell Robinson and Kerry Taylor trying to provide the downfield threats, but my money is on former Oregon Duck Aaron Pflugrad as evolving into one of the top options. On the offensive line, watch out for redshirt freshman OT Evan Finkenberg who by all accounts has had a good spring and has gotten much bigger than when he first stepped on campus. Offensive line figures to be the strongest part of this offense, even though unfortunately LG John Hargis is out of the year with a torn ACL.
THE DEFENSE: Arizona State on defense was very solid. A surprise to many, the Sun Devils finished 13th in total defense and 26th in scoring defense a year ago. Every game besides Oregon and Stanford saw the Sun Devils D make it close enough to give the sputtering offensive a shot. The defensive end position will be decent with James Brooks returning and the interior looks great with All-Pac-10er Lawrence Guy the star up the middle. Also be careful of Saia Falahola whose production may be overshadowed by Guy this season, but proved himself last year a productive athlete. Juniors Brandon Magee and Shelly Lyons will try their hand at providing some strength at the LB positions, and they have shown some athletic ability even though they have not started in the past. Vontaze Burfict is an animal, and I say that as a compliment. Burfict showed he was everything hyped up to be and more and will serve as the foundation for this Arizona State defense. He's got everything at the linebacker position and as a sophomore, I'd expect his knowledge of the college game and his adjustment to the speed of the game will make him one of the top five linebackers or so in college overnight. The secondary was a strength last season and led by CBs Omar Bolden and Deveron Carr (who now has more experience), it should be once again.
Sept. 4 Portland State
Sept. 11 Northern Arizona
Sept. 18 at Wisconsin
Sept. 25 Oregon
Oct. 2 at Oregon State
Oct. 9 at Washington
Oct. 23 at California
Oct. 30 Washington State
Nov. 6 at USC
Nov. 13 Stanford
Nov. 26 UCLA
Dec. 2 at Arizona
I was disappointed to find two FCS schools on the slate, because with the depth of the Pac-10, probably the only way ASU was going bowling was at 6-6, but I digress. The road game at Wisconsin should be a very interesting one. The Pac-10 slate could be easier, but at least they get some winnable games at home like Stanford and UCLA. The rivalry game against Arizona will be played in Tuscon this year.
Don't Even Think About It:
Ehhhhh.....Maybe....: @ Wisconsin, Oregon, @ Washington, @ Cal, @ USC
Good/Probable Shot At It: Portland State, Northern Arizona, @ Oregon State, Washington State, Stanford, UCLA, @ Arizona
THE OUTLOOK: Arizona State is one of those teams where coming to a conclusion about them in the preseason always leaves me feeling queezy. I see potential here, but can they get lucky and surprise us once or twice during the season? Those two six-game losing streaks in the past two years have made Arizona State look like UTEP in those mid-season collapses. There's too many questions on offense with a lack of reliable receivers, mediocre QB play, and little depth at running back. The defense will be fine I think, but the change in offensive styles holds the key for ASU. If they can figure out a way to increase production with the faster paced offense, then 7-5 and a bowl game is a possibility. 6-6 won't cut it since only one FCS win can count towards bowl eligibility. I think we're looking at a 6-6 team with a 4-5 Pac-10 record.
BOWL GAME?: Nope.
This may be a different year for Troy. For a team that arguably underachieved considering their talent level in 2009, this will be a change for the Trojan program as they are not projected to be the best team in the Sun Belt for 2010 (or at least they are grouped with the contenders with no decisive favorite). Can Troy overcome this obstacle and win the Sun Belt yet again?
THE OFFENSE: The offense for Troy last season exploded onto the scene without much prior warning. The Trojans started off the year a bit cold against Bowling Green and Florida only scoring a combined 20 points, but beyond that point, the team never scored fewer than 27 in a game. Ranked 3rd in total offense and 4th in scoring offense a year ago, there will be a replacement at QB with Levi Brown off to try and make an NFL squad. Will it be Jamie Hampton's chance to shine? Hampton was planned to take over in 2008 when Brown took the job and never looked back. Hampton was able to sit out 2009 via redshirt, but will he be sharp in his return? The junior was relatively unimpressive when starting in '08, but maybe some more maturity will do him good. Corey Robinson, a redshirt freshman, will compete for the starting job if Hampton is weak. At running back, Troy has a very interesting situation. Without Brown hurling passes, the backfield has to be more present than in 2009, even though they provided decent production. DuJuan Harris will have the most experience as a senior and he was steady last year, but possibly the most dynamic option could come by way of sophomore Shawn Southward who saw more playing time late in the year with two 100+ yard games. Jerrel Jernigan is the star of the offense. With his diminutive stature, it's easy to overlook him, but he is a great downfield threat to go along with his running ability and YAC potential. I think the rest of the receiving corps could be an issue, but Tebiarus Gill showed some flashes last season and Brett Moncrief adds some depth coming in from junior college. Troy's offensive line isn't exactly a problem area, but they were mediocre last season and need to replace a few important pieces. Tyler Clark, last year's LG, will shift over to play C.
THE DEFENSE: This area drastically underachieved. With defensive ends such as Brandon Lang and Cameron Sheffield, the sack production and the plays made behind the line of scrimmage were great, but the secondary couldn't put that dominant pass rush to use. Filling for the departed Lang and Sheffield combination will be DEs Mario Addison and Jonathan Massaquoi. The duo has strong potential and will probably be adequate replacements. Bulk is an issue, and the rush defense will probably suffer for it. Riley Flowers is one of the bigger guys and will have to step it up at defensive tackle. The LB situation will also be depleted after Troy legends Bear Woods and Boris Lee have officially left. It'll be up to Xavier Lamb at MLB to try to replace the production as well as Donnell Golden at the OLB spot. The other outside spot is projected to be filled by Daniel Sheffield, but he is a little small for that side. He makes up for that with his athleticism, however. Nobody of note really returns in the porous secondary besides KeJuan Phillips who sat out due to academic suspension. Phillips is inexperienced, but was a projected starter for 2009. Hope is that Barry Valcin's switch from corner to safety will make for a more natural fit as well.
Sept. 4 Bowling Green
Sept. 11 at Oklahoma St
Sept. 18 at UAB
Sept. 25 Arkansas St
Oct. 5 at MTSU
Oct. 16 UL Lafayette
Oct. 30 at ULM
Nov. 6 at North Texas
Nov. 13 Florida International
Nov. 20 at South Carolina
Nov. 27 WKU
Dec. 4 at Florida Atlantic
Troy's notorious non-conference schedule of taking on the big boys has been scaled back somewhat. Still on the slate will be road dates against Oklahoma State and South Carolina, with rival UAB in September. The Sun Belt slate isn't anything to get worked up over, but road dates against Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic will be rough.
Don't Even Think About It:
Ehhhhh.....Maybe.....: @ Oklahoma State, @ South Carolina
Good/Probable Shot At It: Bowling Green, @ UAB, Arkansas State, @ MTSU, UL Lafayette, @ UL Monroe, @ North Texas, Florida International, Western Kentucky, @ Florida Atlantic
THE OUTLOOK: Troy may, or may not, win the Sun Belt this year. It's kind of a tossup between them, Middle Tennessee, and that inevitable third challenger that arises from the rest of the pack. The defense is a huge question mark after finishing 104th in total D a year ago even with the four stars, Sheffield, Lang, Lee, and Woods. Without them, things should be even more difficult, although some switches in the secondary may end the bleeding there. That could make more of a difference than we make it out to be. Also, the QB situation will sputter a bit at first whether the starter is Hampton or Robinson. Either way, this is Troy, who have stocked the cupboards full for just these types of occasions. The no-name defense will give rise to a couple of future stars, the QB production will be alleviated by Jernigan's playmaking skill and a more emphasized running game, and Troy will win 8 or 7 games. I'm predicting a second-place finish in the Sun Belt for 2010, but a bowl game is for certain.
BOWL GAME?: GMAC Bowl.
UAB is struggling as a program. In 2009, the team showed flashes of competitiveness, but couldn't close out the year with one more victory to gain bowl eligibility, stagnating at 5-7. Joe Webb is now out of eligibility, so where will the Blazers and Neil Callaway turn to now?
THE OFFENSE: As mentioned, the biggest issue currently for UAB is to find a replacement for Joe Webb. Webb was 6th in the nation in total offense and led the team in rushing by far, operating many spread option-type formations. The QB competition will most likely go down between David Isabelle and Bryan Ellis, with the edge going to Isabelle. Isabelle is an athlete much in the same mold as Webb (obviously not as potent); so even with a giant learning curve ahead of him, don't expect much to change in the offensive gameplan. RB Pat Shed has a real opportunity to shine in this offense. Without Webb, the RBs will certainly be more of a factor and in the spring, Shed outplayed the two seniors in the running to get the most touches in this offense, Daniel Borne and Justin Brooks. WR Frantrell Forrest ought to be the team's top target in 2010. At 6'2 and weighing in at almost 200 pounds, he has a solid frame and should help Isabelle get more comfortable at throwing the ball downfield. Also contributing in the receiving department will be Jeffery Anderson at TE. Anderson is one of the premier college TEs this season and is getting some looks from pro scouts. The offensive line was relatively average last season, even with a scrambler like Webb. This group in 2010 has to be more consistent with an inexperienced QB behind center.
THE DEFENSE: It was rough. Last year, the Blazers finished with the worst pass defense in the nation, clocking in at giving up over 310 yards per game. The good news is that UAB will return 10 starters from last year's defense, so there is some hope for improvement. While lacking raw talent, at least this unit can fall back a little bit on experience and depth. Anchoring the defensive line is DE Bryant Turner. Turner led the team in sacks with 6 last year and will try to provide a pass rush to help the abused secondary. Derek Slaughter and Elliot Henigan also provide experience to the group. LB Marvin Burdette probably has the most potential in the LB group, starting all 12 games and registering tackles in 11 of them, but Lamanski Ware led the group in tackles for 2009. The beleaguered defensive backfield returns the talented safety leader Hiram Atwater, who is back for his senior year. Atwater is one of those players who can do it all at the safety spot, tackle, cover, and he has a good knowledge of the defensive scheme. Terrell Springs will be the number one corner back and should provide some stability there. This isn't a fantastic secondary, but it shouldn't be the worst in the nation with Springs and Atwater patrolling the area.
Sep. 4 Florida Atlantic
Sep. 11 at SMU
Sep. 18 Troy
Sep. 25 at Tennessee
Oct. 6 at UCF
Oct. 16 UTEP
Oct. 23 at Mississippi State
Oct. 30 at Southern Miss
Nov. 6 Marshall
Nov. 11 ECU
Nov. 20 Memphis
Nov. 27 at Rice
The schedule doesn't look that difficult on the surface, but it is deceptive. Non-conference games against fellow non-BCSers Florida Atlantic and rival Troy should be hard games to come away with wins, even with them being at home. They also get road dates against Tennessee and Mississippi State. The draw from C-USA West is so-so with SMU, UTEP, and Rice.
Don't Even Think About It: @ Tennessee
Ehhhhh.....Maybe....: @ SMU, Troy, @ UCF, @ Mississippi State, @ Southern Miss, ECU
Good/Probable Shot At It: Florida Atlantic, UTEP, Marshall, Memphis, @ Rice
THE OUTLOOK: UAB's 2010 season hinges on a couple things. Firstly, Isabelle has to produce. The gaping hole left by Joe Webb simply can't be duplicated by the sophomore, so will it be the RBs who pick up the slack? It's hard to say. The defense can't be giving up 455 yards per game like they did last season, and it's safe to say that it will at least become marginally better with the experience on the defensive side of the ball. That being said, this team went 4-4 in conference play with Webb, and I'd say it's likely this team goes 2-6 in conference play without Webb. The reason you have to keep bringing up Webb in this discussion is the fact that he was that irreplaceable and there was no bowl game to show for it. I'd guess UAB probably will go 3-9 or 4-8 in 2010, and that probably won't be good enough for Callaway to stay.
BOWL GAME?: Nope.
With all of this conference talk going on, I thought I'd give my take on what the college football landscape will look like in about 2 or 3 years. Nobody knows what is going on. Texas A&M wants to join the SEC. The Pac-10 wants to use teams from the Midwest. The Big 10 wants to go from New Jersey to Missouri. The Big East wants Kansas. It's mayhem, folks.
This is my guesstimate of what college football will look like in 2011 or 2012:
Here's my guess:
3. Oregon State
7. Washington State
3. Oklahoma State
4. Texas A&M
5. Texas Tech
7. Arizona State
1. Ohio State
3. Penn State
4. Michigan State
4. West Virginia
5. South Carolina
5. Ole Miss
6. Mississippi State
7. Kansas (mainly for basketball)
ACC Stays the same, but could add ECU, UCF, or UConn or something to expand to 14 teams. I think there's also a chance, to bolster basketball, that the ACC looks into grabbing Syracuse and Connecticut from the Big East. Not sure what that would entail for the Big East and the Big 10.
Big East (auto BCS bid revoked)
8. Villanova (maybe in the future)
10. Southern Miss
Mountain West (now a BCS conference)
2. Iowa State
4. Kansas State
7. Colorado State
8. Air Force
1. Boise State
4. Fresno State
7. New Mexico
8. San Diego State
WAC (looks more like the circa-2000 WAC between C-USA remainders and remaining schools)
3. New Mexico State
4. Wyoming (booted from MWC)
5. San Jose State
6. Utah State
10. North Texas (really a shot in the dark, but I think the WAC will want to even it out and it would help the Sun Belt align itself with even divisions. This would take place before the 2013 season when the Sun Belt accepts Southern Alabama as a member)
MAC Stays the same, C-USA is deleted.
2. Florida Atlantic
3. Florida International
5. Southern Alabama
6. Arkansas State (yes, I know it is more westward than MTSU and WKU, but the conference probably doesn't want to split that budding rivalry up)
1. Middle Tennessee
2. Western Kentucky
3. UL Lafayette
4. UL Monroe
6. Louisiana Tech
The Big 12's funeral is being planned for sometime soon, after Colorado agrees to join the Pac-10 and Nebraska pretty much is headed towards the Big 10. The Big 12 will desperately try to hang on to Missouri and probably attempt to replace Colorado and Nebraska with two of the three: BYU, Utah, or TCU. Of course, this expansion depends on whether or not the Big 12 fully collapses and loses the Big 12 South to the Pac-10. It's interesting to say the least.
I think Colorado makes a good fit in the Pac-10, but of course we're yet to see whether or not this is the last of their expansion. Probably not.
Alabama Crimson Tide
The job isn't over yet. Alabama won the 2009 season title, sure, but the lingering drive to win another one must be there. With the Colt McCoy injury, the talk of the town was, "sure Bama was a good team, but we'll never really know whether or not they were better than Texas with McCoy." The holdovers still have something to shoot for, a second straight title and one that most people will count.
THE OFFENSE: As of right now, things are on the up and up. At quarterback, the biggest question coming into last year was how Nick Saban would replace John Parker Wilson. The answer to that question, Greg McElroy, seemed unconvincing at the time, but it was good for an SEC title, an undefeated record, and a national championship. With efficiency being his main goal, McElroy managed a decent season of 17 TDs to only 4 picks. However, Saban will be looking to expand the role of the passing game this year and would like to see McElroy eclipse 300 yards passing at least once, something he didn't do all of last year. The running backs are absolutely set with Mark Ingram and the extremely underrated Trent Richardson backing him up. Ingram obviously won the Heisman trophy and is an impressive, humble individual to boot. My baseless guess is that Ingram will see some of his burden lifted and placed on Richardson and the passing game so he doesn't wear out early. Julio Jones' sophomore season was a colossal disappointment in the Arrelious Benn mold before he broke out against Auburn. Jones caught 15 fewer passes than his freshman season and was short about 350 yards as well. The output was similar since Jones sat out against North Texas and it was safe to say that near the end of the year he was getting back in the groove, but it's all about how comfortable he is with McElroy. I expect a better rapport between the two and Marquis Maze is another WR who has breakout potential in this offense. The offensive line gets 3 returning starters including LT James Carpenter, but the youth on the line looks promising.
THE DEFENSE: Now we run into some issues. While the offense will keep plugging away and producing, the defense has some holes. Only two starters return with only one projected senior starter in DE Luther Davis. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was being lured away to Georgia, but he became the highest paid assistant coach this offseason. Kirby has a lot of youth to work with which bodes well for the future, but if the unit doesn't gel in time, there could be early issues. The defensive line will pretty much be fine with the underrated Marcell Dareus finally getting his shot at a starting DE spot. Josh Chapman at NT will be attempting to fill in the shoes of Terrance Cody who won't be around to block Tennessee field goals anymore. He's a strong dude who shouldn't have too many issues. The face of the green defense will probably be sophomore LB Dont'a Hightower who is coming off of an ACL tear and appears to be very healthy. Hightower has the speed and athleticism of a lot of SEC linebackers and could be an all-conference selection at the end of the year, if/when healthy. The rest of the linebacking situation is in flux right now, but Saban plans to rotate a lot of guys who are in the mix. The secondary is definitely the biggest hole on the team right now, with S Mark Barron being the only returning starter. Guys at corner like Dre Kirkpatrick and B.J. Scott have tremendous upside, but lack experience only being sophomores.
Sep. 4 San Jose State
Sep. 11 Penn State
Sep. 18 at Duke
Sep. 25 at Arkansas
Oct. 2 Florida
Oct. 9 at South Carolina
Oct. 16 Ole Miss
Oct. 23 at Tennessee
Nov. 6 at LSU
Nov. 13 Mississippi State
Nov. 20 Georgia State
Nov. 26 Auburn
It's an interesting slate. I love the Penn State/Alabama matchup as that should send thrills up the spine of some of the old-schoolers. I have a gut feeling that the road game against Duke will wind up being more interesting than it should. The SEC road slate hands Bama dates at Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, and LSU, but it could be worse.
Don't Even Think About It:
Good/Probable Shot At It: The entire schedule.
THE OUTLOOK: The outlook for the Crimson Tide goes as follows: Take care of business, and you'll be in Glendale by January. It's a lot easier said than done though getting through the SEC unscathed, but the two main issue areas are the offensive line and the secondary. Both units are young, sure, but most of all they show enormous promise. And while I generally don't pick a team to repeat an appearance in the national title game, my money is on Alabama this fall winning all or all but one game and finding their way back into the title game with another SEC title in their pocket.
BOWL GAME?: BCS Championship.
An interesting year, a new offense, some clunker games along the way, and capped off with a bowl victory in a wacky game against Northwestern. There are plenty of things to get excited about down on The Plains, but for Gene Chizik, things are heating up a bit. The intrastate rival Alabama basking in the glory of a championship, the expectations will turn up a notch on Auburn very, very soon.
THE OFFENSE: What else can you say about Gus Malzahn? This is a guy that turned around the Tiger offense from 110th in scoring offense under Tommy Tuberville to 17th in the span of one year, mostly with the same athletes at the helm. After Tony Franklin was ditched the year previous to last, Malzahn effectively implemented the spread under Chizik. But now without Chris Todd and without Ben Tate, who will be the new stars? At QB, it's a derby of epic proportion between the big prospect Cameron Newton, senior and well-polished Neil Caudle, and the exciting playmaker-type Tyrik Rollison. Although it sounds like a big competition, Newton has to be the de facto starter, at least entering the year. There's too much potential to bench him for long. The running back spot has some returning experience with Onteno McCalebb and Mario Fannin, some younger guys who saw plenty of time playing with Tate in this offense. At WR, I'm looking for the pictured Darvin Adams to absolutely bust out. I'm talking 1200 yardsish. Adams ranked 34th last season in receiving yards per game. Terrell Zachery and former QB Kodi Burns will also be featured on the offense. The veteran offensive line led by OT Lee Ziemba could cut down on some of the sacks, but things should be better in 2010.
THE DEFENSE: Auburn had one of the worst units in the SEC last season, so things need to improve or else they could be in for another so-so year in SEC play. Giving up roughly 375 yards per game isn't going to cut it against teams like Alabama and Arkansas this season. Auburn gets 8 starters from last year's unit back, so that's at least a positive sign. The two biggest stars from last year's group, Walter McFadden and Antonio Coleman, are gone. But the defensive line will still have Mike Blanc and Antoine Carter to build around for some sort of a pass rush/run-stopping combination. The linebackers look very promising heading into this year with Craig Stevens, Josh Bynes, and Eltoro Freeman all returning. Darren Bates will shift over from safety and play a little bit of linebacker as well. Bates was a standout last year as a freshman, but the secondary will try to get better. Zac Etheridge at safety should be the leader of that group. For being a heralded defensive guru coming into both Auburn and Iowa State, Chizik's groups have underperformed and with the athleticism of this team on defense, there shouldn't be any excuses not to see an improvement.
Sept. 4 Arkansas State
Sept. 9 at Mississippi State
Sept. 18 Clemson
Sept. 25 South Carolina
Oct. 2 UL Monroe
Oct. 9 at Kentucky
Oct. 16 Arkansas
Oct. 23 LSU
Oct. 30 at Ole Miss
Nov. 6 Chattanooga
Nov. 13 Georgia
Nov. 26 at Alabama
The non-conference schedule isn't that difficult again. Arkansas State, UL Monroe, and Chattanooga should be three automatic wins, but the non-conference date with Clemson will be very interesting. The draw from the East isn't bad at all with South Carolina, Kentucky, and Georgia being the three teams. The Iron Bowl this year will be played in Tuscaloosa.
Don't Even Think About It:
Ehhhhh.....Maybe.....: Clemson, LSU, @ Alabama
Good/Probable Shot At It: Arkansas State, @ Mississippi State, South Carolina, UL Monroe, @ Kentucky, Arkansas, @ Ole Miss, Chattanooga, Georgia
THE OUTLOOK: I'd keep an eye on Auburn. The offense will at least keep them in games. The Tigers managed 29 scoring drives in under two minutes last season, but I wonder if that has any bearing on the defense? Tulsa turned the tempo down a bit and while they were a worse off team without Malzahn, the defense became noticeably better. Auburn's defense last season may have been getting a little too gassed. However, this team isn't going to be a in a position to compete for the SEC West and the potent no-huddle offense will at least give them an identity. As long as Cameron Newton manages the offense, this is a team that could see a one-game improvement over 2009 and finish the year 8-4.
BOWL GAME?: Gator Bowl.