Sunday, August 31, 2008

This Date in College Football History


Aug. 31, 1934: In the inaugural Chicago College All-Star Football Game at Solider Field, the College All-Stars stun a sell-out crowd of 79,432 by playing the NFL champion Chicago Bears to a scoreless tie. The game remained a tradition until 1976.

Credit: The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame

Injuries Sideline Key Players

OHIO STATE RB BEANIE WELLS HEARS POP
An eerie silence descended on Ohio Stadium when Ohio State's Heisman Trophy prospect Chris "Beanie" Wells went down with a foot injury in the third quarter of the second-ranked Buckeyes' 43-0 victory over Youngstown State on Saturday. "First and foremost, you really can't replace Beanie," wide receiver Brian Robiskie said. The star tailback was hurt in the third quarter after taking a handoff from Todd Boeckman on first and goal at the Youngstown State 2. His feet slipped underneath him as he planted to make a cut, with the ball rolling free as he hit the turf. Wells was helped off the field, and later returned to the bench in the fourth quarter wearing a boot on his right foot. "I may have rolled it or planted wrong a play or two before," Wells said through Ohio State spokeswoman Shelly Poe. "Something just didn't feel right. Then I think I felt a pop. But the X-rays are OK, so we'll see how it feels in a day or two." Before the injury, Wells ran for 111 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown run. Boeckman tossed two touchdown passes and freshman quarterback phenom Terrelle Pryor looked solid in his college debut.

GEORGIA DT OWENS LIKELY OUT FOR SEASON
Georgia suffered a potentially serious injury, losing starting defensive tackle Jeff Owens to a right knee injury in the opening quarter. He did not return. Owens' status will be determined by tests, including an MRI, but Richt said it could be a season-ending. "I doubt he'll be playing anytime soon," Richt said. "It was sad and I went in there and saw him at halftime." Owens has not had a redshirt season, so he could return in 2009 if he has to miss the rest of the year. "He'll probably be stronger next year and he'll be in better condition if in fact he has to go through that type of rehab," Richt said. Owens, a senior, started all 13 games last season and had 27 tackles. The loss of Owens cut into Georgia's depth on its defensive front. Backup Kade Weston was held out of the game with a sprained knee.

MISSOURI WR MACLIN SUFFERS ANKLE INJURY

Jeremy Maclin, who finished with 234 all-purpose yards, lost his balance while running a pattern away from the play. He covered his face with a towel while being carted off the field from the Missouri sideline. He returned to the sidelines on crutches and still in uniform, his foot wrapped in ice, but the team said X-rays showed no damage. "It's a scary moment when an impact player like that goes down," said quarterback Chase Daniel, 26-for-45 for 323 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. "He'll be out practicing Tuesday. He's fine." Maclin had a 99-yard kickoff return and 45-yard punt return before leaving in the fourth quarter with a sprained left ankle in No. 6 Missouri's 52-42 victory over No. 20 Illinois on Saturday night.

Photo Credit: SEC Sports Media

Saturday, August 30, 2008

This Date in College Football History


Aug. 30, 1997: In Morgantown, West Virginia defeats Marshall 42-31 in the first meeting between the intrastate rivals since 1923. The Thundering Herd, led by future Heisman trophy finalists Randy Moss and Chad Pennington (1999 NFF Draddy Trophy winner) are turned away in the team's return to Division I-A.

Credit: The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame

Two for (No.) One


By KENNY FRANEK

Two straight Big Ten Conference championships, two straight National Championship game losses for the Buckeyes. Being dominant in the Big Ten but getting dominated by the SEC does not sit right with this year’s Buckeyes team. If Jim Tressel and his team would like to reverse their fortunes (in national championship games), then they may want to take a page out of the books of the last two teams to beat them in the title game; Florida and LSU.

The thing Florida and LSU had in common that Ohio State did not have was the implementation of a two quarterback system. Last year LSU utilized Ryan Perrilloux and Matt Flynn. The year before, Florida utilized Chris Leak and a Heisman Trophy winner named Tim Tebow. Both sets of quarterbacks possessed two facets of the game that are truly hard to find in one quarterback; the ability to run and the ability to stand in the pocket and deliver. For LSU, Perrilloux was the one with the ability to get out of the pocket and make plays. He rushed for over 200 yards on the season while scoring two touchdowns. Flynn, on the other hand, gave LSU its pocket passing presence, throwing for over 2,400 yards and 21 touchdowns. Florida had Chris Leak as their pocket passer and Tim Tebow playing the role of out of the pocket playmaker.

Both teams not only had dominating seasons using this system, but they also played like champions in the BCS title game against OSU. Ohio State now has a chance to use this system during the upcoming season. They have a freshman quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, who is regarded as the number one prospect coming out of high school. His play resembles that of Michael Vick and Vince Young; a very gifted playmaker with the ability to make something happen when the pocket collapses. They also have veteran senior quarterback, Todd Boeckman, a solid pocket passer. This may be the last chance for Ohio State to show that they can get things right--that they can not only get to a title game and avoid getting blown out, but actually win the game and the title.

If they should happen to meet another SEC foe in that game, the chance to give their former conquerors a taste of their own medicine would make it even sweeter. Only time will tell how much Tressel will use this system this upcoming year, but it may be his only option to get restore their recently blemished name.

CFI RANKINGS: #1 OHIO ST. BUCKEYES

2007 RECORD: 11-2; BIG TEN: 7-1
Lost BCS Championship Game vs. LSU 38-24
LOCATION: Columbus, Ohio
STADIUM: Ohio Stadium (102,329)
HEAD COACH: Jim Tressel
OVERALL: 208-73-2 (22 seasons)
AT OHIO ST.: 73-16 (7 seasons)

The last two seasons Jim Tressel has led his Buckeyes all the way to the BCS Championship game, only to be thrashed by an SEC team each time. Several players seriously considered declaring for the NFL draft, going so far as to send their names to the NFL for evaluation. Ultimately, only Vernon Gholston made the jump. Whether they didn’t like their grade or the call of a potential National Championship was too strong to pass up, the return of several key senior starters makes OSU the team to beat.

WHEN THE BUCKS HAVE THE BALL

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Jim Bollman (8th Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 9
KEY LOSSES: Kirk Barton

Lost in last season’s run was the outstanding job by signal caller Todd Boeckman. He was taking over a team that had lost in the BCS Championship game the previous season and for Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith. Boeckman rallied the troops and brought them to the brink of a national championship. He has a good arm and is a better athlete than he’s given credit for. Eight Buckeyes caught 10 or more passes a year ago and all eight are back, led by senior Brian Robiskie. The son of a coach, Robiskie runs crisp routes, has reliable hands, and plays faster than his 40-time. Four of five blockers return along the line, led by senior LT Alex Boone. He possesses the size and mobility to protect the QB and lead the way in the rushing attack, which leads us to the focal point of Ohio St.’s offensive attack. Junior TB Chris “Beanie” Wells tops several Heisman lists and depending on how many touches he receives, Wells could make a run at 2,000 yards. The fact that legendary Buckeye Archie Griffin would even mention Beanie’s name in the same breath as Jim Brown’s tells you all you need to know about this tailback.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) QB RB Chris Wells (JR), 2) OT Alex Boone (SR)

WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Jim Heacock (4th Season/13th at OSU)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 9
KEY LOSSES: Vernon Gholston, Larry Grant

The two players that surprised the NFL the most by returning were MIKE James Laurinaitis and cover corner Malcolm Jenkins—a duo that many had slotted as first round picks. Their time will come, but not before they try to capture a third straight Big Ten title. Laurinaitis is a speedy playmaker who can do it all—stop the run, get after the quarterback, and drop into coverage. Not too far behind is fellow senior Marcus Freeman, who possesses excellent size and speed. He may be overshadowed, but Freeman is one of the top linebackers in the Big Ten, if not the country. Jenkins leads a stellar and experienced secondary. The senior corner can lock people down or drop into a zone and read the QBs eyes. He is a solid tackler and can play some safety if need be. That shouldn’t be too much of an issue with returning starters Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell manning the safety positions. Keep an eye on sophomore Chimdi Chekwa, the next in the line of outstanding Buckeye corners. Up front, they will miss Gholston’s pass-rushing ability, but may have the answer in Lawrence Wilson if the senior can return to 100 percent. The top talent along the line is sophomore end Cameron Heyward, who is both powerful and quick—another star in the making.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) CB Malcolm Jenkins (SR), 2) LB James Laurinaitis (SR)

THE SCHEDULE


With the Big Ten down, many view the Buckeyes as having a one-game season. Go into the Coliseum and beat the USC Trojans on their field and OSU can punch their ticket to a third straight title appearance. Is it that simple? Of course not. Is that their biggest game of the year? You can bet your bottom dollar. In the Big Ten they still have to play Wisconsin, Penn St., Illinois and Michigan, all of whom are ranked, thank you very much. Illinois knocked them off last season in Columbus and Madison is never an easy place to go to. In 2003, No. 23 Wisconsin knocked off the No. 3 ranked Buckeyes—the two schools have not squared off the last two seasons. Another potential road bump is a trip to East Lansing to take on an improved Spartans squad.

PIVOTAL POINT

The Regular Season: Yes, this is the part of the schedule that the Buckeyes have conquered in each of the past two seasons. However, any athlete will tell you one of the most difficult things to do is understand that you do not start where you left off the previous year, especially when you’ve come so close to reaching the pinnacle. Ohio St. did exactly that last season…can they do it again? James Laurinaitis leads a group of players who dabbled with the idea of jumping to the NFL, but ultimately decided to return to Columbus. The Butkus and Bednarik Award winner can say that they did not return just to finish the job, but winning the title has to be on their minds. They have the team to it, as long as they follow the coach’s cliché and take it one game at a time.

CFI FINAL ANALYSIS

It can only be about the title for the Buckeyes this season—there are no more moral victories. They return nine starters on both sides of the ball from a team that made the BCS Championship for a second straight season. It is time to get out there again and, this time, finish the job. In “Beanie” Wells they have a difference maker who can elevate an already great team to even higher levels. Expect Boeckman to be better in his second year as starter and their defense to be even more dominant. This is the year Tressel claims his second national title.

Photo Credit: Collegiate Images

Friday, August 29, 2008

This Date in College Football History


Aug. 29, 1998: At Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. a crowd of 76,021 watches the Eddie Robinson Classic. Nebraska beats Louisiana Tech 56-27 in the debut of new Huskers head coach Frank Solich. Bulldogs' Troy Edwards sets an NCAA game record by catching 21 passes for 405 yards and three touchdowns.

Credit: The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame

CFI RANKINGS: #2 GEORGIA BULLDOGS

2007 RECORD: 11-2; SEC: 6-2
Won Sugar Bowl vs. Hawaii 41-10
LOCATION: Athens, Georgia
STADIUM: Sanford Stadium (92,746)
HEAD COACH: Mark Richt
OVERALL: 72-19 (7 seasons)
AT GEORGIA: 72-19 (7 seasons)

The Dawgs enter the season atop both polls, but their elevation to the top of the football world began long before anyone put pen to paper to vote this summer. The public began viewing Georgia differently last season, when they took it to the Florida Gators, and it had nothing to do with the much-ballyhooed end zone celebration. The shift in perception was about going toe-to-toe with the defending National Champs and future Heisman Trophy winner, then leaving zero doubt as to who the best team was that day. The Bulldogs were ranked 20th before beating the Gators and jumped to No. 10 following that win. They continued to move up until they reached No. 1 in the preseason polls.

WHEN THE DAWGS HAVE THE BALL

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Mike Bobo (2nd Season/8th at UGA)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 8
KEY LOSSES: Thomas Brown, Sean Bailey, Chester Adams, Fernando Velasco, Trinton Sturdivant

Matthew Stafford is the most talented pocket passer in the college game and if his production matches his raw ability, the junior signal caller can take this offense to new heights. Stafford can spray passes across the field the field with ease--starting corner Asher Allen says only the JUGS machine throws the ball harder. To take that next step in his development, Stafford needs to become more accurate and push his completion percentage from 55.7 percent to over 60 percent. The easiest connection he will make—and arguably the most effective—is a handoff to super sophomore Knowshon Moreno. The New Jersey product isn’t the biggest or fastest back, but don’t tell that to the defenders he has run by or run over. Moreno plays the game at his own pace and is able to energize the entire unit. Don’t be surprised if the Dawgs look to a pair of freshman skill players in TB Caleb King and WR A.J. Green to be difference makers this season. The Achilles heel is the offensive line. They suffered through some growing pains last year with Trinton Sturdivant, Chris Davis and Josh Davis starting as freshmen. That maturation process was supposed to pay dividends in 2008, but with Sturdivant out for the season, they are scrambling for starters along the line once again.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) QB Matthew Stafford (JR), 2) RB Knowshon Moreno (SO)

WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Willie Martinez (2nd Season/8th at UGA)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 8
KEY LOSSES: Marcus Howard, Kelin Johnson, Thomas Flowers

The Georgia defense is overlooked, but truth be told, the defense is the strength of this team. Traditionally, the best defenses “Between the Hedges” start up front and in the middle, which is the heart of this defense. Senior Jeff Owens and junior Geno Atkins are two of the better tackles in the game; each can penetrate, each can occupy multiple blockers. Behind them is the soul of this defense in linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Rennie Curran. Ellerbe mans the middle and after a pair of disappointing seasons, this talented tackler finally broke through as a junior. He can cover sideline-to-sideline, as can his second year cohort Curran, who has lived up to his billing from day one. They have a solid, experienced secondary with cover corner Asher Allen, hard-hitting SS C.J. Byrd and FS Reshad Jones, a superstar in the making. Coming off the edge and hoping to help the DBs will be pass-rushers Jeremy Lomax (Sr.) and Roderick Battle (Jr.). Freshman Justin Houston is another name to remember.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) LB Dannell Ellerbe (SR), 2) FS Reshad Jones (SO)

THE SCHEDULE

The tallest hurdle the Dawgs must leap to reach the BCS Championship game is their brutal schedule. Everyone in the SEC has a tough road, but no one more so than Georgia. First, they play in the East, which features five bowl teams from a year ago. Florida is a top ten team, Tennessee a top 20 team and South Carolina resides just outside the top 25. SEC teams play their entire division and three teams from the other division—Georgia has to play all three ranked teams from the West—Alabama, LSU and Auburn. Out of conference, they play the Arizona St. Sun Devils (No. 15 in the AP Poll, No. 16 in the Coaches Poll). In all, they play six ranked teams. Of their four foes in the top 15, none comes to Athens to take on the Bulldogs—UGA must travel to Tempe, Baton Rouge and Auburn, while taking on the Gators in Jacksonville.

PIVOTAL POINT


Matthew Stafford: Yes, the offensive line is the biggest question mark and yes, the schedule is the toughest in the nation. But you know what can overcome all of that? An uber-talented signal caller with a rocket arm, and that’s what they have in Athens. Stafford wears No. 7 in honor of John Elway and, like his idol, has enough potential to be the No. 1 overall choice once he decides to move on to the NFL. But for now, Stafford has his sights set on a different kind of No. 1. He can be a difference maker. Georgia scored 12 points in their loss to South Carolina and 14 in their loss to Tennessee. Both times, Stafford failed to connect on even half of his throws, completing just 45 percent of his passes in the two losses. When he completed a majority of his tosses, the Dawgs were a perfect 10-0 in 2007.

CFI FINAL ANALYSIS

The Bulldogs have the pieces to win it all—a big time quarterback, a franchise tailback and a speedy defense bent on taking no prisoners. But that darn schedule keeps popping up. For the most part, regular season losses in college football can be pretty unforgiving although LSU won the national championship last season despite two losses. Georgia may need similar good fortune this season. The Dawgs are deserving of their number one ranking, but it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish and for the second consecutive year, the Athens faithful may end up wishing there was a playoff system in place.

Ohio St. Makes Tressel Top Paid Coach


Ohio State coach Jim Tressel has agreed to contract revisions that will make him the highest-paid football coach in the Big Ten Conference. Tressel's compensation beginning in February will be $3.5 million, a $1 million increase, the school said Friday.

Tressel will receive annual increases of 3 percent to 4 percent. He has a 73-16 record at Ohio State and is under contract until 2013. Tressel begins his eighth season as coach of the second-ranked Buckeyes. The team opens Saturday at home against Youngstown State.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

O'Brien Quarterback Award Marquee Match-up for Week One


FORT WORTH, Texas (August 27, 2008) - The 2008 Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award® (The O'Brien) Marquee Match-up for week one features two O'Brien Watch List candidates in their season opener. Throughout the season, The O'Brien will highlight weekly match-ups featuring O'Brien candidates as they compete for the prestigious award honoring the nation's best quarterback in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).

Marquee Match-up: Illinois at Missouri
Saturday, August 30 at 7:30 p.m. (CST) on ESPN
Juice Williams takes the Fighting Illini into Tiger territory to take on 2007 O'Brien Finalist, Chase Daniel, in a Big Ten/Big XII showdown. Both teams enter the season with a top 25 ranking and have an O'Brien Watch List quarterback at the helm of their offense. Each quarterback is looking to lead their team to a season opening win while beginning their bid for The O'Brien.

Head-to-Head O'Brien Match-ups (based on start times)

These O'Brien Watch List quarterbacks will clash in their season openers.

* Florida Atlantic (Rusty Smith) at Texas (Colt McCoy)
Saturday, August 30 at 6 p.m. (CST)

* Alabama (John Parker Wilson) at Clemson (Cullen Harper)
Saturday, August 30 at 7 p.m. (CST) on ABC

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

CFI RANKINGS: #3 OKLAHOMA SOONERS

2007 RECORD: 11-3; BIG 12: 6-2
Lost Fiesta Bowl vs. West Virginia 48-28
LOCATION: Norman, Oklahoma
STADIUM: Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (82,112)
HEAD COACH: Bob Stoops
OVERALL: 97-22 (9 seasons)
AT OKLAHOMA: 97-22 (9 seasons)


The talk in Norman and around the country about the Sooners surrounds OU’s inability to win a BCS game of late. Last season was their fourth straight BCS Bowl loss (they were favored in three of those games) and the second by at least 20 points. Of course, getting to those games means that the Sooners have fared extremely well in the regular season and in Big 12 play. In fact, since 2000, OU has won five Big 12 Titles and reached 11 wins in seven of eight seasons. Whatever your standards…it’s hard not to be happy with that.


WHEN THE SOONERS HAVE THE BALL

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Kevin Wilson (7th Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 8
KEY LOSSES: Malcolm Kelly, Allen Patrick, Joe John Finley

The Sooners return all five starters along the offensive line, which should bring smiles to everyone in Norman. While Malcolm Kelly decided to leave early, the fact that the left side of the line, OT Phil Loadholt & OG Duke Robinson, returned may wind up being more significant. Both clear 330 pounds and move well—when they are motivated it can be a long day for defenders. Standing behind the line is sophomore Sam Bradford, who is coming off a record setting season freshman season. He has a good arm and is accurate—when he gets on a roll, this offense can be unstoppable. Even without the aforementioned Kelly, Bradford will have plenty of weapons at his disposal. Senior Juaquin Iglesias is among the most dangerous players in the nation after the catch with his speed and shifty open field moves, while slot man Manuel Johnson provides another option that can run. Two more veterans, Quentin Chaney and Adron Tennell, provide length and the ability to go up and get the football. At tight end, Jermaine Gresham may actually be their toughest cover, while Brody Eldridge is more of a blocker. When OU decides to take to the ground, Las Vegas native DeMarco Murray, a Reggie Bush-esque runner, will make opponents miss using his quickness and breakaway speed. Chris Brown is the perfect complement to Murray—he excels between the tackles and in short yardage situations.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) TE Jermaine Gresham (JR), 2) OG DeMarco Murray (SO)

WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Brent Venables (10th Season)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 6
KEY LOSSES: Reggie Smith, Curtis Lofton, Marcus Walker, D.J. Wolfe, Lewis Baker

The Sooners are loaded up front. It begins at defensive tackle, where highly touted recruits junior DeMarcus Granger and sophomore Gerald McCoy both return and figure to take a step closer to fulfilling their potential to dominate. Pushing them and providing depth are Cory Bennett and Adrian Taylor. Coming from the edge, Auston English is so quick you’d think he knows the snap count, as he consistently keeps offensive tackles on their heels. As long as he remains healthy, he figures to be the Big 12’s most dominant pass rusher. Manning the middle is junior MIKE Ryan Reynolds who showed glimpses last season after suffering through injuries in the early part of his career. Former safety Keenan Clayton adds speed to the second level of the defense. In the defensive backfield they have an excellent blend at safety, where SS Nic Harris checks in ten pounds heavier than Clayton and is one of the hardest hitting safeties in the nation. Joining him is FS Lendy Holmes, whose experience as a former corner will allow him to provide support in pass coverage. That coverage will be needed—the Sooners are breaking in two new starters at cornerback. No one doubts the talent Brian Jackson and Dominque Franks possess, but the duo is unproven.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) DT Gerald McCoy (SO), 2) DT DeMarcus Granger (JR)

THE SCHEDULE


The out of conference schedule is challenging enough. The Sooners take on a 2007 bowl team in Cincinnati, visit the Washington Huskies, and host TCU, one of the top “mid-major” programs in country. Those are all solid teams, but all games the Sooners should win fairly handily. The conference schedule is not an easy one, but again features games the Sooners are “supposed” to win—they play the ‘Horns on the second Saturday of October and the Red Raiders from Texas Tech come calling in November. Those two contests should decide the fate of the Big 12 South. Missouri is off the schedule, but Kansas is back, as are the rival Cornhuskers. The two games that anyone who watches the Sooners will be most concerned about are their trips to College Station and Stillwater, two places OU always seems to struggle, regardless of the talent discrepancy.

PIVOTAL POINT

The Back Seven: This group could be vulnerable against the pass. One starting corner, Jackson, hasn’t started a game at the college level and the other, Franks, has started only one. At safety, Holmes has experience (19 career starts) but mostly at corner, while Harris’ strength is playing near the line of scrimmage, not as a last line of defense. They have even less experience at linebacker, where they will break in two new starters alongside Reynolds who is the veteran of the unit with his seven career starts. If they were playing in the old run-oriented Big 8 this might not be a problem…but they don’t, so it is. The Big 12 is pass-happy and the Sooners will have to square off against the likes of Colt McCoy, Todd Reesing, Josh Freeman, Joe Ganz, Stephen McGee, Graham Harrell and Zac Robinson. In other words, they have to defend over 20,000 yards and nearly 200 touchdowns in conference play alone.

CFI FINAL ANALYSIS

OU has the ideal blend of raw talent, experience and favorable schedule to make a run at Bob Stoops’ second BCS Championship as the Sooners’ headman. Yes, their vulnerability plays into the strength of their conference foes, but they get five games to get ready before they have to face any of the quarterbacks mentioned above. By that time they should be ready and should be favored in every game. While everyone is focusing on the OSU-USC winner and which school will represent the SEC in the championship game this season, the Sooners could sneak past everyone and make it all the way to Miami, the site of their last national championship.

Photo Credit: OU Athletics Department

CFI RANKINGS: #4 AUBURN TIGERS

2007 RECORD: 9-4; SEC: 5-3
Won Chik-fil-A Bowl vs. Clemson 23-20 (OT)
LOCATION: Auburn, Alabama
STADIUM: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451)
HEAD COACH: Tommy Tuberville
OVERALL: 105-53 (13 seasons)
AT AUBURN: 80-33 (9 seasons)

Auburn struggled early on last year, losing at home to both South Florida and Mississippi St. to start the season 1-2. A new offensive line, which featured three freshmen starters, and a lack of productivity at quarterback made a quick start nearly impossible. Eventually, they got it together behind their defense to win tough road battles at Florida and Arkansas, but trips to Baton Rouge and Athens prevented them from reaching ten wins…a total that is a minimum for the 2008 season.

WHEN THE TIGERS HAVE THE BALL

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Tony Franklin (1st Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 8
KEY LOSSES: Brandon Cox, Carl Stewart

There is nothing like bringing back five starters along the offensive line, especially when they are all talented. LT Lee Ziemba made 13 starts last season as a true freshman and senior OG Tyronne Green is ready to break out in his final season in Auburn. The offense will be better for some of the struggles from a year ago. They are going to the spread offense, but expect the Tigers to run all over their opponents. Senior TB Brad Lester is back and provides the shiftiness in the backfield they missed early on last season. Junior Ben Tate is more of a classic between the tackles power runner. The depth doesn’t stop there, as Tristan Davis probably gives them the best combo of size/speed and Mario Fannin, who will be lining up wide most of the time, may be their most physically impressive offensive player. They are not quite as well stocked at receiver, but should be fine as long as they get improved quarterback play, which leads us to the battle between Kodi Burns and Chris Todd. Burns was the difference maker in their bowl victory over Clemson, the first time Auburn unveiled OC Tony Franklin’s offense. He is the better runner, while Todd is more of a pure passer who played in Franklin’s system in high school.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) OT Lee Ziemba (SO), 2) OT Ryan Pugh (SO)

WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Paul Rhodes (1st Season)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 7
KEY LOSSES: Quintin Groves, Pat Sims, Patrick Lee, Jonathan Wilhite, Josh Thompson, Eric Brock

Will Muschamp, the DC, was a big loss. However, Paul Rhodes’ defense at Pittsburgh was actually ranked higher than the bunch at Auburn last season. They must replace a couple of productive players along the defensive line, but return two of the better lineman in the SEC with Sen’Derrick Marks moving back to defensive tackle and DE Antonio Coleman coming off the edge. Expect both to be forces penetrating into the offensive backfield. What the defense could use is a full season from talented junior MIKE Tray Blackmon, who can cover ground sideline-to-sideline, but has trouble staying on the field. They have three OLBs who expect to contribute, with sophomore Craig Stevens the most intriguing after making seven starts as a freshman. They must replace Patrick Lee, but junior CB Jerraud Powers appears ready to be the number one guy—Powers matched Lee pick-for-pick and he was among the leading tacklers a year ago. They are set at safety, with sophomores Zac Etheridge and Mike McNeil ready to make their presence felt in the SEC.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) DL Sen’Derrick Marks (JR), 2) DE Antonio Coleman (JR)

THE SCHEDULE


Location, location, location…Auburn doesn’t have many creampuffs on the docket, but their schedule plays to the Tigers’ advantage. After they open up SEC play with an early trip to Starkville to take some measure of revenge on Mississippi St (MSU knocked them off in week three, last season), Auburn plays host to LSU. Odds are that game will decide who represents the SEC West in the conference championship game. Not only does LSU come to Jordan-Hare stadium but so do East rivals Tennessee and Georgia. Other than Mississippi St., they do not face a tough road test in conference play until they close out the year with a trip to Tuscaloosa. They do travel to Morgantown in late October and a win over West Virginia could make these Tigers, players in the BCS title chase.

PIVOTAL POINT

Adjustments: Auburn has experienced players returning at every position, except for quarterback. The signal caller could very well be the pivotal point, but they appear to have a couple a solid options and that position should work out just fine. Something the entire team will have to do is adjust to new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Tony Franklin orchestrated an explosive offense at Troy before coming over to coach the Auburn offense in the Chik-fil-A Bowl. Rhodes’ defense with the Pitt Panthers was among the best in the nation and he will have more talent to play with, if they adjust to his coaching style. The adjustments will be made. The question is—how long will take?

CFI FINAL ANALYSIS

The Auburn Tigers have alternated seasons reaching double digits in wins since Tommy Tuberville’s status as headman was put into question. In 2004, they went undefeated on their way to 13 wins, won nine games in 2005, reached 11 wins in 2006 and posted “only” nine wins again last season. It is an even year…so you know that means. The Tigers will battle LSU for the West and are among the favorites for the SEC. Their schedule isn’t brutal for an SEC program, making the Tigers National Title sleepers.

Photo Credit: Todd J. Van Emst (Auburn University Athletic Dept. Photographer)

Monday, August 25, 2008

CFI RANKINGS: #5 USC TROJANS

2007 RECORD: 11-2; PAC-10: 7-2
Won Rose Bowl vs. Illinois 48-17
LOCATION: Los Angeles, California
STADIUM: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (92,000)
HEAD COACH: Pete Carroll
OVERALL: 76-14 (7 seasons)
AT USC: 76-14 (7 seasons)

USC won the Pac-10 and reached 11 wins—the sixth consecutive year they have reached those benchmarks. The Men of Troy finished the season third in the final AP Poll which was their, you guessed it, sixth straight top four finish in the AP Poll. So in other words…they had an average season by Pete Carroll’s standards. What does this year have in store? No team lost as much as talent as the Trojans: they had two players selected in the top ten, four in the first round, seven on day one and ten in total. Yet, the expectations are for more of the same—at the very least.

WHEN THE MEN OF TROY HAVE THE BALL

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Steve Sarkisian (2nd Season/4th at USC)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 4
KEY LOSSES: John David Booty, Chauncey Washington, Sam Baker, Chilo Rachal, Fred Davis, Drew Radovich

Everyone knows about the stockpile of four- and five-star recruits USC has on this side of the ball, especially in the backfield. Stepping in at quarterback is Mark Sanchez, a strong-armed signal caller who beat out a pair of highly-touted QBs in Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp. Sanchez’s status for the opener remains up in the air, but once healthy he will be the man leading the way. When Sanchez does return, he will have a plethora of talent to work with. Wide receivers Vidal Hazelton, Patrick Turner, Ronald Johnson, David Ausberry and Damian Williams all have size and they can all run, which also sounds a little like their backfield. If speedy sophomore Joe McKnight is the next Reggie Bush with his array of moves in the open field and explosive running ability, then junior Stafon Johnson is the LenDale White, more of a power back who pounds away at defenders. C. J. Gable was the starter last season before his injury and at FB they have Stanley Havili, one of the nation’s most underrated players. The biggest question mark on the offensive side of the ball is the O-Line, where they have one of the least experienced lines in all of college football. That can hinder any offense, even Pete Carroll’s.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) RB Joe McKnight (SO), 2) RB Stafon Johnson (JR)

WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Nick Holt (3rd Season)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 7
KEY LOSSES: Sedrick Ellis, Lawrence Jackson, Keith Rivers, Terrell Thomas, Thomas Williams

As talented as their offense is, the defense is where the Men of Troy are most gifted. Their linebacking crew is likely the best in the nation—MIKE Rey Maualuga could be the best player in the country regardless of position, with amazing size and speed for a linebacker. Flanking him is Brian Cushing, who has as much potential as Maualuga, with the ability to be a tremendous pass rusher. Their safeties are among the best, if not the best in the nation—both Kevin Ellison and Taylor Mays can run, and with Ellison checking in at 225 pounds and Mays 230 pounds, the duo is bigger than many linebackers. The Trojans must replace first round picks Sedrick Ellis and Lawrence Jackson, but appear to have done just that with senior DT Fili Moala and sophomore DE Everson Griffen, who looked every bit the man as a true freshman a year ago. Replacing Ellis’ penetrating skills will not be easy. They also could be somewhat vulnerable at corner.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) MLB Rey Maualuga (SR), 2) OLB Brian Cushing (SR)

THE SCHEDULE


They will play as big of a game as one can in September when they host the Ohio St. Buckeyes. The winner will take the early lead in the race to make the BCS Championship game, which is what the Trojans are playing for every season. They do benefit from the fact the Buckeye’s come to the Coliseum, as do the Trojans’ top three Pac-10 challengers Arizona St., California and Oregon. Their first five games could dictate whether or not they will compete for a national championship this season. Oregon, ASU and OSU all stop by for early visits while the Trojans make trips to Virginia and Oregon St.—all five were bowl teams in 2007. Of course, it’s not always the tough ones that get the Men of Troy—last season they lost to 41-point underdog Stanford, and two years ago they lost to unranked foes Oregon St and UCLA (with three wins over ranked opponents in between).

PIVOTAL POINT

Potential = Production: Here is the list of five-star recruits among the offensive skills positions (according to Rivals.com): QB Mark Sanchez, WR Patrick Turner, RB Joe McKnight, RB Allen Bradford, RB C.J. Gable, RB Stafon Johnson, RB Marc Tyler, WR Vidal Hazelton and WR Ronald Johnson. Wideouts David Ausberry and Damian Williams, and tight ends Anthony McCoy and Blake Ayles are only four-star recruits. That is a lot of talent, unmatched by anyone. However, Sanchez has thrown seven touchdown passes and six interceptions in his career, none of the backs has rush for as much as 700 yards in a season, and no receiver has had as many as 600 receiving yards in a season. The offensive line doesn’t have much more of a resume, with senior Jeff Byers the only one with more than three career starts entering 2008. Voters (present company included) are buying the Trojans on spec.

CFI FINAL ANALYSIS

The Trojans continue to win at high level…just not as high as the days of Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and LenDale White. It is an unfair standard, but it is their standard. A seventh straight Pac-10 title, 11-win season, BCS Bowl appearance and maybe even a top four finish should be in the offing. However a third national championship for coach Carroll to add to the mantel might be out of reach for a third straight season. But raw talent isn’t the issue and if they can hold off the Buckeyes in game two, the Men of Troy could win it all.

Photo Credit: Sam Haythorn (Ray Maualuga), Chris McGuire (Patrick Turner)

CFI RANKINGS: #6 LSU TIGERS

2007 RECORD: 12-2; SEC: 6-2
Won BCS Championship Game vs. Ohio St. 38-24
LOCATION: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
STADIUM: Tiger Stadium (92,400)
HEAD COACH: Les Miles
OVERALL: 62-27 (7 seasons)
AT LSU: 34-6 (3 seasons)

Oh those Tigers! The Bayou Bengals broke through last season under Les Miles and captured their second national title in five years. They did so by taking on eight ranked opponents, overcoming a pair of heartbreaking triple overtime losses, and refusing to be distracted by the Les Miles-to-Michigan rumors. Offensively, they were not as explosive in the passing game without JaMarcus Russell, who skipped his senior season to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. Also falling off a bit was the defense, which was not as dominant as at was a year earlier (19.9 PPG in ’07; 12.6 PPG in ‘06). However, Tiger fans don’t care a lick--the only thing that matters in Cajun Country is that Les Miles and his team are national champs.

WHEN THE BAYOU BENGALS HAVE THE BALL

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Gary Crowton (2nd Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 5
KEY LOSSES: Jacob Hester, Matt Flynn, Early Doucet, Carnell Stewart, Ryan Perrilloux (Dismissed from Team)

It appears that former Harvard junior varsity signal caller Andrew Hatch will be the starting quarterback in game one. Who will be under center when they travel east to take on Auburn in week four is anyone’s guess. The original plan was to have duel threat phenom Ryan Perrilloux take over, but he crossed the line one too many times, leaving Hatch and red-shirt freshman Jarrett Lee to battle for the starting role. Whoever leads the huddle will be well protected. Three likely All-SEC performers man the offensive line, with junior OT Ciron Black and senior OG Herman Johnson providing over 700 pounds of protection and C Brett Helms solid in the middle. Figuring out who will get the most carries is as difficult to decipher as the quarterback situation. In Keiland Williams, Charles Scott and Richard Murphy the Tigers possess three starting-caliber SEC backs, with Murphy providing the most speed. Throw in little man Trindon Holliday, a sprinter, and they have four backs that averaged between 6.6 and 7.2 yards per carry a year ago. They also are stocked at wide receiver. Demetrius Byrd could be the top senior receiver in the nation, Brandon LaFell is a burner, and true sophomore Terrance Toliver may be their most talented offensive player. TE Richard Dickson also has some ability.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) WR Demetrius Byrd (SR), 2) OG Herman Johnson (SR)

WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL

CO-DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Doug Mallory (1st Season/4th at LSU)
CO-DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Bradley Dale Peveto (1st Season/4th at LSU)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 5
KEY LOSSES: Glenn Dorsey, Ali Highsmith, Craig Steltz, Jonathan Zenon, Chevis Jackson

The Tigers lose the nation’s top defensive lineman with Glenn Dorsey moving on to the league where they play for pay…but would you believe they won’t miss a beat? Just because Dorsey is no longer a Tiger does not mean those scouts have stopped coming to the Bayou. LSU is eight deep in legitimate pro prospects along the line with Bowl MVP Ricky Jean-Francois leading the way. Francois did not play until the SEC Championship game last season, so he is almost like a new addition. On the outside, Kirston Pittman was their top pass rusher a year ago and Tyson Jackson is an excellent two-way player. Junior DT Al Woods may have the most potential of all, but will have to earn his playing time. Darry Beckwith is back at the MIKE and will have two new starters flanking him, but most of their worries surround how they will replace both starting corners. True freshman Patrick Peterson (formerly Johnson) is the player creating the most buzz. They are stacked at safety with a quartet of playmakers led by FS Curtis Taylor, who brings size and speed to the defensive backfield.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) DL Ricky Jean-Francois (JR), 2) LB Darry Beckwith (SR)

THE SCHEDULE


You remember that team from the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) that went into the Big House and upset the Michigan Wolverines a year ago? Well Appalachian St. looks to knock off a top 10 FBS team for the second straight season when they take on the Tigers. An upset is unlikely, but they could be LSU’s toughest out of conference test. The SEC opener could decide the West Division, as the Tigers visit Auburn. That contest is the biggest on the LSU schedule and kicks off a difficult five-game stretch where the Bengals play at Florida, at South Carolina, and host the Georgia Bulldogs. Three top tens teams over six weeks is a tough stretch for any team and will show what these Tigers are made of.

PIVOTAL POINT

Quarterback:
The Tigers should be as good, if not better, at every position on the offensive side of the ball other than the most critical spot—quarterback. Their offensive line is among the best in the nation, their backfield as deep as any and they have more than enough playmakers in the passing game. But will it matter? That is the pressure that is on Hatch to start the season. If Ryan Perrilloux, the expected heir apparent, had stayed out of trouble off the field the Tigers could very well be the No. 1 team in the country with eyes on a repeat. But Perrilloux is not here and now, all eyes will be on the new quarterback in Baton Rouge. The Bayou Bengals will go as far as their quarterback takes them.

CFI FINAL ANALYSIS

The Tigers were the most talented team in America not only last season, but two years ago as well, and they very well may be this season as well. However, they have some questions they need to answer this year before they can be elevated to that status. Quarterback is the biggest one, but they are also breaking in several new starters on the defensive side of the ball, including a pair of unproven corners. Because of this upheaval, the Bayou Bengals will probably not repeat, but could be the most dangerous team in the nation by season’s end.

Photo Credit: SEC Sports Media

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Nate Longshore To Come Off The Bench

Kevin Riley will start the season opener at quarterback for California against Michigan State with former starter Nate Longshore expected to play as a reserve.

Coach Jeff Tedford made the announcement about his quarterbacks after practice on Thursday. The Golden Bears open the season Aug. 30 at home against the Spartans.

"We feel like both of them have had great camps, but Kevin's going to take the first snaps and we'll see how it goes from there," Tedford said. "Nate will play in the game. I don't know exactly when, but Kevin will start."

Photo Credit:
Collegiate Images

CFI RANKINGS: #7 MISSOURI TIGERS

2007 RECORD: 12-2; BIG 12: 7-1
Won Cotton Bowl vs. Arkansas 38-7
LOCATION: Columbia, Missouri
STADIUM: Memorial Stadium (68,349)
HEAD COACH: Gary Pinkel
OVERALL: 122-74-3 (17 seasons)
AT MISSOURI: 49-37 (7 seasons)

No one wanted to play the Tigers in their bowl game last season. Missouri was No. 7 in both human polls and No. 6 in the BCS Standings, but failed to make a BCS Bowl. The Tigers instead saw Kansas—a team Mizzou beat 36-28 to win the Big 12 North—somehow get an invite to one of the coveted contests. It was as if the Tigers were punished for winning their division and having to play the Oklahoma Sooners a second time (an opponent Kansas was able to avoid). Not to take anything away from KU, but Mizzou should have been in one of those games and they let the nation know in the Cotton Bowl. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, they were in the way.

WHEN THE TIGERS HAVE THE BALL

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Dave Christenson (8th Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 6
KEY LOSSES: Martin Rucker, Tony Temple, Will Franklin, Adam Spieker, Tyler Luellen

Chase Daniel is the triggerman of the offense that took hold of the Midwest last season to the tune of 12 wins. If you’re casting for a quarterback, Daniel may not be your first choice. However, if your objective is to win football games, then Daniel is your man—he is the best quarterback in a conference stacked with stellar signal callers. Most impressive among Daniel’s across the board, improvement last season was the 4.7 percent jump in his completion percentage from an already solid 63.5 percent. Daniel manages to accomplish that while throwing for 779 more yards—he wasn’t dinking and dunking to increase his percentage. Part of the reason for his increased numbers could have been the addition of freshman sensation WR Jeremy Maclin, an all-purpose maven. Maclin has breakaway speed with ankle-breaking moves in the open field. He’s a guy who needs to touch the football as much as possible…good things will happen. They lose Martin Rucker, but return TE Chase Coffman who could put up the best numbers of any tight end in the nation. When WR Danario Alexander returns from injury it will make them even more explosive. Replacing a left tackle and center in the spread offense is not easy, but do not expect a drop off in their line play, as three starters return and the new additions have experience and promise. The same can be said for Tony Temple’s replacements, with senior Jimmy Jackson providing experience and sophomore Derrick Washington the promise.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) WR Jeremy Maclin (SO), 2) TE Chase Coffman (SR)

WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Matt Eberflus (8th Season)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 9
KEY LOSSES: Lorenzo Williams, Cornelius Brown, Darnell Terrell

The Tigers are not one-dimensional by any means. Mizzou returns three senior starters along the line in DE Stryker Sulak, DE Tommy Chavis and DT Ziggy Hood. Sulak has been the most productive, but expect Hood to have a big senior campaign as well. In addition to the seniors, there are several others expected to contribute. At linebacker, top tackler junior Sean Weatherspoon leads the front seven, with Brock Christopher another solid performer from the second level. Leading the last line of defense is free safety extraordinaire William Moore, a tremendous athlete with the size and speed to do it all. Moore was their second leading tackler—his many stops include seven in the offensive backfield—and his eight interceptions tied for the national lead. Another player to keep a close eye on is sophomore CB Carl Gettis, who made 10 starts as a true freshman. With 10 players back who started in their big Cotton Bowl win, the defense should be able to hold their own.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) FS William Moore (SR), 2) DT Ziggy Hood (SR)

THE SCHEDULE


The first thing that pops out about the 2008 schedule for the Missouri Tigers is: no Oklahoma. Of course they would sign today for a guarantee to face the Sooners this season because in order to play OU, the Tigers would be playing in their second straight Big 12 Championship game. But before they can worry about the conference title, Mizzou starts off with “Arch” rival Illinois in what should be a nip-and-tuck battle. Once they do get into conference play, the Tigers face two key games: First, a trip to Austin with the ‘Horns replacing the Sooners on the docket and second, their regular season finale against their other border rival Kansas, in what again could be a battle for the North division.

PIVOTAL POINT


Expectations: There is very little to pick apart in terms of personnel or a weakness that could hold them back, but how will they handle the expectations? Remember, up until last season Pinkel’s Tigers have not handled success very well. In 2006, they started the season 6-0 and reached No. 19 in the polls…only to drop four of the next five and finish the season 8-5. In 2005, the Tigers were 5-2 (one of their losses was to No. 2 Texas) but lost three of their last four regular season games. The last time Missouri started a season ranked? They opened up 2004 ranked No. 18 in the country…and proceeded to lose their second game of the season to Troy 24-14. Mizzou bounced back to get to 4-1…before dropping five consecutive contests and missing a bowl altogether. The talent is there, but it is hard, if not impossible, to predict how a team handles elevated expectations for the first time.

CFI FINAL ANALYSIS

Raised expectations aside, the 2008 Missouri Tigers should be just fine. There is a reason they are a pre-season top ten team—they have the players. With Daniel triggering the offense and Moore roaming in the defensive backfield, the Tigers should turn in another strong season. Will they win 12 games or the Big 12? That’s hard to say, but they will reach double digits in wins for a second straight season, as well as take the North Division. They will probably fall short of capturing the conference title, but a BCS Bowl could be in the cards.

Photo Credit: Mizzou Media Relations

Friday, August 22, 2008

CFI RANKINGS: #8 FLORIDA GATORS

2007 RECORD: 9-4; SEC: 5-3
Lost Capitol One Bowl vs. Michigan 41-35
LOCATION: Gainesville, Florida
STADIUM: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (88,548)
HEAD COACH: Urban Meyer
OVERALL: 70-16 (7 seasons)
AT FLORIDA: 31-8 (3 seasons)

Lost in the aura of Tim Tebow and the amazing numbers he put up was the fact the Gators opened the season ranked No. 3 in the Coaches Poll (CFI Preseason No. 18) and finished ranked 16th. The Gators put a whuppin’ on several opponents—seven of their nine wins coming by at least 20 points—but were only 1-4 against their five opponents that finished the season ranked. On the flip side, they were breaking in nine new starters on defense, as well as a new quarterback in what was a pretty darn good rebuilding season.

WHEN THE GATORS HAVE THE BALL

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Dan Mullen (4th Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 7
KEY LOSSES: Andre Caldwell, Carlton Medder, Drew Miller, Cornelius Ingram (Injured)

Tim Tebow had a season for the ages, shattering the glass ceiling for sophomores when it comes to the Heisman Trophy. What can he do for an encore? Hopefully for the Gators they won’t need Tebow to do as much. He is such a unique runner, reminiscent of an old school fullback with defenders bouncing off of him. He also has a big arm and made strides as a passer in his first season as the starter—his duel threat ability makes him the ultimate weapon in the spread offense. If he isn’t, Percy Harvin might be, whether it be catching the football or lining up in the backfield and running with the pigskin. If the Gators want to stretch the field, Luis Murphy and his 4.3 speed is the way to go. They suffered a major loss when WR/TE hybrid Cornelius Ingram went down, but do have a solid fill in with sophomore Aaron Hernandez. There is talent along the offensive line and at tailback, but both groups were inconsistent in ’07. The line must play better as a group and they are relying on heavily on the Pouncey brothers, a pair of sophomores. At tailback, Kestahn Moore returns, but expect either USC transfer Emmanuel Moody or electric freshman Chris Rainey to emerge.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) WR Percy Harvin (JR), 2) QB Tim Tebow (JR)

WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Charlie Strong (4th Season)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 8
KEY LOSSES: Derrick Harvey, Tony Joiner

A lot of young players were thrust into major roles on defense last season and the hope in Gainesville is that the ’08 edition of the Florida Gators will be better for it. MIKE Brandon Spikes stepped to the forefront as their leading tackler and top playmaker—a big reason the Gators led the SEC in rush defense. He is the leader of the defense, but others must step up. They need more production from their outside linebackers, as well as from the defensive tackle spot, where several freshmen and sophomores are competing for playing time. They must also replace premiere pass rusher Derrick Harvey, with ends Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap possessing vast potential. Their biggest problem last season came in the secondary. Florida’s pass defense was dead last in the SEC as corners Joe Haden and Wondy Pierre-Louis were burned early and often, but there is hope for the duo, particularly Haden who made 12 starts as a true freshman. The most exciting player in the defensive backfield is another true sophomore, FS Major Wright, who only needs to play with more discipline to fulfill his potential.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) MLB Brandon Spikes (JR), 2) FS Major Wright (SO)

THE SCHEDULE


Out of conference they take on Miami at home early and Florida St. in Tallahassee late…these match-ups are great for college football, but not nearly as difficult as they would have been in the past. Their opener versus Hawaii is far easier than it would have been a year ago, but don’t worry—playing in the SEC is going to be as tough as ever. They open up conference play with a trip to Knoxville and play host to defending SEC and national champion LSU, as well as SEC East sleeper South Carolina. The game circled on everyone’s schedule is in Jacksonville, home of the “the world’s largest end zone celebration”. You can bet the Gators are chomping at the bit to square off with the ‘Dawgs.

PIVOTAL POINT

Finish vs. the Big Boys: The 2007 Gators were bullies to some extent. They beat up on the little guys on their schedule—Western Kentucky, Troy and Florida Atlantic—as expected. They also took it to some of the powers that be in college football, trouncing Tennessee 59-20 and laying a 45-12 beat down of Florida St. In both of those games, their rivals were quick to hang their heads and didn’t put up much of a fight. However, that wasn’t the case with their toughest opponents. Not only did Florida lose to four of the five teams they played that finished ranked, they were 1-3 in games decided by less than a touchdown, with their lone win coming against a 3-9 Ole Miss team. They did not overcome a fourth quarter deficit all season.

CFI FINAL ANALYSIS

The 2007 Gators were far more glamorous than the 2006 edition, but in their championship run, Florida was 5-0 in games decided by seven points or less, including a pair of late fourth quarter comebacks against Tennessee and South Carolina. What will the 2008 Gators deliver? The talent is there to contend for a National Championship, but they must do a better job closing out games against the other contenders in the SEC or they could just as easily find themselves in third place in the East just as they were a season ago.

Photo Credit: SEC Sports Media

CFI RANKINGS: #9 SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS

2007 RECORD: 9-4; BIG EAST: 4-3
Lost Sun Bowl vs. Oregon 56-21
LOCATION: Tampa, Florida
STADIUM: Raymond James Stadium (65,857)
HEAD COACH: Jim Leavitt
OVERALL: 79-47 (11 seasons)
AT SOUTH FLORIDA: 79-47 (11 seasons)

It is time for everyone to stop looking at the USF Bulls as a nice little story—they are nobody’s underdog, not anymore. They posted their second straight nine-win season and made a bowl for the third consecutive season. Oh…and they play in what is likely the most fertile state for blue chip prospects. They are clearly building towards something and this could be the year the make the jump to the head of the class in the Big East.

WHEN THE BULLS HAVE THE BALL

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Greg Gregory (2nd Season/4th at USF)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 8
KEY LOSSES: Amari Jackson, Walter Walker

The Bulls offense should be full steam ahead in 2008. Not only do they return four of five starters along the offensive line, which is always a nice place to start, their top five rushers and top four pass catchers return, as well as their leader in the huddle Matt Grothe. The junior signal caller may not be Tim Tebow, but he did run for 872 yards and throw for 2,670 yards and you can bet that Florida St. and Miami wouldn’t mind having him on their roster. That is not to say he can’t improve, Grothe needs to make better and quicker decisions, in other words, cut down on the sacks and interceptions. Sophomore Carlton Mitchell is probably the most talented receiver they have had, and Marcus Edwards, Jesse Hester Jr. and Taurus Johnson will provide additional options and experience. There is talent in the backfield as well and if they can get more consistency from talented sophomore Mike Ford to go along with solid play from former walk-on Benjamin Williams, the offense can rise to another level.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) RB Mike Ford (SO), 2) WR Carlton Mitchell (SO)

WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Wally Burnham (8th Season/9th at USF)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 7
KEY LOSSES: Mike Jenkins, Trae Williams, Ben Moffitt

George Selvie was arguably the most disruptive defender in all of college football last season—he basically pitched a tent and camped out in the opponents’ backfield. Opposite him is senior Jarriett Buie, a returning starter, with a pair of junior college transfers David Bedford and Craig Marshall providing depth. At defensive tackle, Aaron Harris is emerging as a playmaker himself, but they will need either Sampson Genus and/or Terrell McClain, a pair of sophomores, to take charge at nose tackle. Last season, the Bulls were very vulnerable to a between the tackles power running game (see Ray Rice & Jonathan Stewart). At the next level, seniors Tyrone McKenzie and Brouce Mompremier are solid, with Kion Wilson another JC transfer who can make an impact. Their biggest losses come at corner, but the secondary should be fine with the speedy Jerome Murphy and the athletic Tyller Roberts getting their chances. The safety duo of Nate Allen and Carlton Williams rivals any in the nation.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) DE George Selvie (JR), 2) FS Nate Allen (JR)

THE SCHEDULE


Last season they announced their arrival by going down to Auburn and pulling off the upset. This year they take on the Kansas Jayhawks, and will again have the opportunity for a statement win. Other games they cannot overlook are a trip to Cincinnati and a visit from Pittsburgh, but the most intriguing match-ups of the season are their contests versus Rutgers and a season ending commute to Morgantown. They have matched up well with the Mountaineers but haven’t with the Scarlet Knights…will that carry over? Gone are Ray Rice and much of RU’s powerful offensive line, which gave the Bulls fits. However, how will USF do against WVU without the speed of Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams on the perimeter?

PIVOTAL POINT

Consistency: Last season was a roller coaster ride…they won the first six games of the season to climb from unranked to No. 2 in the country…lost their next three to fall out of the polls once again…then won the final three regular season games to secure a Sun Bowl bid…only to finally get spanked by Oregon 56-21. Even from afar it was enough to make one dizzy. Turnovers would be a good place to start. The Bulls led the nation with their 42 forced turnovers, but were only 18th in the country and fourth in the conference in turnover margin (+9). Their 33 turnovers committed topped the Big East and was sixth most among 119 FBS teams. Two games typified the Bulls inconsistency; they went from –6 versus Cincinnati to +6 against Louisville just two weeks later—you can probably figure out which game they lost and which one they won.

CFI FINAL ANALYSIS

USF may have risen too high too fast last season, but they will be better for the experience. This is a program on the rise both in the Big East Conference and on the national landscape. The Bulls have a good amount of talent returning and it appears they have even more waiting in the wings. They’re very deep at the skill positions and improvement is expected in the trenches—this should the best offensive line they’ve lined up and the defensive line appears to be deeper. The difference maker will be Grothe, who should take a big step forward as a quarterback, leader and more importantly a winner, as he leads the Bulls to their first ever Big East crown.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

CFI RANKINGS: #10 ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI

2007 RECORD: 9-4; BIG TEN: 6-2
Lost Rose Bowl vs. USC 49-17
LOCATION: Champaign, Illinois
STADIUM: Memorial Stadium (65,000)
HEAD COACH: Ron Zook
OVERALL: 36-37 (6 seasons)
AT ILLINOIS: 13-23 (3 seasons)

We knew Ron Zook could recruit—see the 2006 BCS Champion Florida Gators—but last season Zook showed us that he can in fact coach a little too. When he arrived in Champaign, the Illini were coming off back-to-back losing seasons in which they combined to win four games (19 losses). It wasn’t a quick turnaround for the Zooker—he won four games in his first two seasons (19 losses)—but quietly he was building the foundation. Last year Illinois broke through, not only qualifying for a bowl, but the Rose Bowl. They won nine games which, if you do your math right, is one more than the previous four seasons combined.

WHEN THE ILLINI HAVE THE BALL

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Mike Locksley (4th Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 7
KEY LOSSES: Rashad Mendenhall, Martin O’Donnell, Akim Millington, Jacob Willis

Rashad Mendenhall is a big loss, but don’t shed too many tears for the Illini’s rushing attack. They return three-fifths of their offensive line and in Juice Williams they have one of the nation’s top running quarterbacks. Williams has a thick lower body which allows him to use his power as well as his athleticism to break tackles. Williams also does not run simply to pad his numbers, but when the team needs him the most—his yards count. Replacing Mendenhall will likely fall to more than one man. Senior RB Daniel Dufrens showed glimpses of his breakaway ability in backup duty. Freshmen Mikel LeShoure, Troy Pollard and Jason Ford will get their chances, with LeShoure packing a big punch at 240 pounds. Williams is still a work in progress as a passer, but the arm strength and potential are there. Sophomore WR Arrelious Benn was as good as advertised and should even better in year number two as a starter now that he is completely healthy. Jeff Cumberland has potential and was underutilized last season.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) WR Arrelious Benn (SO), 2) TE/WR Jeff Cumberland (JR)

WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL

CO-DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Dan Disch (2nd Season/4th at Illinois)
CO-DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Curt Mallory (2nd Season/4th at Illinois)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 6
KEY LOSSES: J Leman, Antonio Steele, Justin Harrison, Kevin Mitchell, Justin Sanders

Up front, none of their players would be described as spectacular, but they have an excellent rotation at defensive end, led by seniors Will Davis and Derek Walker sharing time with junior Doug Pilcher. Davis is their top pass rusher, with Pilcher providing some big plays off the bench. In the interior, senior DT David Lindquist is their top run stuffer. The back seven features two of the most physically gifted and talented defenders in the nation in junior CB Vontae Davis and sophomore LB Martez Wilson. Davis is further ahead of the curve with two years of experience as a starter, while Wilson is more of a raw talent still learning the ropes. Both are explosive and potential difference makers. Leading the group in the huddle will be senior Brit Miller, who slides over from OLB to MIKE, taking the place of J Leman. They have talent at safety, but they are unproven. Whether it be at safety or sprinkled in the front seven, expect an influx of young talent on the defensive side of the ball.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) CB Vontae Davis (JR), 2) LB Martez Wilson (SO)

THE SCHEDULE


The Illini have a chance to show the college football world that last season was not a fluke when they take on “Arch” rival Missouri to kick off the season. Last season neither team was ranked to start the year…this time around, both are. One thing is for sure—if they are to reach nine wins again, the Illini will have to earn it. They must visit Penn St., Michigan and Wisconsin, with their trips to Happy Valley and Ann Arbor kicking off their conference schedule. That’s four foes in the preseason Coaches Poll before the calendar turns to November. In the season’s final month, they finally play a ranked opponent in the friendly confines as the Ohio St. Buckeyes make a visit.

PIVOTAL POINT


A more well-rounded Juice: Williams has been receiving high praise for his play in camp and is coming off a scrimmage in which he completed 16-of-25 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns (no interceptions). He can do it, he’s done it before, he just needs to do it on a more consistent bases. Against the No. 1 ranked Ohio St. Buckeyes, Williams threw four touchdown passes and no interceptions, handing the Buckeyes their lone regular season loss. However, in the Illini’s other 12 games, his TD-INT ratio was 9-12, which is simply unacceptable. His completion percentage of 57.3 also will not cut it if Illinois is to take the next step.

CFI FINAL ANALYSIS


The Illini may have arrived a bit ahead of schedule last season. Some might even say they were exposed by the Men of Troy in the Rose Bowl…but not so fast my friends. Although the Illini may not improve upon their 9 wins from last season, there's no reason to think they can't at least match it. With three tough tests in their first five games, the learning curve is steep, but no one can deny the playmakers are in place. Illinois is a sleeper in the Big Ten.

Photo Credit: University of Illinois

Georgia Southern Suspends Eight


Eight Georgia Southern football players were suspended for the season opener against No. 1 Georgia, All Access Football has learned.

Raja Andrews, Charwell Brown, Brandavious Mann, Terrione Benefield and Damon Suggs will miss the Aug. 30 game. Zeke Rozier, Garryon Taylor and Ronnie Wiggins were suspended for two games.

Benefield and Wiggins were projected starters.

CFI RANKINGS: #11 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS

2007 RECORD: 11-2; ACC: 5-2
Won Fiesta Bowl vs. Oklahoma 48-28
LOCATION: Morgantown, West Virginia
STADIUM: Mountaineer Field (60,000)
HEAD COACH: Bill Stewart
OVERALL: 9-25 (3 seasons)
AT WEST VIRGINIA: 1-0 (0 seasons)

WVU enters the season having won 11 games for three straight years, including two Big East Championships and a pair of BCS upsets—over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Not only have they overcome traditional powers from the big bad SEC and the Big 12, but doubters from sea to shining sea as well. Now they must conquer what may be their biggest challenge—replacing Rich Rodriguez, the man who brought WVU to the mountaintop.

WHEN THE MOUNTAINEERS HAVE THE BALL

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Jeff Mullen (1st Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 8
KEY LOSSES: Steve Slaton, Owen Schmitt, Darius Reynaud

The architect of WVU’s spread offense may be gone, but the Mountaineer faithful remain calmly in their seats because the captain of their ship returns. It’s no coincidence that the Mountaineers’ run has coincided with Pat White’s tenure as quarterback. White may be the most dynamic player with the football in his hands, regardless of position. When he is on the field, the Mountaineers are capable of wracking up points against any defense in the nation. Making this backfield a dynamic duo is sophomore TB Noel Devine, an absolute blur in the open field. Devine figures to put up monster numbers, however how many times can the 170-pounder carry the pigskin? While the focus is on speed, the Mountaineer playmakers will benefit from a stellar offensive line, which features All-Big East candidates OT Ryan Stancheck and OG Greg Isdaner. White has improved his skills as a passer, but they will have to replace Darius Reynaud who caught 44 percent of White’s completions and 86 percent of his touchdown passes. Don’t be surprised if Mr. White catches a touchdown pass or two with Jarrett Brown triggering the offense sometime this season.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) QB Pate White (SR), 2) RB Noel Devine (SO)

WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR:
Jeff Casteel (7th Season/8th at West Virginia)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 7
KEY LOSSES: Marc Magro, Ryan Mundy, Eric Wicks, Antonio Lewis, Johnny Dingle, Keilen Dykes

They return three players who can hit and stop the run in a pair of senior backers, MIKE Reed Williams and SAM Mortty Ivy, and junior Bandit Quinton Andrews. Williams and Andrews were their top two tacklers last season, but they must replace eight of their top 11 tacklers from a year ago. On the defensive line, the player they need to step up the most is sophomore DT Scooter Berry. Andrews is the lone returning starter in a secondary that features five players in West Virginia’s base defense. The troika of Ryan Mundy, Eric Wicks and Antonio Lewis has moved on—each had three interceptions while no other Mountaineer posted even two in 2007. Their pass rush is also depleted with their top two sackers Johnny Dingle (9 sacks) and Marc Magro (6 sacks) having moved on as well. Ivy did have six sacks, but Andrews’ 1.5 is the second most among the returnees.

TOP PROSPECTS: 1) SS Quinton Andrews (JR), 2) DT Scooter Berry (SO)

THE SCHEDULE


The Mountaineers play a couple of intriguing out of conference games on Thursday nights. First they fly out to Boulder in September to take on the Buffs and take a closer look at the Rockies. Then, the Auburn Tigers come to the highlands of West Virginia for a rare late October inter-conference battle between what should be ranked foes. If they get by the SEC West giant, WVU’s national title hopes could come down to their final two games as they make a trip north over the border to face rival Pittsburgh, the club that spoiled their chances last season. If they get past the Panthers, WVU must then overcome South Florida, who has handed them two of their last three losses.

PIVOTAL POINT


Reload: As long as Pat White is in shotgun, they are in win now mode, but is there enough talent for the Mountaineers to simply reload? Steve Slaton led WVU running backs in rushing three years in a row. Reynaud has led the team in receptions the last two years and receiving touchdowns in two of the past three. Their losses on the defensive side of the ball have already been documented. If the Mountaineers are to continue their run of 11 wins and take home another Big East title, they will need several players to step up and make an impact.

CFI FINAL ANALYSIS

From an individual talent perspective, WVU has not been overly impressive…one only needs to check the last couple of NFL Drafts—it’s not loaded with players from the Mountain State. They have been the ultimate team—better than the sum of their parts—and isn’t that what college football is all about? With so many players gone from last season, the Mountaineers need everyone to play their part more than ever. The base is there with White, Devine and the offensive line, the other pieces will decide whether they reach their peak.

Photo Credit: WVU Sports Communication