Monday, August 31, 2009

CFI Countdown: #8 Georgia Bulldogs

2008 Record: 10-3 (SEC 6-3)
Bowl Game: Won Capital One Bowl vs. Michigan St. 24-12
Location: Athens, Georgia
Stadium: Sanford Stadium (92,746)
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Overall: 82-22 (9th season)
@ Georgia: 82-22 (9th season)
Link to UGA Football Page

There are no number one rankings or Heisman favorites. There aren’t nearly as many magazine covers, and there isn’t a potential number one overall pick in the NFL Draft. But none of that means this group of Dawgs can’t be better than last year’s bunch. This year’s team won’t be as flashy and doesn’t have the same potential, but they should be a tougher, more physical team.

When the Bulldogs Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Mike Bobo (3rd season)
Scheme: Pro Style Offense
Starters Returning: Seven
Key Losses: QB Matthew Stafford, RB Knowshon Moreno, WR Mohamed Massaquoi


Even though Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno left with a combined three years of eligibility remaining, there is confidence that the offense could be better in 2009, and that might not be such a crazy idea. In senior quarterback Joe Cox they have the ideal replacement for Stafford. Now obviously, Cox doesn’t have the same fastball, but his arm is good enough and he has really stepped up as the leader in Athens according to all accounts. Replacing Moreno’s running and energy might not be easy, but sophomores Richard Samuel and Caleb King don’t lack for talent. There may not be one superstar back, but when was the last time Georgia didn’t field a deep and talented stable? A big reason for the good feelings is a healthy offensive line, especially if sophomore tackle Trinton Sturdivant can come back 100 percent after missing all of last season. He was impressive as a true freshman starter at left tackle in 2007. Other players with All-SEC potential include sophomore center Ben Jones and junior guard/tackle Clint Boling. This group is deep and talented—a weakness from last season has become a strength. If you are looking for a potential superstar on offense look no further than sophomore A. J Green, who made an impression around the SEC as a true freshman last season. Green is fast and capable of stretching the field with the size to go up and get the football in traffic—he’s a dynamic playmaker that will be near impossible to stop one-on-one. Senior Michael Moore has big-play potential as well, and there are high hopes for red-shirt freshman Tavarres King.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) SS A. J. Green (SO), 2) OT Trinton Sturdivant (SR), 3) OT/OG Clint Boling (JR)

When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Willie Martinez (5th season)
Scheme: Multiple 4-3
Starters Returning: Six
Key Losses: CB Asher Allen, LB Dannell Ellerbe, DT Corey Irvin, DE Jarius Wynn


Last season the feeling was that Georgia would have one of the best tackle tandems in the SEC, if not the nation. Then Jeff Owens went down for the season with an injury in the season opener and Geno Atkins had a lackluster season...time for take two. Owens, a medical red-shirt after the injury, has a second crack at his senior season and the hope is Atkins, who many thought would leave early, will play up to his potential. There is also quality depth behind the two seniors. They also lacked a premiere pass rusher a year ago, which they hope will be rectified by sophomore Justin Houston, who brings big-time ability. Leading the linebacker corps is junior Rennie Curran from his WILL position—he is undersized but boy can he fly, and he packs a wallop when he gets there. Junior Akeem Dent, a solid tackler, mans the middle, with SAM Darryl Gamble very capable in coverage. Senior Marcus Washington is yet another player working his way back from injury. At cornerback, senior Prince Miller returns, with sophomore Brandon Boykin ready to step in for the departed Asher Allen. Allen was among the SEC’s best before declaring for the draft, but Boykin could even better. The most talented player on the Georgia defense, and maybe the entire team, is junior safety Reshad Jones. A wise decision was made when he decided to return to Georgia—good news for the Dawgs and Jones. As talented as Jones is—his size and speed combo is as impressive as any defensive back in the nation—he still needs to work on his understanding of the game.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) SS Rashad Jones (JR), 2) LB Rennie Curran (JR), 3) DT Jeff Owens (SR)

The Schedule


It will be an interesting September in Georgia and it all begins in Stillwater as they travel west to take on the Oklahoma St. Cowboys. A win there will send a message that this season, the Bulldogs will fulfill their potential. They follow that up with consecutive SEC games—South Carolina and at Arkansas—before closing the month out with Arizona St. between the hedges. If September is interesting, then October is downright enthralling. It starts off with a home game versus LSU and ends in Jacksonville against Florida. Those two tilts sandwich road tests at Tennessee and Vanderbilt. The also play border rival Auburn and visit in-state rival Georgia Tech in November. Wow—that schedule is a doozie.

Pivotal Point


Get healthy and stay healthy, particularly in the trenches. It seemed like every week the Dawgs threw out a different starting five along the offensive line, which is no way to win football games in the SEC. Line play on each side of the ball needs cohesiveness, no matter the talent. Sturdivant, Boling, Jones, and sophomore Cordy Glenn are all projected among the best at their respective positions. Last year Stafford and Moreno didn’t lead them to the Promised Land, in part because of the woes up front. This year they could win because of the line. The same could be said on defense—Atkins and Owens make everyone better.

CFI Final Analysis


The 2008 Bulldogs didn’t handle having a bull’s-eye placed on them with a pre-season number one ranking well. (Not that 10 wins is a bad season.) They were the hunted. Now, they are the hunter. Can they pull off the upset in Boone Pickens Stadium? Can they stack up with the Bayou Bengals? Take a deep breath—could they knock off the Florida Gators? Will they reclaim their status as top dog in the Peach state? It says here that headman Mark Richt and company will relish that role and have a better season than people think.

College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos
#15 North Carolina Tar Heels
#14 Penn St. Nittany Lions
#13 Mississippi Rebels
#12 Oklahoma St. Cowboys
#11 California Golden Bears
#10 Iowa Hawkeyes
#9 Virginia Tech Hokies

Photos Courtesy of SEC Sports Media

CFI Countdown: #9 Virginia Tech Hokies

2008 Record: 10-4 (ACC 5-3)
Bowl Game: Won Orange Bowl vs. Cincinnati 20-7
Location: Blacksburg, Virginia
Stadium: Lane Stadium (65,115)
Head Coach: Frank Beamer
Overall: 177-112-4 (29th season)
@ Virginia Tech 177-89-2 (23rd season)
Link to Va. Tech Football Page


Beamerball has been very, very good to the Hokie faithful, particularly over the last five seasons. Virginia Tech has alternated between 10 and 11 wins including three ACC titles and an Orange Bowl victory last season, yet people still talk about Florida St. and Miami like they are the premier programs of the ACC. Despite the reputations of their conference rivals, it’s hard to argue against Virginia Tech being that premier team…especially if they capture another conference crown this season.

When the Hokies Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Bryan Stinespring (4th season)
Scheme: Pro Style Offense
Starters Returning: Seven
Key Losses: C Ryan Shuman, OG Nick Marshman, QB Sean Glennon, RB Darren Evans (Injured)


Junior Tyrod Taylor is back at quarterback. He still possesses a great deal of potential, but it just that—potential. The jury is still out when it comes to his passing skills, but no one can argue with his ability to run the football—he is a legitimate playmaker in the open field. However, they can’t live with Taylor throwing just two touchdown passes in 2009 as he did last season. Taylor should benefit from the experience he gained last season, as well as the fact that he no longer has to look over his shoulder whenever he makes a mistake now that Sean Glennon is gone. The Hokies were very inexperienced at wide receiver last season, but sophomores Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale, and Dyrell Roberts all received seasoning by being thrown to the fire and should form the nucleus of a solid receiving corps for years to come. Tight end Greg “Wild Turkey” Boone is an impressive athlete for a man of his size. With both tackles back, senior Ed Wang and sophomore Blake DeChristopher, the line should be solid from right to left. DeChristopher has All-American potential. Guard Sergio Render is an All-American candidate himself, having been a contributor in Blacksburg since day one. What was supposed to be a position of strength has turned into a major question mark heading into the season as the Hokies suffered a devastating loss when sophomore tailback Darren Evans went down for the season with a knee injury. The bruising back was a proven commodity. His backup, sophomore Josh Oglesby, is dealing with both a foot infection and a sore hamstring, while senior Kenny Lewis is still working his way back from a torn Achilles tendon. That leaves talented red-shirt freshman Ryan Williams as the man heading into the season.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) OT Black DeChristopher (SO), 2) OT Ed Wang (SR), 3) OG Sergio Render (SR)

When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Bud Foster (15th season)
Scheme: 4-3
Starters Returning: Seven
Key Losses: CB Victor “Macho” Harris, DE Orion Martin, LB Brett Warren, LB Purnell Sturdivant


It should come as no surprise that the school that some are starting to call “DB-U” has a stellar secondary. Stephen Virgil stepped in very nicely for the departed Brandon Flowers last season and this year he takes over at the “boundry” corner for Macho Harris. Virgil is very solid in coverage and has excellent ball skills. There are high hopes for speedy junior Rashad Carmichael on the other side. At one safety spot senior Kam Chancellor is a potential stud, possessing prototypical size and speed. He improved as his junior season went on, showing a better understanding of the game to go along with his vast physical abilities. They are solid at the other safety position as well, with senior Dorian Porch and junior Davon Morgan competing for playing time. They must replace two linebackers, but should be fine with sophomore Barquell Rivers ready to step in and shine. The defensive line is led by all-world pass rusher junior Jason Worilds, who is a speed demon coming off the edge. The rest of the line is solid, but nothing special. It would be nice if another playmaker emerged to complement Worilds.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) S Kam Chancellor (SR), 2) DE Jason Worilds (JR), 3) CB Stephan Virgil (SR)

The Schedule

Out of conference, the Hokies kick off their schedule with Alabama in week one. A win against the Crimson Tide would vault them right into national title contention. They also host Nebraska and make a trip to East Carolina, which is one of their most dangerous games as it comes in November and is sandwiched by a pair of ACC games. In conference, they visit Georgia Tech but host North Carolina—those are their top two challengers in the Coastal Division. Other games to watch include home games against Miami and North Carolina St., as well as visits to Maryland and Virginia to close out the season.

Pivotal Point

You can almost always go with the quarterback. While the Hokies proved last season that they can win the ACC and even a BCS Bowl with shaky quarterback play, it will be a deeper and tougher conference this season. As stated earlier, Taylor must do better than two touchdowns for Tech to fulfill their potential. He has been incredibly inconsistent as a passer and at times, downright dismal. In his defense, he came to Blacksburg very raw and was forced into the fire far before he should have been. If he can make significant progress and become an all-around threat—a big “if”—the Hokies could be one of the best teams in the nation, not just the ACC.

CFI Final Analysis

The Hokies are due to win 11 games in 2009 if the five-year trend is to continue, and that sounds about right. Alabama is a tough way to start the season and it will not be easy to run through the ACC unscathed—not this season. The defense should again be among the best in the nation, with playmakers on the line, the linebacking corps, and in the secondary. But the passing game has a lot to prove and now they are searching for answers at running back as well. It should be another typical Beamer season, which should have them playing on New Year’s Day (or the second).

College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos
#15 North Carolina Tar Heels
#14 Penn St. Nittany Lions
#13 Mississippi Rebels
#12 Oklahoma St. Cowboys
#11 California Golden Bears
#10 Iowa Hawkeyes

Photos Courtesy of David Knachel, Virginia Tech Athletics Communications

Sunday, August 30, 2009

CFI Countdown: #10 Iowa Hawkeyes


2008 Record: 9-4 (Big Ten 5-3)
Bowl Game: Won Outback Bowl vs. South Carolina 31-10
Location: Iowa City, Iowa
Stadium: Kinnick Stadium (70,585)
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz
Overall: 82-74 (14th season)
@ Iowa 70-53 (11th season)
Link to Iowa Football Page


After reaching double digits in victories each season from 2002-2004—quite a turn around from 11 total wins in Kirk Ferentz’s first three years (1999-2001)—it appeared the Hawkeyes would be a perennial ten-win team and Big Ten title contender as long as Ferentz remained in Iowa City. Ferentz stayed, but Iowa’s mojo did not. They failed to reach even eight wins from 2005-2007, including a 2006 campaign where they finished eighth in the Big Ten with a losing record (first since 2000). Last year was a bounce back season and the hope in Hawkeye land is that another ten-win season is just around the corner.

When the Hawkeyes Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Ken O’Keefe (11th season)
Scheme: Multiple
Starters Returning: Six
Key Losses: RB Shonn Greene, WR Andy Brodell, OG Seth Olsen, C Rob Bruggeman, TE Brandon Myers

The best Hawkeye teams, whether led by Coach Ferentz or the legendary Hayden Fry, always had one common denominator—a dominant offensive line. It appears Iowa is getting back to their roots, as they could boast one of the best front lines in the Big Ten. It starts with junior left tackle Bryan Bulaga, who may have single-handedly changed South Carolina linebacker Eric Norwood’s mind about leaving school early for the NFL, by dominating the two-time All SECer. Bulaga is a legitimate All-American candidate. On the other side, senior Kyle Calloway is also one of the top tackles in the conference. They return Julian Vandervelde at one guard spot and if senior Dace Richardson, who once manned the left tackle spot, returns at 100 percent this will be a dominant unit. (Callaoway will miss the opener and Vandervelde may miss a game or two.) Shonn Greene left early and his replacement, sophomore Jewell Hampton, enters the season with durability questions. Hampton showed he was capable as a freshman and it’s important that he returns healthy before conference play begins. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi is more of a game-manager than a playmaker, but that’s OK. He is a good leader and has a couple of big wins already under his belt. They should be fine in the pass catching department as long as junior wide out Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and senior tight end Tony Moeaki play to their talent level.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) OT Bryan Bulaga (JR), 2) OT Kyle Calloway (SR), 3) TE Tony Moeaki (SR)


When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Norm Parker (11th season)
Scheme: 4-3
Starters Returning: Eight
Key Losses: DT Mitch King, DT Matt Kroul, CB Bradley Fletcher


With teams spreading defenses out and throwing the football more than ever—even in the Big Ten—Iowa is ready with a stacked secondary. Junior corner Amari Spievey is primed for a big season as he continues Iowa’s tradition of underrated players at the position (see Bradley Fletcher and Charles Godfrey). Sophomore safety Tyler Sash joins him as a big time playmaker, with junior Brett Greenwood a solid force. The linebackers aren’t too shabby either. MIKE Pat Angerer not only has the most fitting name for a middle linebacker, he has the game to go along with it. He is a tackling machine who surprised with his ball skills last season. On the outside he is joined by senior A. J. Edds and junior Jeremiha Hunter, a pair of players that were a bit overshadowed a year ago, but who will make names for themselves in 2009. The potential Achilles heel comes at defensive tackle where they must replace both starters including defensive linchpin Mitch King. Junior Karl Klug was impressive when given the opportunity and sophomore Mike Daniels was good enough to contribute as a freshman. The Hawkeyes will hope to counter their losses on the inside with more production from the outside. Juniors Christian Ballard and Adrian Clayborn are back and there is depth behind them.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) CB Amari Spievey (JR), 2) LB Paul Angerer (SR), 3) LB A. J. Edds (SR)


The Schedule

Iowa takes on in-state schools Northern Iowa and Iowa St. in Ames before hosting the Arizona Wildcats in an interesting Big Ten/Pac-10 September matchup. They would be wise not to look past the ‘Cats, although it will be tempting with the Penn St. Nittany Lions coming up the following week. A win in Happy Valley would catapult the Hawkeyes into Big Ten title contention. However, the Big Ten schedule is tough—they also play at Ohio St. and at Michigan St., so they face all three ranked Big Ten foes away from Kinnick. Not to be forgotten is a trip to Wisconsin, while 2008 bowl teams Minnesota and Northwestern will make the trip to Iowa City.

Pivotal Point

Win the close ones! Iowa is not going to be explosive offensively and will need to pull off an upset or two on the road if they are going to reach ten wins, so expect to see them in several nip and tuck contests that will go down to the wire. The Hawkeyes did not fair well in those types of close games last season, which is the only reason they fell short of double digit wins. Yes, they kicked a last second field goal to knock off previously undefeated Penn St. 24-23, but they lost their other four games that were decided by five points or less—21-20 at Pittsburgh, 27-24 at Illinois, 16-13 at Michigan St., and 22-17 versus Northwestern—all very winnable games.

CFI Final Analysis


The Hawkeyes are back. The team that tied for a Big Ten title both in 2002 (8-0 in conference play) and 2004 (7-1) will make a run again in 2009. The offensive line and defense will rival any in the Big Ten, keeping them in each and every game. Stanzi learned how to win last season and will take that experience into his junior season, allowing the Hawkeyes to exceed expectations with their best finish in five seasons. If not for a stacked conference schedule, a share of the conference title wouldn’t be out of reach.

College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos
#15 North Carolina Tar Heels
#14 Penn St. Nittany Lions
#13 Mississippi Rebels
#12 Oklahoma St. Cowboys
#11 California Golden Bears

Photos Courtesy of Iowa Sports Information

CFI Countdown: #11 California Golden Bears

2008 Record: 9-4 (Pac-10 6-3)
Bowl Game: Won Champs Sports Bowl vs. Miami, 24-17
Location: Berkley, California
Stadium: California Memorial Stadium (72,516)
Head Coach: Jeff Tedford
Overall: 59-30 (8th season)
@ California 59-30 (8th season)
Link to Cal Football Page


Outside of USC—first in scoring defense, second in scoring offense—the 2008 Cal Golden Bears were the most balanced club in the Pac-10 with the second-ranked scoring defense and fourth-ranked scoring offense. Obviously that wasn’t the case when they gave up 42 in the Arizona desert to the Wildcats and were held to three points in Sunny Southern California by the Men of Troy. If they can avoid those mishaps, the third ten-win season and maybe even the first Pac-10 title of the Jeff Tedford era could be in the offing.

When the Bears Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Andy Ludwig (1st season)
Scheme: West Coast Offense
Starters Returning: Seven
Key Losses: C Alex Mack, TE Cameron Morrah, FB Will Ta’uf’ou, OG Norris Malele, QB Nate Longshore


Before we get to all-everything junior tailback Jahvid Best, let’s discuss the quarterback situation. After working wonders with gunslingers (and future first round picks) Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers, quarterback guru Tedford has seen ups and downs at the critical position. Junior Riley Skinner won a three-way battle for the starting nod and the best thing that could happen to the Golden Bears is he stays there all season long. Skinner doesn’t lack talent, but has yet to put it together on a consistent basis. Of course, the best pass he may make this season is the shortest one—a hand-off to the explosive Best. The diminutive back needs only a sliver of space to take one to the house as his great moves in the open field and breakaway speed strike fear in opponents. Sophomore Shane Vereen is a very solid backup and should be able to give Best a breather when needed. Their backs can’t be the only playmakers which means they need someone at receiver to step up—whether it is returning starter Verran Tucker, leading returning receiver Nyan Boateng, or talented sophomore Marvin Jones. The line loses center Alex Mack but could be better as a unit in 2009.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) RB Jahvid Best (JR), 2) WR Nyan Boateng (SR), 3) OT Mike Tepper (SR)

When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Bob Gregory (8th season)
Scheme: 3-4
Starters Returning: Eight
Key Losses: LB Zack Follett, LB Anthony Felder, LB Worrell Williams, DE Rulon Davis


Even though they lost three of their four starting linebackers, junior Mike Mohamed—who can play inside or out—may have been the best “sub” in the country. Off the bench as a sophomore, he delivered enough tackles to finish second on the team in that department. His speed and athleticism should make him the top playmaker on the Golden Bears defense. If Mohamed doesn’t emerge as the number one weapon, don’t be surprised if it is super sophomore Mychal Kendricks, another speedy playmaker primed to bust loose. At 300 pounds Derrick Hill anchors the line from the nose position, flanked by big and powerful ends Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan. Both bring the size necessary for this scheme, as well the ability to get into the backfield. Saving the best for last, Cal’s secondary will rival any in the Pac-10. Senior corner Syd’Quan Thompson has gotten better each season since his rough freshman campaign, while junior Darian Hagan could be just as good.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) CB Syd’Quan Thompson (SR), 2) LB Mike Mohamed (JR), 3) DL Tyson Alualu (SR)

The Schedule


The Golden Bears have a pair of interesting out of conference games. At home, they’ll try to avenge last season’s eight-point loss to Maryland, while on the road the Bears will venture into Big Ten country to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers in their new stadium. If Cal is going to be a challenger to USC, these are games that shouldn’t give them too much trouble. They follow up their Minneapolis road trip with a one to the great northwest to take on the Oregon Ducks, with USC at home the week after that. Can they avoid looking past Minnesota to Oregon and looking past Oregon to USC? If they can split the two Pac-10 games, the Bears will have done well. Other games of interest include home contests against Oregon St. and Arizona, as well road games at UCLA, Arizona St., and Stanford. Other than the Evergreen state (Washington, Washington St. & Eastern Washington), the schedule is challenging.

Pivotal Point


If the Golden Bears are to improve on their nine wins from a year ago they must become road warriors, or at least stop being road pushovers. Cal was a perfect 7-0 at home in 2008, but an abysmal 1-4 on the road, dropping games at USC, Arizona, Oregon St., and Maryland. Their lone win away from home was against a 1-11 Washington St. squad. This year they face six road tests, playing more than half of their conference games away from home. In 2006 they lost at Washington, Stanford, UCLA, and Arizona—four of the sites for this year’s trips. The last time they won more than half their road games came in 2005, when they went 3-2.

CFI Final Analysis

Headman Jeff Tedford built his reputation as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, both at Fresno St. and Oregon where he tutored several quarterbacks to the pro ranks before taking over as the head coach for the Golden Bears. He basically picked up where he left off, building a strong offense in Berkeley. This year it is the defense that is the sure thing, as Cal should be strong against both the run and the pass with playmakers at every level. But will they get enough offense? Is Riley the answer at quarterback? Will a number one wide receiver emerge? Is the O-Line going to step up? The 2009 Golden Bears will get enough affirmative answers to give USC a run for their money.


College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos
#15 North Carolina Tar Heels
#14 Penn St. Nittany Lions
#13 Mississippi Rebels
#12 Oklahoma St. Cowboys

Photos Courtesy of GoldenSports.com

Saturday, August 29, 2009

CFI Countdown: #12 Oklahoma St. Cowboys

2008 Record: 9-4 (Big XII 5-3)
Bowl Game: Lost Holiday Bowl to Oregon 42-31
Location: Stillwater, Oklahoma
Stadium: Boone Pickens Stadium (48,000)
Head Coach: Mike Gundy
Overall: 27-23 (5th season)
@ Oklahoma St.: 27-23 (5th season)
Link to OSU Football Page


Mike Gundy won four games as a rookie head coach in 2005, and increased that total to seven wins in 2006 and 2007 before winning nine games last year. That was the most by the Pokes since they won ten games in 1988…when some guy named Barry Sanders was running the football and Gundy—not yet a man (couldn’t resist)—was throwing it. This team has a chance to be as good, if not better, than that group of Cowboys.

When the Cowboys Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Gunter Brewer (2nd season)
Scheme: Spread Offense
Starters Returning: Seven
Key Losses: TE Brandon Pettigrew, WR Damian Davis, C David Washington, OG Steve Denning


The well-balanced Cowboys’ attack is led by one of the most balanced quarterbacks in the nation, senior Zac Robinson. He was always dangerous as a runner and has continued to improve as a passer each season in Stillwater. Robinson doesn’t have the strongest arm, but it is strong enough to stretch the field. He excels with the ball in his hands and is the unquestioned leader in the huddle. It doesn’t hurt that he has two explosive weapons in tailback Kendall Hunter and wide receiver Dez Bryant—a pair of exciting juniors. Bryant in particular is a quarterback’s dream, with size, speed, wingspan, and tremendous hands. Throw it up anywhere in Bryant’s zip code and he’s coming down with the football. Bryant can go deep, make plays after the catch, and is nearly unstoppable in the red zone. The one weakness the Pokes have on offense is the lack of depth behind Bryant, which was evident when the Biletnikoff finalist was injured in their bowl loss. It’s unclear who it will be, but somebody needs to step up and take advantage of all the attention Bryant receives. Making that even more important is the loss of tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The running game is unquestioned. Hunter is explosive and has impressive shiftiness and footwork, making tacklers miss, not only in the open field, but in tight spaces as well. He is also stronger than he looks. Providing depth are seniors Keith Toston, who could start for a lot of teams, and Beau Johnson. The line should be solid with both tackles returning, including All-American candidate Russell Okung. Andrew Lewis will move over to take over at center, while both guards will be first-time starters.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) WR Dez Bryant (JR), 2) OT Russell Okung (SR), 3) RB Kendall Hunter (JR)


When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Bill Young (1st season)
Scheme: 4-3
Starters Returning: Six
Key Losses: DT Tonga Tea, CB Jacob Lacey, S Ricky Price


In Derek Burton, Swanson Miller, and Shane Jarka the Cowboys have tackles who should be able to hold down the front and maybe even make some plays from the inside of the defensive line. Moving from end, Burton has excellent athleticism and could be a real force. The player with the most upside, who can be a real difference maker along the defensive line, is junior end Ugo Chinasa. He is a speed pass rusher off the edge who can make his teammates better football players. A big reason for the Cowboys’ defensive struggles in 2008 was their lack of a pass rush—Chinasa has the ability to change that. The Pokes are happy in general with their depth along the line; sophomore Jamie Blatnick is yet another player who could make strides this season. They are solid at the second line of defense with a trio of senior starters—Andre Sexton, Orie Lemon, and Patrick Lavine—returning in 2009. Lemon has good size in the middle, while Sexton, a former safety, makes plays using his speed. Their top defender likely resides in the secondary, as there are high expectations for senior cornerback Perrish Cox. He has the ability to be a lockdown corner and the ball skills to be a big time playmaker in the defensive backfield, something this defense has lacked. Outside of Cox the rest of the DBs will be new to the starting lineup, which may end up being a positive. Another fresh face is defensive coordinator Bill Young, who is aggressive and comes in with a good reputation.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) DE Ugo Chinasa (JR), 2) CB Perish Cox (SR), 3) LB Andrew Sexton (SR)


The Schedule

We will find out very quickly if the 2009 Cowboys are ready for prime time as they host the Georgia Bulldogs in week one. Week two brings a big test to the pass defense, with the prolific Houston Cougars coming to Stillwater—a nice prep for the pass-happy Big XII…as long as the Pokes survive it. In conference play the two games to circle are a home contest to Texas and the season finale in Norman against in-state rivals Oklahoma. Other intriguing conference games include visits from Texas Tech, Missouri, and Colorado, with a trip to Waco to take on the rising Baylor Bears the week before the Texas game—a very dangerous game.

Pivotal Point

It’s all about the defense in big games. Although the Stillwater faithful were happy with their nine wins, there was a sense that something was missing from the 2008 campaign—that signature big win. They lost to their three toughest conference foes in Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech—all from the Big XII South—as well as suffering a defeat in their bowl game against Oregon. For the most part, the defense was the culprit. They held their own in a 28-24 loss to the ‘Horns but allowed 56 points to the Red Raiders in Lubbock, 61 to the Sooners in Boone Pickens Stadium, and 42 to the Ducks in what could have been win number ten. This year they play Georgia, Oklahoma, and Texas—it will be hard to label this season a success if they drop all three.

CFI Final Analysis


Oklahoma St.’s offense rivals any in the nation, with the triplets—Robinson, Hunter and Bryant—reminding many of another group of Cowboys (Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin), who were ironically coached by former Poke headman Jimmy Johnson. That is not say this trio will end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but at the college level they are as good as they come. OSU is on the cusp of a huge season…but until they prove it on the field against the big boys, a little skepticism is warranted.

College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos
#15 North Carolina Tar Heels
#14 Penn St. Nittany Lions
#13 Mississippi Rebels

Photos Courtesy of Oklahoma St. University

CFI Countdown: #13 Mississippi Rebels

2008 Record: 9-4 (SEC 5-3)
Bowl Game: Won Cotton Bowl vs. Texas Tech 47-34
Location: Oxford, Mississippi
Stadium: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (60,580)
Head Coach: Houston Nutt
Overall: 120-74 (17th season)
@ Ole Miss 9-4 (2nd season)

Link to Ole Miss Football Page

In case you didn’t realize Houston Nutt knew how to coach…now you do. Nutt came over from Arkansas and took over an Ole Miss squad that was 14-32 since they won 10 games in 2003, including a 3-9 campaign in 2007. Under Nutt, they turned it around much quicker than anyone expected going 9-4 in 2008. If you are wondering what the fuss is about with the 2009 Rebels—they won their final six games of last season including a Cotton Bowl victory over Texas Tech, so there is cause for optimism. Oh, they were also the only team last year to knock off the eventual champion Florida Gators.

When the Rebels Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Kent Austin (2nd season)
Scheme: Pro Style
Starters Returning: Six
Key Losses: OT Michael Oher, WR Mike Wallace, FB Jason Cook, OG Maurice Miller, LB Tony Fein


It’s no secret why things began to click for the Rebels last season—his name is Jevan Snead. The former Longhorn was a little rusty, throwing seven interceptions in their first six games, but once he got going he was tough to slow down. Snead has an NFL arm and is big time prospect. This is just his second season as a full-time starter at the college level so the best is yet to come, which is what has so many people excited about this Ole Miss squad. When Snead isn’t lined up behind center it’s because Coach Nutt is up to his old tricks, lining up wide out/running back Dexter McCluster at quarterback to run the “Wild Rebel” as he did with Darren McFadden back at Arkansas. McCluster is the quintessential all-purpose player having spent significant time at running back and receiver, in addition to dabbling at quarterback. While he didn’t complete a pass (five attempts), McCluster is tied with the most receptions among returning Rebels and is their leading returning rusher—he’s very dynamic with the football in his hands. The primary ball carrier this season figures to be sophomore Brandon Bolden who was impressive in the Cotton Bowl, with senior Cordera Eason providing relief if necessary in what is a deep backfield. Lining up outside along with McCluster is fellow senior Shay Hodge, who is sure-handed and knows how to get into the end zone. Center Daverin Geralds and tackle John Jerry—returning senior starters—should be two of the better linemen in the SEC, but the other spots are in question right now. Replacing a left tackle such as Michael Oher is easier said than done.

Top Pro Prospects: 1 QB Jevan Snead (JR), 2) OG John Jerry (SR), 3) OT Dexter McCluster (SR)


When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Tyrone Nix (2nd season)
Scheme: 4-3/4-2-5
Starters Returning: Eight
Key Losses: DT Peria Jerry, LB Ashlee Palmer, S Jamarca Sanford


Like Oher, replacing a disruptive force like Peria Jerry at defensive tackle is going to be nearly impossible—guys like that just don’t grow on trees, even in SEC country. However, the Rebs do have a few things going for them on defense. They expect a bigger season from uber-talented defensive end Greg Hardy, and continued development from the likes of tackles Ted Laurent and Lawon Scott, as well as ends Marcus Tillman and Kentrall Lockett—four solid contributors from last year’s run. The wildcard is tackle Jerrell Powe, who to this point has been more myth than legend, but could be on the cusp of breaking out. At the next level of defense, one player sure to bust loose is WILL Patrick Trahan, who looked like a future All-SEC performer with the Auburn Tigers once upon a time. He has taken the long route—via Northwest Mississippi Community College—but he may get there yet. They return three of four DBs, but the way they struggled to stop the pass that may not be a good thing. Free safety Kendrick Lewis is solid, but the corners need to step up.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) DE Greg Hardy (SR), 2) DT Ted Laurent (JR), 3) FS Kendrick Lewis (SR)

The Schedule

The out of conference slate, which includes SE Louisiana, UAB, and Northern Arizona, is pretty close to creampuff city. The one game they shouldn’t overlook is the season opener against Memphis—even so it would be a pretty big upset if the Rebels were to lose that one. The reality is that playing a pair of FCS schools could end up hurting them in the long run. They don’t face any ranked teams on the road, but any road trip in the SEC can be tough—Vanderbilt, Auburn, South Carolina, and even in-state rival Mississippi St. can’t be overlooked. It does work out well for Nutt and company that West favorite Alabama and perennial power LSU both come to Dixieland. Those games will likely decide who plays for the SEC title.

Pivotal Point


It’s on the shoulders, or should we say arm, of Jevan Snead. As much as Houston Nutt has done a great job, and although they have plenty of speed on both sides of the ball and depth along the defensive line, it all comes down to the play of Snead. In Ole Miss’ wins, Snead threw 20 touchdowns to six interceptions. In their losses, his touchdowns dropped to six and interceptions rose to seven. Listen to opposing coaches speak about the Rebels and the first thing they mention is the quarterback—the kid is something special. In fact, some might not think it’s the craziest thing in the world if Snead ends up as the first-team signal caller in the SEC. Ironically, had Vince Young stayed in Texas for his senior year, Snead may have remained a Longhorn. But Young left early, and a red-shirt freshman named Colt McCoy took hold of the starting job and wasn’t going to let it go.

CFI Final Analysis

A year ago the Rebels entered the season quietly and were able to sneak up on people. What was impressive was how they played at Alabama (24-20 loss), at LSU (31-13 win) and in the Cotton Bowl versus 11-1 Texas Tech (47-34 win) even after people started to take notice. Now the spotlight is really on them—we’re talking magazine covers and top-five predictions. Mississippi is ready to take the next step; whether or not that means a trip to the SEC Championship game remains to be seen. It may be a stretch to say that a club which was 0-8 in SEC play just two years ago is supposed to surpass ‘Bama and the Bayou Bengals, but it’s impressive that people are even thinking it.


College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos
#15 North Carolina Tar Heels
#14 Penn St. Nittany Lions

Photos Courtesy of SEC Sports Media

Friday, August 28, 2009

CFI Countdown: #14 Penn St. Nittany Lions

2008 Record: 11-2 (Big Ten 7-1)
Bowl Game: Lost Rose Bowl to USC 38-24
Location: University Park, Pennsylvania
Stadium: Beaver Stadium (107,282)
Head Coach: Joe Paterno
Overall: 381-129-3 (44th season)
@ Penn St. 381-129-3 (44th season)
Link to PSU Football Page


The Nittany Lions are coming off a season in which they won 11 games and a Big Ten title and although it didn’t end quite the way they wanted—a Rose Bowl loss to USC—Joe Paterno silenced any doubts his critics had. He proved—as if he had to—that he can still recruit and can still coach ’em up. With only nine starters back, this might be one of Paterno’s tougher coaching jobs considering the always-high expectations in Happy Valley.

When the Nittany Lions Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Galen Hall (6th season)
Scheme: Spread HD
Starters Returning: Five
Key Losses: WR Deon Butler, Derrick Williams, WR Jordan Norwood, OT Gerald Cadogan, C A. Q. Shipley, OG Rich Ohmberger, K Kevin Kelly


Not many teams can rival what the Nittany Lions bring in the offensive backfield with senior signal caller Daryll Clark and junior tailback Evan Royster, a pair of likely All-Big Ten performers. Clark is an ideal quarterback for the spread offense as he is a capable thrower and runner. He is accurate, efficient, and possesses a strong arm, with excellent decision-making skills. He doesn’t run that much, instead picking his spots to tuck and run when the Nittany Lions need to move the chains or cross the goal line. Royster isn’t the biggest or the fastest, but he knows how to make opposing tacklers miss and uses his excellent vision to find holes. Backing him up is blazer Stephfon Green, who is still more potential than production. Look for Green to break off some big runs after Royster has worn the defense down. The offensive line and wide receiving corps is not as sound. Gone are three first-team All-Big Ten performers along the offensive line and three of their top-four all-time pass catchers. The center position is solid, with junior Stefen Wisniewski moving over from guard, but they must replace their left tackle and break new guards into the starting lineup. At receiver the feeling is they have talent, but it is unproven. Helping out the passing game could be a talented duo at tight end—Andrew Quarless has a lot of potential and Mickey Shuler is as solid as they come.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) C/OG Stefen Wisniewski (JR), 2) RB Evan Royster (JR), 3) TE Andrew Quarless (SR)


When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Tom Bradley (10th season)
Scheme: 4-3
Starters Returning: Four
Key Losses: DE Aaron Maybin, DE Maurice Evans, DE Josh Gaines, LB Cameron Wake, CB Lydell Sargeant, CB Tony Davis, S Anthony Scirrotto, S Mark Rubin


They must replace three productive defensive ends and the entire back four—both the last line of defense as well as key components to the front line—no easy task for any defense. They are solid up the middle, with tackles Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu. Odrick in particular is a difference-maker—a 300-pounder with the ability to clog the middle and enough quickness to make plays. The ends are not as secure, where Aaron Maybin’s explosiveness will surely be missed. There is talent, but as is the case at receiver, it is mostly unproven. The entire secondary is brand new, which wasn’t helped by corner A. J. Wallace missing classes and looking at a suspension. The senior is the most experienced of the defensive backs and has some playmaking skills. There are high hopes for sophomore safety Drew Astorino. The strength of the defense should be the linebacking corps where they return starters Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull, as well as Sean Lee from his injury-induced red-shirt season. According to all accounts, Lee is healthy and should be back to his productive self. Both Lee and Bowman have the ability to be disruptive forces and first-team all conference performers. Even so, this unit has already suffered a major loss, as projected starter Michael Mauti is out for the season. He was slated to take over at one outside linebacker spot and allow Lee to slide over to the MIKE (instead of Hull).

Top Pro Prospects: 1) DT Jared Odrick (SR), 2) LB Navorro Bowman (JR), 3) LB Sean Lee (SR)


The Schedule

The out of conference schedule is not impressive, not in the least bit. PSU plays Eastern Illinois, Akron, Syracuse, and Temple—and they play them all at home! Last season Syracuse was 3-9, both Akron and Temple finished 5-7 in the MAC, the same record as Eastern Illinois, a FCS school. What, The Little Sisters of the Poor were busy? In conference the schedule breaks their way as well, not that missing Purdue is a good thing. (They also miss Wisconsin this season.) Their two toughest games, Iowa and Ohio St., should be white-outs in Happy Valley. They do play a quartet of potentially dangerous road contests at Michigan St., Illinois, Northwestern, and Michigan.

Pivotal Point


Player development. Before last season, Aaron Maybin and Navorro Bowman weren’t exactly household names, yet they emerged as the key pieces to a defense that finished eighth in scoring, total, and rushing defense. Bowman led the team in tackles and tackles for a loss against the run, while Maybin paced the conference in sacks. They will need similar progress on their offensive line, at defensive end, wide receiver, and in the secondary. If tackle DeOn’tae Pannell, wide out Chaz Powell, and defensive end Jack Crawford become recognizable names, a second straight Big Ten title might in the stars.

CFI Final Analysis


The fact that they open the season with Akron, Syracuse, and Temple at home before hosting the Iowa Hawkeyes to open up the Big Ten season gives Paterno and his staff three games to work in the 13 new starters. This team can really go either way in the Big Ten and it’s hard to rank them any higher until we know more about their blockers, who their pass rushers will be, and how they replace four starters in the secondary, not to mention three of the best receivers in school history. They won’t take a major step back, but don’t expect another Big Ten crown either.


College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos
#15 North Carolina Tar Heels

College Football Insiders Preview: Pac-10

The Pac-10 conference looks to bounce back after what was an extremely disappointing season as a whole. The lone bright spot, USC, shouldn’t be the only team shining in 2009. Several other teams look poised to having promising years and are looking to be crowned the new Pac-10 champs. This conference is loaded with talent and should be an exciting conference to watch this upcoming season.

The Favorite: USC: No surprise here. USC has been the perennial powerhouse of the Pac-10 for years and has not finished second in the conference standings since 2001. That will likely not change this year even though the Trojans will have a couple of tough conference contests. They play all of the other contending teams, Cal, Oregon, and ASU away from the Coliseum. They also have to travel to Columbus to play the Buckeyes on September 12th and South Bend on October 17th to play Notre Dame. Even though they lost many key players in the draft last season, notably Mark Sanchez, Clay Matthews, Rey Maualuga, and Brian Cushing, they seem to always have a new crop of incredible athletes to replace them. Pete Carroll is the best in the business at recruiting players that will fit nicely into his system. He is always thinking ahead and this season’s group will be the poster child of that concept. He has only nine seniors on offense and defense combined, but just about every position seems to be stacked with talent. Tailback, for example, has Stafon Johnson as the starter. But if he needs to be spelled or replaced due to performance then he can bring in Joe McKnight, who is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Therefore, injuries shouldn’t be too much of a factor for this Trojan team. The offense will be run by true freshman Matt Barkley, who was the prize quarterback coming out of high school. He has made great strides in learning the intricacies of the offense and was rewarded with the starting job. The fact that a true freshman is running the offense may worry some, especially after Jimmy Clausen came to Notre Dame and had little success in his first season. But one must remember that Notre Dame didn’t have the same talent surrounding Clausen as Barkley now has with the Trojans. He should be able to settle in nicely and utilize the weapons he has on offense. On the other side of the ball, their stout defense shouldn’t miss a step. Taylor Mays, arguably the best defensive back in the country, will control the secondary while defensive linemen Everson Griffen and Averell Spicer will look to control the line of scrimmage. The only way the Trojans don’t win the conference is if they have a collective mental lapse, but with Pete Carroll running the show, that would be a stunner.

The Contender: California: California looks to be the top contender to knock off the mighty Trojans this season. Tailback Jahvid Best may be the top playmaker in the country and will be a vital part of the Golden Bears’ offensive success. The Trojans have had a tough time dealing with smaller tailbacks, shown last season when Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers tore up USC’s defense for 186 yards and two scores in the Beavers’ upset victory. Senior wide out Nyan Boateng will be the primary receiver for quarterback Kevin Riley and that could be the combination needed to slice up the strong Trojan secondary. Cal does have more experience than the Trojans, with seven returning starters on offense and eight on defense. This could play a large role if their October 3rd matchup with USC becomes a tight contest. If Cal truly wants to play the dark horse of the conference and upend USC, they need to get the running game going with the best back in the conference. They would then end the Trojans’ seven-year run as Pac-10 champs.

The Sleepers: ASU & Oregon: ASU is a veteran squad that could be the surprise of the conference. With 14 returning starters on both offense and defense experience runs deep with the Sun Devils. The entire offensive line is back from 2008 and should be able to protect quarterback Danny Sullivan long enough to keep him from forcing the ball and making mistakes. They have good possession receivers in Kyle Williams and Chris McGaha and should be able to control the clock and tempo of the game. But their defense will have to step up for them if they are to make a move in the conference. Having only five seniors on defense and five players getting their first full-time gigs could prove costly, but if they can force turnovers and have their offense hold on to the ball, ASU could be the ones to take the title away from USC. This year’s Oregon squad looks ready for the challenge. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and running back LeGarrette Blount could prove to be the lethal dose that downs the Trojans. Blount is built like Brandon Jacobs, at 6’2” and 229 pounds he can absorb contact and run over just about any defender that gets in his path. Masoli started settling in nicely toward the end of last season, throwing for 572 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in his final two regular season games. The veteran defense knows what is expected of them and they should be one of the most solid units in the conference. If all these pieces come together, this will be a team no one wants to deal with.

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Jahvid Best (California) vs. RB LeGarrette Blount (Oregon): Everyone loves a good running back battle and this conference brings one, featuring two of the best college football has to offer. One back offers speed and finesse, while the other offers brut power and a downhill running style. The different style of these two backs is what makes this matchup so appealing. Fans will get to see which (if either) can take down mighty USC. Jahvid Best is a complete back in a small package. He managed 1,580 yards on just 194 carries—that’s a tremendous 8.1 yards per carry. He also grabbed 27 catches for 246 yards, showing he can be a receiving threat out of the backfield. He will be the player defenses key in on, but may end up leaving them with one mighty headache. LeGarrette Blount played back-up to Jeremiah Johnson last season, but still managed 1,002 yards rushing on just 137 attempts. He also served as the Ducks’ goal line back, scoring 17 touchdowns. He takes over the starting role this season and will showcase his skills as a punishing runner, one who never shies away from contact and requires several players to bring him down. Both backs can get yardage and score with ease, but the question here is—which style is best suited to take down a giant? If one back can have their way with the Trojan defense like Rodgers did a year ago, then they will be the front runner of this matchup.

Honorable Mention: QB Jeremiah Masoli (Oregon), QB Jake Locker (Washington), RB Jacquizz Rodgers (Oregon State), RB Stafon Johnson (USC)

Defensive Player of the Year: S Taylor Mays (USC) vs. CB Syd’Quan Thompson (California):
Two of the most exciting defensive backs in college football will go head to head for this honor. Both have incredible speed, athleticism, and playmaking ability that have opposing quarterbacks aware of their presence on nearly every play. Taylor Mays is considered by many to be the best overall defensive player in the country. He had 53 tackles and eight pass deflections last season, but failed to register an interception. This year, with all of the defensive stars of 2008 gone to the NFL, he should thrive in the secondary and feast on shorter pass plays. Syd'Quan Thompson is considered to be one of the best shut-down corners in football. He totaled 70 tackles to go along with four interceptions and two sacks. If teams get smarter this season, they will stay away from Thompson at all costs. Both players will be stars in the secondary, but total team defense and their head-to-head matchup will be the determining factors on who brings home this award.

Honorable Mention: DE Dexter Davis (Arizona St.), DE Everson Griffen (USC), LB Reggie Carter (UCLA), Alterraun Verner (UCLA), CB Walter Thurmond (Oregon)

Breakout Seasons: RB Jeremiah Masoli (Oregon), RB Joe McKnight (USC), QB Matt Barkley (USC): Jeremiah Masoli will be let loose this season after playing a more conservative role in 2008. He is a dual-threat quarterback with great instincts, gaining 718 yards on the ground last season. His ability to throw an accurate ball or tuck it and run makes Masoli a nightmare for opposing defenses. During the final four games of last season, he totaled 14 touchdowns (rushing and passing), only one interception, and posted a 170.75 efficiency rating. He has the offensive skill set and the smarts to be a top quarterback in the conference and will likely turn the tables on an abysmal 2008 season. Joe McKnight is a speedster with good change of direction. He will play the backup role to Stafon Johnson, but that doesn’t mean he won’t get his touches. Pete Carroll likes a two-back system (think Reggie Bush and LenDale White), especially when he has runners with two different styles. McKnight can be utilized as a third-down back thanks to his pass catching ability. He has totaled 44 receptions for 396 yards and two touchdowns in his short two-year career. He has yet to crack the 100 carry mark in his two seasons with the Trojans, but look for that to change in 2009 and for McKnight take full advantage of the increased workload. Matt Barkley steps in as USC’s starting quarterback after the departure of Mark Sanchez. He is a true freshman running one of the most prestigious programs in football, but the Trojans’ coaching staff is great at turning good quarterbacks into great ones. He also has good wide receivers and a two-headed monster in the backfield to work with so he will not be short of offensive weapons. Barkley will have to become the leader of the group immediately, but should pick up where seemingly all recent USC quarterbacks have left off…leading his team toward a national title.

Best Pro Prospect: S Taylor Mays (USC):
At 6’3” and 235 pounds, Mays possesses the size NFL teams would kill for at the safety position. He is one of the best, if not the best, defensive playmakers…and that was said about him in 2008. Now he will have another season to fine tune an already-potent skill set. He has incredible closing speed and hits like a Mack truck. It is his lack of interceptions that worry some, but when you have played on a dominant defense that is so good at getting to the quarterback, there is really not much you can do when the opportunities aren’t there. Those skills will be there when the NFL comes knocking, and if they aren’t then that is why there are coaches and practices. Either way, he was NFL-ready last season so there shouldn’t be many questions remaining about him when he enters the 2010 draft.

College Football Insiders' Picks:

Conference Champion: USC Trojans:
(Yawn)…Yes the Trojans will win another Pac-10 title this year to make it eight straight. There is too much talent and athleticism here to go with a different team in a conference that was criticized a year ago for being weak. The fact that a true freshman will be running the show on offense shouldn’t scare you, mainly because Pete Carroll knows what he is doing and if things start to get dicey, he has two very capable quarterbacks waiting in the wings. It may not look as easy for them this year, but the ending is inevitable.

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Jahvid Best, California: Jahvid Best
is too quick to defend and always seems to make something out of nothing. This year will be no different, except the size of his workload. He will receive more touches on offense, thus eclipsing his stats from 2008.

Defensive Player of the Year: S Taylor Mays, USC:
Whoever didn’t see this one coming must have skipped this entire preview…or been hiding under a rock for the past year.

* Click To Read CFI’s ACC Preview
* Click To Read CFI’s Big East Preview
* Click To Read CFI's Big Ten Preview
* Click To Read CFI's Big XII Preview

Photos Courtesy of GoldenSports.com and College Press Box

CFI Countdown: #15 North Carolina Tar Heels


2008 Record: 8-5 (AAC: 4-4)
Bowl Game: Lost Meineke Car Care Bowl to West Virginia 31-30
Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Stadium: Kenan Memorial Stadium (60,000)
Head Coach: Butch Davis
Overall: 63-33 (9th season)
@ North Carolina: 12-13 (3rd season)
Link to UNC Football Page


After going 4-8 in Butch Davis’ first season back in college football after a stint with the Cleveland Browns, the architect of the great Miami teams from earlier this decade began building the foundation in Chapel Hill. Davis reversed the 4-8 record of 2007 to 8-4 in 2008 (in the regular season), and you can expect steady improvement from the Tar Heels under Davis until they become national title contenders.

When the Heels Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: John Shoop (3rd season)
Scheme: Pro Style
Starters Returning: Six
Key Losses: WR Hakeem Nicks, WR Brandon Tate, WR Brooks Foster, TE Richard Quinn, OT Garrett Reynolds, OG Calvin Darity


Junior T. J. Yates made strides as quarterback in his sophomore season and he should continue to improve as a junior. As important as his ability to read defenses and make decisions under pressure is, staying on the field is the key for Yates and the Heels, especially with backup Cameron Sexton having transferred in the off-season. They will also have to deal with losing the explosive pass catching troika of Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate, and Brooks Foster to the NFL, as well as the loss of starting tight end Richard Quinn. Former tailback Greg Little appears ready to break out as their number one target, sophomore Dwight Jones has oodles of talent, and tight end Zack Pianalto is primed to step into the starting lineup, so Yates won’t be alone as the Heels try to improve their passing attack. On the ground, they have found the answer to their woes in junior Shaun Draughn, who was impressive down the stretch last season. Fellow junior Ryan Houston is a barreling 250-pounder who provides punch and excels in short-yardage situations. The line returns three starters, including senior left tackle Kyle Jolly, who has 25 starts under his belt, and senior center Lowell Dyer. As a unit there is room for improvement along the offensive line.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) RB Shaun Draughn (JR), 2) WR Greg Little (JR), 3) TE Zack Pianalto (JR)

When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Everett Withers (2nd season)
Scheme: 4-3
Starters Returning: Nine
Key Losses: S Trimane Goddard, LB Mark Paschal


It is no exaggeration to say nine of the Tar Heels starting 11 will one day hear their name called at the NFL Draft. Linemen Robert Quinn, Marvin Austin, and Tydreke Powell (backup); linebackers Quan Sturdivant, Bruce Carter, and Zach Brown; and safety Deunta Williams all have day one talent and none is a senior. The linebacking corps of juniors Carter and Sturdivant, and sophomore Brown may be the fastest unit in the country. It will be a challenge for any back to get by the trio, particularly the sure-tacking Sturdivant. Carter is also a kick-blocking machine. Williams leads the secondary with junior Kendric Burney developing into a solid coverman. What could allow this defense to take the next step is the defensive line. The three seniors—end E. J. Wilson, as well as tackles Cam Thomas and Aleric Mullins—are solid, but it’s the kids who could be special. Quinn should be a pass-rushing demon from his end position, with sophomores Michael McAdoo and Quinton Coples each capable of contributing off the bench. The two players who ultimately may end up having the most impact are Austin, a junior, and his backup, the sophomore Powell. The 300-pounders move in a way that 300-pounders just aren’t supposed to move. If they turn the corner as players, all bets are off when taking on this defense.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) DT Marvin Austin (JR), 2) LB Quan Sturdivant (JR), 3) DE Robert Quinn (SO)

The Schedule

The Tar Heels face an uphill battle in the Coastal Division race as they not only have to visit Blacksburg to take on ACC favorite Virginia Tech, they must face the other top challenger, Georgia Tech, on the road. UNC also closes out the season with back-to-back road games, the finale in Raleigh against in-state rival North Carolina St. They should be able to handle their out of conference slate, although they would be wise to be wary of East Carolina. Not only did the Pirates knock off Virginia Tech and West Virginia last season, they handled the Heels in Davis’ first season.

Pivotal Point


Finish…finish…finish. In the very-tight ACC, the ability to win close games will likely decide which teams advance to the ACC Championship Game. Other than the 41-10 beating at home to NC State, UNC’s other four losses came by a combined total of nine points. They dropped a three-point contest to Virginia Tech, blowing a 17-3 third quarter lead after Yates went down. Their second loss came in overtime at Virginia (16-13) after giving up the game-tying touchdown in the final minute of regulation, and their third loss was by two points at Maryland (17-15), on a Terps’ field goal in the game’s waning moments. Finally, they lost their bowl game by a single point (31-30) to West Virginia after taking a 30-24 lead into the fourth quarter. Even in 2007, six of their eight losses came by a touchdown or less.

CFI Final Analysis


The defense is almost there, and it’s already one of the best in the ACC, perhaps the nation. If they can do a better job of getting to the opposing quarterback and protecting fourth quarter leads they will be at a championship level. The offense is a little further away. They don’t have to be prolific, but if they can keep Yates healthy, protect the football, and help keep the defense off the field for long stretches they may arrive ahead of the schedule. They’re not yet in the National Championship picture, but a run at the ACC title is not out of reach. One thing is clear—Butch Davis is building something special.

College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos

Photo Credit: UNC Athletic Communications