Wednesday, August 31, 2005

CFB Week 1: Key ACC Matchups Highlight Full Slate

Look for Boise State and Bowling Green to pull off mild upsets while Miami's defense steals the day in Talahassee on Monday evening.

Thurs., Sept. 1 -

Vandy 27, Wake Forest 20 - ‘Dores QB Jay Cutler should carve inexperienced Deacon DBs.

Oregon 34, Houston 24 - Ducks looking to rebound after 5-6 season; get strong argument from offensive-minded Cougars.

South Carolina 34, Central Florida 7 - Gamecocks’ young talent gets a chance to shine in game one of Spurrier Era.

#20 Arizona State 48, Temple 10 - Some think the Sun Devils and QB Sam Keller could challenge USC.

Minnesota 31, Tulsa 14 - Gophers RB Laurence Maroney is too much for transitioning Hurricanes.

Fri., Sept 2 -

Utah 30, Arizona 20 - Improved Wildcats scare the Utes in Kyle Whittingham’s debut.

Sat., Sept. 3 -

#6 Ohio State 33, Miami (OH) 7 - Too many elite athletes for Miami in first game of post-Ted Hoeppner Era.

#7 Oklahoma 41, TCU 17 - Gary Pattersen’s revamped defense in for long after noon against Adrian Petersen and Sooners.

Bowling Green 27, Wisconsin 17 - Falcons QB Omar Jacobs and RB P.J. Pope get recognition against Big 10 mainstay.

Illinois 24, Rutgers 21 - Ron Zook’s initial win comes against an offensively talented Scarlet Knights squad.

#11 Iowa 40, Ball State 13 - A field day for Hawkeyes returning QB Drew Tate.

#3 Tennessee 35, UAB 17 - Vols break open a close game in the second half against talented Blazers.

#4 Michigan 38, No. Illinois 7 - Get used to Chad Henne to Steve Breaston, Wolverines fans.

BYU 27, #22 Boston College 22 - A mild upset as westward trip for Eagles is tougher than many expect.

Colorado State 28, Colorado 24 - Rams should rebound after a disappointing season.

Penn State 23, South Florida 14 - Lions get tougher than expected matchup from Bulls RB Andre Hall and friends.

Air Force 20, Washington 17 - Falcons’ triple option spoils Tyrone Willingham’s debut.

#19 Cal 56, Sacramento State 7 - Nathan Longshore will start at QB for the Bears, but Joseph Ayoob will get his share of snaps in this mismatch.

#18 Boise State 34, Georgia 30 - No intimidation factor in this matchup as transitioning Georgia will have hands full with Broncos QB Jared Zabransky and his WR corp.

#10 Florida 38, Wyoming 14 - Joe Glenn knows Urban Meier from the Cowboys-Utah matchups, but familiarity is not enough in Meyer’s debut.

#25 Virginia 45, Western Michigan 7 - Cavs look to develop receivers for QB Marques Haggans to throw to.

Maryland 20, Navy 14 - Intriguing matchup that should have been scheduled long ago.

#1 USC 48, Hawaii 20 - National Championship defense in full force as Trojans say "Aloha" to Warriors early in contest.

#2 Texas 52, UL Lafayette 10 - Longhorns tune up for trip to Ohio State in week 2.

Arkansas 35, Missouri State 6 - Razorbacks hungry to return to bowl picture.

Alabama 34, Middle Tenn. State 17 - Sun Belt contenders could give Tide a run.

Miss. State 31, Murray State 14 – Bulldogs need early success even if it is against I-AA Racers.

#5 LSU -NTSU – PPD. Hurricane Katrina

#17 Texas A&M 24, Clemson 20 - Veteran Aggies pick up huge road win against restructuring Tigers.

#23 Pitt 27, Notre Dame 14 - New coaches in Dave Wannstedt and Charlie Weis have seen each other before in NFL with Dolphins and Patriots, respectively.

SMU 26, Baylor 20 - Bottom feeders in CUSA and Big 12 who need to see wins now.

#16 Auburn 27, Ga. Tech 10 - Sweet revenge for the upset of two years ago
for the Tigers.

UCLA 31, San Diego State 17 - Components are in place for a big year for the Bruins as both Karl Dorrell and SDSU coach Tom Craft share the hot seat.

UTEP 58, New Mexico State 27 - Miners QB Jordan Palmer orchestrates a win that sees footballs raining from the heavens.

Sunday, Sept. 4 -

Syracuse 21, West Virginia 17 - Orange gets win for first-year coach Greg Robinson against rebuilding Mounties.

#12 Louisville 34, Kentucky 14 - Cards carry the Big East mantra in first season.

#8 Virginia Tech 26, NCST 13 - Depth of Hokies gives revenge as Wolfpack were only ACC team to top them in ‘04.

So. Miss. 30, Tulane 21 – PPD. Hurricane Katrina.

Monday, Sept. 5 -

New Mexico 33 UNLV 17 - RB DonTrell Moore will wreak havoc in Mike Sanford’s Rebels debut.

Ole Miss 27, Memphis 23 - New Rebs boss Ed Orgeron sends his defense against one of the nation’s top RBs in Memphis speedster DeAngelo Alexander.

Miami 23, Florida State 10 - Speed on defense and new QB Kyle Wright are too much for the ‘Noles, even in Tallahassee.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Fresno State, Boise State Exhibit Top 10 Prowess

By Ken Cross

1. Fresno State (11-1, 8-0) - Coach Pat Hill returns 16 starters from a team that finished the 2004 season with an exciting come-from-behind 37-34 bowl victory over Virginia, averaged 40.2 ppg., and gave up only 16 ppg. over its last five. QB Paul Pinegar (left) returns to lead the offense after completing 59.2% of his passes with 23 TD tosses against 15 interceptions. He will be joined int he backfield by a pair of seasoned RBs in Bryson Sumlin and Wendell Mathis who rushed for 12 TDs each. The RB duo also averaged 5.8 and 6.8 yards per carry, respectively, as Sumlin led with 1,102 yards. HIll's offense returns a deep receiving corp, highlighted by Joe Fernandez and Adam Jennings. Fernandez led the Bulldogs with 38 catches for 546 years a year ago and Jennings's 5 TD catches led a team that saw nine FSU Bulldogs catch TD passes.

The defensive unit improved as last season went forward behind the play of DT Garrett McIntyre and CBs Richard Marshall and Marcus McCauley. McIntyre amassed 46 tackles, 10.5 for loss, and six sacks, while Marshall picked off three passes and had 205 return yards on those interceptions. McCauley broke up a team leading eight passes and tied Marshall with three pickes. FS Trone Culver will join them in the secondary where he recorded 65 tackles, second on the squad last year. Hill also returns three starting LBs in Marcus Riley, Dwayne Andrews, the team's leading tackler from 2004, and Aaron Goodwin. This is a young, hardnosed unit which makes plays in their defensive zones and looks like the subject of gameplans when looking at FSU's defense.

The WAC title will likely be decided when Boise State invades Fresno in early November. Circle Nov. 19 on your calendar as Hill could take an undefeated Fresno State squad to the LA Coliseum to battle USC, which should be unblemished also. Fresno State could give the Trojans a battle if they are resting on the laurels on another Pac 10 title and looking closer at an upcoming battle with UCLA for the league crown.

2 Boise State (11-1, 7-1) - The Broncos finished 2004 ranked in the top 15 for the third straight year after an exciting 44-40 loss to Louisville in the Liberty Bowl. Jared Zabransky is one of the premiere QBs in the nation as completed 206 passes out of 312 for 63% and 16 TDs last season. He could improve on those figures immeasurably as Boise scored 55 or more points in its last four regular season tilts. Zabransky's offensive line returns three starters along with RB Lee Marks, who rushed for 5.1 yards per carry as he ran for 1,032 yards a year ago. Junior Drisan James is the only set entitiy at WR in coach Dan Hawkins' freewheeling offense where he caught 40 passes for 568 yards a year ago. There are seven different Broncos who could figure at the opposite wide receiver in an offense that averaged 48.9 points and 492.7 yards per game last year. This corps is expected to be as deep and talented as lats year's unit as there are many more dimensions such as it features more speed, experience, size, and elusiveness. seniors Josh Smith and Jason Murray bring experience and big-play ability into Hawkins' scheme.

All-WAC nominees Andrew Browning and Alex Guerrero will anchor the inside of Boise State's 4-3 defense as BSU was 10th in the nation in stopping the run a year ago. Boise State will have to replace another all-WAC performer in Andy Avalos at LB, but this unit has a chance to be better than last year as yet another all-WAC LB in MLB Korey Hall returns. Hall led BSU in tackles with 85 in 2004 with eight TFLs, four sacks, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles. Playmaker Colt Brooks also returns to the unit as he tallied 40 tackles, fvie for loss, and 2.5 sacks. The Boise State secondary returns five players who saw lots of time last year and starters in FS Cam Hall and CB Gerald Alexander, who could be the best shutdown corner in the WAC as he led the Broncos with five interceptions and had 53 tackles last year.

Boise State can further stake its claim to the Top 10 when the Broncos visit Athens, Ga. to battle the Bulldogs on Sept. 3. Since Georgia is in a rebuilding mode, it is possible BSU could pull off that upset. The Nov. 5 matchup with Fresno State will be for the WAC title and a shot at a possible BCS berth.

3) Nevada (7-4, 6-2) - Coach Chris Ault changed the offensive and defensive schemes of the Wolf Pack to match the personnel's strengths better and with that Nevada could be another in a long line of entertaining WAC offense this season. QB Jeff Rowe threw for over 2,600 yards and 15 TDs a year and returns his favorite WR in Nichiren Flowers who caught 91 passes for 1,126 yards. Caleb Spence is complement to Flowers as he caught 67 passes for 761 yards last season. B.J. Mitchell and Robert Hubbard will vie for the starting RB position in camp as Ault's new "Pistol" formation will improve the Wolf Pack's running game while accentuating their already savvy passing attack.

Defensively, Nevada returns eight starters and will use a 3-4 as its base, but change up into 4-3 looks depending on opponents and developing strengths. Ault is looking for tackling and aggressiveness in his secondary and an attack mentality from his front. J.J. Milan has been moved to LB where he will join returnees Charles Wilson and Roosevelt Crooks. S Nick Hawthorne will be the leader in the secondary where he led the team with five interceptions, two for TDs in 2004.

4) Hawaii (5-7, 4-4) - The Warriors lost 13 starters, including record-setting QB Timmy Chang, and are in a rebuilding mode. Kainoa Akina and Jeff Rhode look to vie for Chang's sport with Akina possessing the most game experience. Newcomer Colt Brennan from Saddleback CC in California could be a possibility and challenge of the position. Coach June Jones has virtually no experience in the skill positions as Hawaii lost both its RBs and its four top WRs from last year. The Warriors are hoping to develop Bryan Manifeaga into the feature back and Ross Dickerson, who caught 15 balls for 143 yards alst season, as the go-to receiver. Four starters return ont he offensive line which will be the strength going into camp.

On the flip side, the colorful former Houston Oilers and Atlanta Falcons head coach Jerry Glanville rejoins Jones to coordinate the Hawaii defense. Glanville is a sharp defensive strategian and a master motivator who knows how to get the most out of his players. All-WAC honorable mention DE Malilea Purcell and safety Leonard Peters will lead this unit. Purcell had 74 tackles last season with six sacks and 15.5 TFLs. Glanville will hope the aggressive Tanuvasa Moe will stay healthy this season as he was second on the team in tackles with 65 last season while sitting out four games due to injury. Peters led Hawaii with 120 tackles, 77 solo last year.

5) New Mexico State (4-8, 4-4) - Passing game efficienado Hal Mumme returns to the D-I sidelines, after a brief stint at SE Louisiana, to lead NMSU from the Sun Belt into the more challenging WAC. Mumme perfected his pass offense at Kentucky where he actually had competitive teams and even had the Wildcats in competition for bowl. In his first year he improved UK's offense from 109 to sixth in the nation. The Aggies should be competitive with the middle and lower protals of the WAC. Mumme will operate out of lots of three receiver sets on offense as four receivers in Brandon Allen, Jared Quick, Kenneth Buckley, and Tim Tolbert. Versatile Paul Dombrowski could return at QB where he threw for 1,327 yards in 2002 or he could also run plays int he slot. JUCO transfer Royal Gill and junior Joey Vincent expect to compete for QB duties. Mumme will also use RB Mummar Ali in the passing game out of the backfield where he ran for 4.1 yards per carry in 2004.
Mumme hired former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Woody WIdenhofer to oversee the defense. Widenhofer was in charge of the famed "Steel Curtain" in the 1970s. Widenhofer will work with future NFLer Jimmy Cotrell as the leader of his defense at LB. Cottrell will look to lead the Aggies intackles for four consecutive years. Safety Matt Griebel will be the leader in the secondary where he totaled 91 tackles and three fumble recoveries last season as he was a second team all-Sun Belt pick. Mumme's presence has raised eyebrows as the Aggies have three national TV dates on the 2005 ledger.

6) Louisiana Tech (4-7, 4-4) - Replacing All-WAC offensive performer RB Ryan Moats is the key objective for Coach Jack Bicknell. Moats bypasses his senior year and was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles after running for 1,774 yards and 18 TDs. Freddie Franklin and Mark Dillard look like the top choices to replace him. Bicknell would like for the QB situation to shake itself out as Matt Kubiak, Nate Allen, and Nate Champion shared the job last season. Defensively, Byron Santiago returns to the LB spot to lead a defense that was porous last season as it allowed 31.8 ppg., and 407 yards per night. Santiago tallied 84 tackles, 7.5 for loss, and forced three fumbles. With only four defensive starters returning, Bicknell will have tons of competition for positions, especially on the defensive line and int he secondary. CB Tremon Williams will lead the DBs as he led LT with four interceptions and broke up nine passes in 2004.

7) San Jose State (4-7, 3-5) - Mercifully for the Spartans, the Fitz Hill era finally came to a close and the SJSU administration was able to tab an experienced professional in former Hawaii and Arizona head coach Dick Tomey as the oss. Tomey will establish a ballance between the running game and the passing attack and accentuate the defense, which will be welcomed as the Spartans gave up 42.6 ppg. and 441 total yards per outing in 2004. Offensively, Tomey will need someone to step forward at QB in camp as sophomore Adam Trafis looks like to odds on favorite. Tomey will emphasise the run early behind RB Lamar Ferguson, the leading returnee at RB, who averaged only 3.1 yards per carry in 2004. Tomey returns the top three wideouts from alst year, headlined by Rufus Skilliern who caught 40 balls for 588 yards and four TDs. Tomey's chief concern on defense is to teach an aggressive attacking style to a unit that gave up 252.4 yards rushing last season. The secondary will be the defensive strong point where S josh Powell returns to his spot where he led the Spartans with 101 tackles. He will be joined by CB Trestin George, Bobby Godinez, and Brian Nunez.

8) Idaho (1-10, 1-7) - The Vandals make the trek from the SBC to the more geographically suitable WAC. Second year coach Nick Holt is overseeing a total rebuilding job and it starts with a brewing QB controversey between incumbent Michael Harrington and JUCO transfer Michael Wichman. Harrington, a senior, completed 66% of his passes last season with only 185 yards per game and he will have several options at WR to try to formally reclaim his position. Holt will utilize a 1-2 combo at RB in Jayson Bird and Rolly Lumbala as they combined for 1,473 yards as true freshmen. Bird averaged 5.7 yards per carry as he and Lumbala also combined for 14 rushing TDs. Idaho's defense lacks proven playmakers, but DBs Cole Snyder and Dan Dykes could make a difference. Snyder was all over the field last season as he led UI with 136 tackles, 16 for loss, and four sacks. Dykes was third with 72 tackles and also pocketed two interceptions.

9) Utah State (1-11, 0-8) - New coach Brent Guy welcomes 13 returning starters to a team that struggled in the SBC and now must turn it up a notch to keep from getting embarrassed in the ever-improving WAC. Guy will see competition at the QB position with Leon Jackson and Eric Sobolewski battling to replace QB Travis Cox. Guy returns leading receiver Kevin Robinson and a nice complementary flanker in Tony Pennyman as well as leading rusher Chris Forbes from last year. CB Andre Bala is one of three returnees in the secondary as he tallied 64 tackles last season. He will be joined by CB Cornelius Lamb and S Joe Lindsay as Guy will work to rebuild his defensive front. As progression engulfs the football program in Ogden, Guy must get help from his administration in upgrading facilities and 30,257-seat Romney Stadium to make Utah State able to recruit with the Boises and Fresnos. The Aggies have seven straight losing season and with the transition, the eighth will ensue in 2005.
UTEP head coach Mike Price is shown here on the cover of the Miners' media guide. He orchestrated a major turn around last season in taking the Miners to an 8-4 record after three straight two win seasons. In analyzing this season's scedule, it is not very far fetched to say that UTEP could finish 11-0 and push the envelope on BCS conversations for CUSA. Posted by Picasa

Miners Could Find A Real Gem in New Neighborhood

By Ken Cross


1) UTEP (10-1, 7-1) - Mike Price's reprieve took him to the Rio Grande and in one year, he resurrected a rumor of a program that had three straight two-win seasons as UTEP went 8-4 and made it to the Houston Bowl, losing a thrilling 33-28 decision to Colorado. Price will not find as much week-in, week-out competition in the revamped CUSA where he returns starting QB Jordan Palmer and his top seven WRs from last season. Palmer, brother of the Bengals' Carson, orchestrated an offensive unit that was 11th in the nation in scoring (35.8 ppg.) as he completed 58.2% of his passes while zinging 26 into the end zone for scores. Jason Boyd caught 42 balls and five TD catches in 2004 and counterpart Johnnie Lee Higgins brought in an amazing 700 yards on 34 catches, 20.9 yards per catch, and 10 TD receptions. UCLA transfer Tyler Ebell will bolster the ground game as he rushed for 1,500 yards in two seasons with the Bruins.

Defensively, the leading returning tackler is MLB Thomas Howard who had 62 stops, 14 for loss, and eight sacks in 2004. Howard runs a 4.38 40 and is impossible to block as his lateral movement is one of his best abilities. Sophomore FS Quentin Demps raised eyebrows last season as a freshman as he had 58 tackles and two touchdowns on a 58-yard fumble return and a 41-yard interception. Price returns the two DTs Chris Mineo and Zach west on his 4-3 as a key objective will be to improve a rush defense that gave up 154.2 yards per game last year.

The potential for UTEP to run the table at 11-0 is very good with the schedule and the fact that Price can coach all phases of the game with the best of them. However, a Sept. 16 ESPN date with Houston and a trip to Memphis on Oct. 1 could be major hurdles. Southern Miss is out of the rotation and does not face the Miners unless it is in the new CUSA championship game on Dec. 3.

2. Houston (8-3, 6-2) - The aforementioned Sept. 16 matchup with UTEP will showcase two of the nation's most exciting QBs in Palmer and the Cougars' Kevin Kolb. The 6-3 junior is already in the top 10 in history in all of UH's passing categories as last year he completed 56.1% of his passes for 11 TDs and six interceptions. Kolb's rushing prwoess also make his passing game much more efficient as he has accounted for 48 TDs on the ground and through the air in two years. WR Vincent Marshall caught 61 balls for 1,040 yards and five scores while posting six 100-yard receiving games. RB Anthony Evans will reassumes his spot where he rushed for 753 yards, 5.3 per carry, despite missing four games due to injury.

On the flipside, Coach Art Briles is converting his defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme to takeadvantage of the spped and athleticism in the defensive ranks. Cougar opponents completed 60.1% of their passes in 2004, so this is a major objective for Briles. The transition will start with the return of eight starters as several of those could be pushed for positions DL Kade Lane will move from DT to DE as he has started all 36 games in his career as he had 52 tackles and three sacks in 2004. To underscore the Cougars' depth, FS Will Gulley had four of Houston's 14 interceptions and is now third on the depth chart.

3. Rice (5-6, 4-4) - Ken Hatfield's Owls will see sophomore Joel Armstrong go into August as the starting QB as he started five of the last six games last season. Armstrong rushed for 608 yards, second on the team at 5.3 per carry, in the option offense as Hatifeld could also see Chase Clement and Greg Henderson figure in the plans. Hatifeld's running attack led the nation last year at 306.55 yards per game. Ed Bailey is the leading returnee as he carried the ball 208 times for 1,021 yards and scored 12 of the Owls' 30 rushing TDs.

Rice was minus-four in turnover ratio as the Owls only recovered seven fumbles, so Hatfield will want to see a more aggressive unit in 2005. Rice's opponents alsoconverted 47% of their third downs, so a defensive presence needs to be established there. LB Adam Herrin returns to his spot as the team's leading returning tackler where he notched 74 and Chad Price will also be a key in the defensive scheme as be returns to his "bandit" position where he procured 66 stops. The Owls open at UCLA and Texas as they have only one home game in the first five.

4. Tulane (4-7, 3-5) - The Green Wave return 17 starters, eight on offense, as QB Lester Richard should be healthy and ready to operate after missing the last two games due to injury. Richard threw 21 TD tosses nin the nine games beofre the injury and WR Roydell Williams and RB Matt Forte were equally consistent as Williams caught 52 balls with 12 TD catches while Forte averaged 18.9 yards per grab. Richard will have a nice 1-2 punch behind him in Forte and Jovon Jackson as both rushed for an identical 624 yards in 2004. Forte scored seven rushing TDs while posting four TD catches.

The Greenies were minus-10 in turnover ration as they only topped seven of their opponents' 24 fumbles and picked off an unimpressive six passes in 11 games. Five of Coach Chris Scelfo's front seven return, anchored by MLB who led Tulane with 107 stops. CB Sean Lucas was third in tackles with 78 as the Wave allowed opponents to establish the line of scrimmage in giving up 194.2 rushing yards per game while allowing opposing QBs to complete 61.2% of their passes.

5. SMU (3-8, 2-6) - Cautious optimism could be in the atmosphere at Mustangs camp as SMU returns 22 starters, 11 on offense, nine on defense, the kicker, and the punter. Coach Phil Bennett has three QBs on his roster that saw action in 2004 in Chris Phillips, Tony Eckert, and Jerad Romo, who led the team with 434 yards rushing. Phillips returns after missing the last eight games to injury while Eckert threw for 1,416 yards, but threw 13 interceptions against six TDs. Romo was a little more consistent in completing nearly 57% of his passes with four TDs and two picks. Chris Foster and Bobby Chase were the leading WRs last season as Foster caught a team leading 37 passes with four scores while Chase averaged 15.6 yards on 31 catches.

Defensively, trial by fire saw the Mustangs give up 467 yards per game whle totaling only 10 sacks and six interceptions. LB Alvin Nanibufie led the team in tackles with 80. Bennett will look for lots of competition in August as he will expect the returnees to step up their play to hold off some 25 spring signees that will be given opportunities to make a difference in this total overhaul.

6. Tulsa (2-9, 1-7) - Sophomore QB Paul Smith assumes the reigns to this struggling program and will need to rely on the RB duo of Uril Parrish and Brandon Diles until he finds his niche int he passing game. Parrish rushed for 1,064 yards on 210 carries and eight scores while Dials averegd 4.8 yards and scored seven TDs. Ashlan Davis is the lone experienced returnee in the receiving corp where he caught 30 balls for 463 yards, 15.4 per catch in 2004. Davis set the NCAA record for kickoff returns in 2004 with five. Senior TE Garrett Mills should also help Smith early in the passing game as he led TU with 51 catches for 560 yards last year.
Six starters return a defense that gave up 401.9 yards per game last year as the pass rush will be a huge objective of coach Steve Kragthorpe with the Golden Hurricanes only tallying 13 drops in 2004. Nick Bunting and Bobby Blackshire will return to their LB positions as they were the second and third leading tacklers with 88 and 77, respectively. Tulsa could be 0-7 right off the bat as the Golden Hurricanes face Minnesota at home before trips to Oklahoma and SBC favorite North Texas. Memphis and Houston are their first two CUSA opponents.


1) So. Mississippi (9-2, 7-1) - Coach Jeff Bower elevated running backs coach Jay Johnson to offensive coordinator and he will welcome the return of talented QB Justin Almond to lead the Golden Eagles. Almond tossed 12 TD passes and only six interceptions while completing 138 of 269 passes. Antoine Courington and Anthony Perine will return as USM's top two receiving threats with Courington catching 47 passes for 659 yards and five scores. Bower will have to replace his top two RBs from a year ago as Larry Thomas assumes the role where he had 47 carries and averaged 6.9 yards per carry.

Bower named Jay Hopson as his defensive coordinator after Tyrone Nix went to South Carolina to join Steve Spurrier. The Golden Eagles return seven starters on a defense as their fourth leading tackler last season, FS Darrell Bennett, will call the shots in the secondary. The Eagles only allowed opponents 200 yards passing per game a year ago and the opposition only converted 35% of their third downs. Bower's biggest ploy will be to improve a rush defense that gave up 175 yards per game. WLB Trevis Coley tallied 104 tackles a year ago and also led USM with five interceptions.

All-America Kick returner John Eubanks returns after ranking fifth in the NCAA at 29.4 yards epr return in 2004. USM does not face UTEP and sees a couple of intriguing non-league matchups at Alabama and at NCST. Memphis comes to Hattiesburg on Nov. 19 for what will likely be the Eastern Division championship.

2) Alabama-Birmingham (7-4, 6-2) - UAB returns four starters on their offensive line to block for the ultra-athletic QB Darrell Hackney, who enters his senior season with 6,706 passing yards with 49 TDs against 21 interceptions. Hackney was lethal last season, his first full year as he threw for 3,070 yards and 26 TDs. he will miss speedster Roddy White at wideout as White was the Falcons' first round choice int his year's draft. Norris Drinkard and Reggie are the two leading returnees at WR as they caught 23 and 20 passes, respectively a year ago. Dan Burks and Corey White are two experienced RBs for Brown as Burks rushed for 800 yards to lead UAB while White averaged 5.6 yards per carry while totaling eight TDs.

The Blazers' defense returns leading tackler Dominique Cosper who returns to a FS role where he lead with 102 stops last season. DE Larry McSwain will return to the RDE spot where he joins two other starters from a year ago. The LB spot must be rebulit as the Blazers lost all three from last season. Marcus Mark and redshirt freshman Joe Henderson had nice springs and are lated to start. UAB gave up too many big plays as the Blazers yielded 412 yards and 29 points per game.

Watson Brown's squad should be able to score with virtually anyone and if the defense improves, they could be the favorite in the division. UAB is coming off its first ever bowl bid as the Blazers were the CUSA runner-up for the third time in six seasons.

3) Memphis (7-4, 5-3) - Heisman Trophy candidate DeAngelo Williams is one of only four returning starters on offense, but he is the type of player that coach Tommy West can build the offense around until the passing game has time to mature. Williams carried the ball 313 times for 1,948 yards, second nationally, and 22 TDs, first in the nation, in 2004 as his rushes accounted for around 33% of the Tigers' offense. He had four 200-yard games as he is the only Tiger in history to rush for over 200 yards in a game. West must replace QB Danny Wimprine while pushing four new starting WRs into his spread offense. How quickly the passing game matures may actually determine if Williams can duplicate last year's numbers. Junior Kevin Byrne looks like the favorite to get the nod as the signal caller in the season opener againt Ole Miss.

Memphis will be more stable on defense as all-CUSA honorees FS Wesley Smith and DE Marcus West return to their positions. West led the Tigers with 10 TFLs in 2004 and amassed six QB sacks. Smith's 89 tackles were third a year ago as he emerged as the secondary's leader. MLB Tim Goodwell headlines the return of the entire starting LB corp where he led UM with 106 tackles last year. The Tigers' CUSA championship opportunities could come down to a Nov. 19 date at Southern Mississippi, one week following an interesting trip to Knoxville to battle talented Tennessee.

4) Marshall (4-7, 3-5) - Ohio State defensive coordinator Mark Snyder returns home after Bob Preutt called it a career in March. The Thundering Herd could be in for a tough indoctrination to the CUSA wars as only six starters return on both sides of the football. Offensively, WR Emmanuel Spann and the athletic RB Ahmad Bradshaw will be the primary targets. Bradshaw carried the ball 95 times for 462 yards and a 4.9 average per carry in 2004. He is a big-play athlete who had a 77-yard TD run and a 75-yard TD reception last season. Spann is the leading returning receiver from 2004 as he tallied 27 catches. Bernard Morris is expected to be the QB as he will receive plenty of competition come the fall in replacing heralded Stan Hill.

Defensively, Marshall's Chris Royal is one of only three returning starters. royal picked off six passes and returned one for a score last season. Marshall entered the Division I-A wars in 1997 and won five of eight MAC championships in that period. This will be a transition year, but one where the Herd could pick off a couple of upsets based on the continued emergence of their atheltic playmakers.

5) East Carolina (2-9, 1-7) - Skip Holtz, son of Lou Holtz, assumes the controls of a struggling program that was once a year-in, year-out winner. Chris Johnson returns to the RB spot where he earned all-CUSA feshman honors where he rushed for 561 yards, returned kicks for 765 yards, and caught 32 passes for 376 yards. WR Bobby Good will be a nice complement as he caught 33 passes for 427 yards and a team high four TDs in only eight games, suffering a knee injury. Senior LB Chris Moore will return as an LB after a spring injury. Moore registered 99 tackles in 2004. The Pirates have a strong pair of starting safeties in Jamar Flournoy and Zach Baker, who had five of ECU's 12 interceptions last year.

6) Central Florida (0-8, 0-11) - The Golden Kinghts were "0-for" last season and the caliber of talent and experience seems to be at the bottom of this league as well as the MAC. Coach George O'Leary will look to junior QB Stephen Moffett to provide as spark to the offense as he compelted nine TD passes and 64.2% of his throws last season. UCF returns five starters on defense, led by DTs Keith Shologan and Emeka Okammor. The Golden Kinghts tallied only 14 sacks and 11 interceptions last year, two numbers that need to improve vastly to compete with the prolific passing attacks of CUSA.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Cowboys Could Challenge Utes' Supremacy in MWC

By Ken Cross

1) Utah (10-1, 7-1) - The only encore to the undefeated 2004 season and fourth rating would be a national championship for the Utes. However new coach Kyle Whittingham is not that idealistic. He knows that replacing Alex Smith is going to take patients as sophomore Brian Johnson will assume that role. Senior RB Quinton Ganthers who averaged six yards a carry behind leading rusher Marty Johnson last season will be the focal point early behind a veteran offensive line. Travis Latendresse and John Madsen were the third and fourth receivers with 27 catches each last season and they will step into key receiving roles.

Defensively, the Utes return a key player from last season in each part of the unit. DE Steve Fifita, the Fiesta Bowl MVP, returns to the line with Marques Ledbetter. LB Spencer Toone, Utah's leading tackler with 115, will return to the outside and SS Eric Weddle, the third leading tackler with 75, will lead a secondary where he picked off four passes. The Utes have a tricky road game at Colorado State on Oct. 15 and host up and coming Wyoming Nov. 5.

2) Wyoming (8-3, 6-2) - Coach Joe Glenn has become an overnight sensation in Laramie after leading the Cowboys to a 24-21 Las Vegas Bowl win over UCLA as he is quickly turning the program's fortunes around. Glenn welcomes back dual threat QB Corey Bramlett as one of nine starters returning to his one-back, three-WR attack. Bramlett completed 58.1% of his passes a year ago and he will have three senior WRs in Jovon Bouknight, Jason Wallace, and Josh Barge to accentuate the passing game. Bouknight is one of the best in the nation as he caught 62 balls for 1,073 yards and seven scores a year ago. Glen welcomes back both running backs in junior Ivan Harrison and senior Joseph Harris. Harrison rushed for 587 yards and five TDs as Glenn would like to improve on the Pokes' 3.2 yards per rush of 2004.

Wyoming welcomes back eight starters on defense and Glenn's point of emphasis will be stopping the run as Wyoming gave up 179 yards per game on the ground. SAM LB Austin Hall and NT Dusty Hoffscheider return to anchor the middle of the 4-2 as Hoffschneider recorded 6.5 TFLs and 2.5 sacks in 2004. Glenn's entire secondary returns in CBs Derrick Martin and Terrance Butler and safeties Ron Rockett and John Wendling, who led UW with 89 tackles last year. Butler tallied a team leading four interceptions while Martin and Wendling has three each. Martin defended a league high 14 passes a year ago and is possibly the premier shut down corner in the MWC. Glenn is on the fast track to a career position and if the Cowboys can somehow pull out that Nov. 5 win Salt Lake City, they could win the league and Glenn would not need to pass out resumes.

3) Colorado State (8-3, 6-2) - Ten offensive starters return for Coach Sonny Lubick as his major objective will be for the Rams to rediscover their trademark running game that alluded them last year when they averaged only 3.1 yards per carry and only 13 rushing TDs. Senior Jimmy Green only rushed for 436 yards a year ago, so if he does not exhibit more of a presence, Kyle Bell could see the football more. The QB position could actually be a battle between Justin Holland, who was lost to injury last season after passing for around 1600 yards in six games. His replacement, Caleb Hanie was more of a running threat and tossed eight TDs against seven ints. after Holland was picked 10 times. Regardless, WR David Anderson returns as he caught 57 passes for 940 yards and was first team all-MWC.

Stopping the run was as tough for CSU as establishing the run as they gave up 221 yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry. CSU returns all three LBs as WLB Luke Adkins amassed 57 tackles, picked off two passes and recovered a pair of fumbles. Blake Smith returns to his DT spot where he led CSU with three sacks as the team only totaled 16. FS Ben Stratton will be the sparkplug in the secondary where he was second in tackles with 88, 60 unassisted. The Rams should be a player in the race as they host both Utah and Wyoming. Lubick has some pieces on offense and his defense cannot help, but improve - especially versus the run.

4) TCU (7-4, 6-2) - The new kids on the block could give some MWC mainstays a fat lip as Gary Patterson has solidified this program despite a tough 2004. The Horned Frogs were a combined 21-4 in 2002 and 2003 before slipping in 2004 as Patterson's streak of four consecutive bowls ended. Patterson likes the power running game and Lonta Hobbs and Robert Merrill are a tough 1-2 punch as Merrill ran for 753 yards in 2004 while Hobbs averaged 5.2 per carry. The duo combined for 16 rushing touchdowns, Hobbs with 10. Senior Tye Gunn will man the controls at QB where he played behind starter Brandon Hassell, throwing for 152 yards per game and airing out nine TDs with only three picks. WR Cory Rodgers will be the go-to WR in the passing game as he caught 61 balls for 836 yards and seven TDs. Patterson's team can lull defenses to sleep with the run and then hit big plays in their passing games.

Although Patterson is a defensive coordinator by trade, he was not pleased with the team's performance last season the Horned Frogs as gave up 426 yards per game (99th in NCAA) with a pass defense rating 102nd in the country. Seven starters return, three on the defensive line, led by DE Ranorris Ray, who posted 38 tackles, 6.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks. Patterson runs a 4-2-5 scheme and three of his five DBs will also return, led by CB Quincy Butler, second in tackles with 56, and FS Jimmy Modkins. The Frogs had 30 more penalties and 28 more penalty yards per game, so Patterson wants to improve discipline. TCU opens at Oklahoma and jumps into MWC play hosting Utah on Sept. 15 on ESPN.

5) New Mexico (5-6, 4-4) - After three straight second place finishes, the Lobos could fall back to the middle of the pack or even further unless nine returning starters on offense have improved and can correct struggles of a year ago. New Mexico senior RB DonTrell Moore is the mainstay on the offense as he rushed 232 times for 1,091 yards and five scores. Coach Rocky Long could not get that kind of consistency out of the rest of the unit as it finished 101st in scoring and 114th in pass offense. Kole McKamey returns at QB where he averaged only 115.6 passing yards per game last season and tossed only six TD passes. Sophomore Tye Butler could challenge McKamey if he struggles early as either signal caller will operate behind a deep offensive line and throw to proven receiver Hank Baskett, who caught 54 balls for 908 yards.

NT Marcus Parker will be the heart of the line as he was first team all-MWC in 2004. Parker will be joined by LBs Michael Tuhoy and Mike Mohorcic in Long's 3-4 scheme. Mohorci was third with 83 tackles, 11 for loss, and seven sacks last year. Parker had 12 TFLs and seven sacks also as UNM led the MWC in rushing defense, allowing only 108 yards per game. Gabriel Fulbright returns to the corner and Charles Brown to safety in a Lobos secondary that was sketchy against the pass. New Mexico recorded 42 sacks, and held their own in the secondary as UNM wound up with the 25th rated defense in the nation. Long will have some spots to fill around these leaders on defense to repeat that performance as a stronger passing game could lead to consistency on offense and keep the defense off the field as opponents ran 73 more plays in 2004.

6) Brigham Young (4-7, 3-5) - The once proud Cougars have fallen upon hard times and defensive guru Bronco Mendenhall takes over the program after two years as the defensive coordinator. BYU still had a premiere pass offense last season, 12th in the nation, behind QB John Beck who completed 56% of his passes with 15 TDs and eight interceptions. His favorite receiver returns in Todd Watkins, who caught 52 passes for 1,042 yards for an average of 20 yards per catch. Beyond Watkins, the Cougars have a group of untested WRs that will need to step up in the four receiver offense. RB Curtis Brown will return as he averaged five yards per carry while rushing for 789 and six TDs. The talent is there for first year offensive coordinator Robert Anae to be able to threaten defenses on every play.

Defensively, Mendenhall will build his hybrid 3-3-5 scheme around LB Cameron Jensen who led the Cougs in tackles with 104 with 12 tackles for loss equating for 30 yards. Manaia Brown and Michael Marquardt return at the DEs as three of the five starters in the secondary appear to be sophomores who will get their feet wet early. BYU was outscored by an average of 2.5 ppg. last season and much of that was due to a sketchy defense that gave up lots of big plays. If the defense improves against the pass and with the offensive talent already in position, BYU could return to the bowl picture in December.

7) San Diego State - (3-9, 2-6) - Coach Tom Craft is 14-22 in his tenure with the Aztecs and with all of his starters returning on offense, it is put up or shut up time on Mission Bay. SDSU alternated QBs with Kevin O'Connel and Matt Dlugolecki a year ago as O'Connel threw 236 passes and Dlugolecki checked in with 203. The difference was Dlugolecki checked in with a 60.7% completion percentage and averaged 45 more yards passing per game. Sophomore RB Lynell Hamilton is the premiere player on offense as he missed the 2004 season due to injury, but rushed for 1,087 yards in 2003 and was only the second MWC player in history to be first team as a true freshman. The Aztecs' top two WRs in Jeff Webb and Robert Ortiz return as both caught six TD passes and Webb led the corps with 71 last season.

The key for Craft is to improve a pass defense that was in consistent as it rated 75th in 2004. Safety Marcus Demps, 35 tackles and nine deflections, will return to the secondary that is being totally restructured and will welcome the return of Jacob Emirian to the corner as he sat out 2004. The defensive front must be totally rebuilt as DT Jonathan Bails, 25 tackles in 2004, is the only player of consequence who returns to a unit that lost eight starters.

8) Air Force - (3-8, 2-6) - Coach Fisher DeBerry begins his 22nd year with the Falcons flying in depths they are unaccustomed to. Sophomore QB Shaun Carney will operate the Falcons' I-Bone behind an experienced offensive line that includes three seniors. Carney led AFA in rushing with 59.6 yards per game and he scored six TDs. As with the power running attack, the pass offense was nearly invisible as he only threw for 131 yards per game, but completed 61.5% of his passes with 11 TDs and only six interceptions. Air Forced rushed the ball 648 times and only threw 189 passes.

The Falcons' defense was an atrocity and that kept them from achieving anything as they gave up 200 yards rushing per game (101 in NCAA) and were 95th in total defense at 422.1 surrendered an outing. The Falcons suffered lots of injuries and chemistry problems followed as youth also played a role. DeBerry returns only five starters, so playmakers must step up in all three phases. SS Mark Carlson will anchor the secondary as he led AFA with 73 tackles and CB Chris Sutton, the team's fourth leading tackler with 65, will also return to his starting position . LB Denny Poland could also be a key leader for the youth of the unit as this is his third season as a starter.

9) UNLV (2-9, 0-8) - Health issues and a downward spiral caused Hall of Famer to be John Robinson to step aside at the end of 2004. Vegas never received consistent or efficient play from the QB spot a year ago and the rest of its offensive performance was a water shed. Shane Steichen returns as the signal caller for new coach Mike Sanford and he could be challenged by junior Jarrod Jackson if he struggles early. Steichen shared the duties with Kurt Nantkes a year ago and only completed 49.2% of his passes for an average of 112.3 yards per contest. Erik Jackson will take over the RB spot as Dominique Dorsey emerged as the only consistent offensive playmaker in 2004. 6-8 TE Greg Estandia could be the most consistent receiver that Sanford will dress if he overcomes injury. Sanford comes over from Utah where he was Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator, so with his spread offense, emergence will be expected at all skill positions or lots of young players will start showing up in the positions very quickly.

Defensively, the Rebels gave up 32.5 ppg. and 378 yards per contest, so most of the positions are up for grabs. SS Joe Miklos, UNLV's leading tackler with 86, returns as he also forced four fumbles, recorded three sacks and picked off a pair of passes. The kicking game is strong as sophomore Sergio Aguyao returns to the spot where he was only the second Rebel in history to hit all his PATs, 27-for-27.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Flyin' High

Louisville QB Brian Brohm was a prep standout in the city and now he assumes the controls at U of L from record-setting Stefan Lefors. Louisiville is most people's preseason pick to wint he Big East as it is not far fetched for the Cards to post an 11-0 season and have a shot at the Rose Bowl.

Cards Expect Instant Success in New Digs

By Ken Cross

With the losses of Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College to the ACC, the Big East needed an influx of talent that can go compete on the national level. Bobby Petrino's Louisville Cardinals are on the upswing and are entering the Big East at the right time for both U of L and the conference. Cincinnati and South Florida join the league also, but are facing rebuilding years. Pitt and West Virginia will be the Cards' chief competition, but when the games are played, the Cardinals should move forward to the first BCS bid in the history of the school.

1) Louisville (10-1, 7-1) - The Cardinals lost the key cogs off of an offense that led the nation in total offense at 539 yards per game and in scoring offense at 49.8 points per game, but not to worry for Petrino, the reinforcements are there to actually duplicate those numbers. Homegrown Brian Brohm will assume the controls to replace Stefan LeFors. Brohm threw for 819 yards and completed 67.3% of his passes in a backup role last season, so he is well adept to the system and should embrace starting duties with no problems.

The Cardinals will plug Michael Bush and Kolby Smith into a dual back role where Eric Shelton and Lionel Gates flourished. Bush averaged 5.6 yards per carry and scored seven TDs in 2004 as both backs are threats in Petrino's pass offense. J.R. Russell caught 148 passes over the last two years as he may be the most productive receiver in the program's history; but the trio of Montrell Jones, Josh Tinch, and Broderick Clark will be one of the toughest units in the country to cover. Jones, a big, physical receiver who transferred from Tennessee, averaged 15.2 yards per catch in 2004 to lead the returning WRs. Petrino's offensive line will be one of the team's strengths as all five starters return, headlined by OT Travis Lefew who has started 38 games in a row.

Defensively, coordinator Mike Cassity presided over one of the nation's most improved units last season as U of L's defense improved from 93rd in the nation in 2003 to 15th last year. The Cardinals allowed only 305.9 total yards and 19.7 ppg. (24th). DE Elvis Dumervil returns as one of the top rush ends in the nation where he recorded 10 sacks and 52 solos last season. Brandon Johnson started 12 games at OLB and emerged as a team leader as the speedy defender was second on the team with 84 tackles while posting seven TFLs and two interceptions. Petrino's secondary will need the most restructuring as Louisville lost three starters from last season. William Gay is the lone returnee at a CB spot as he will be joined by Marcus Folmar, who has the potential to make big plays at the opposite corner.

With 14 starters returning, the Cards will not slip because Petrino and his staff have recruited with foresight and an eye on the Big East entrance. Non-conference matchups with rival Kentucky and Oregon State are early tests. U of L gets Pitt at Papa John Stadium on ESPN on Thursday,
Nov. 3, but must travel to West Virginia on Oct. 15.

2) Pittsburgh (9-2, 6-2) - Dave Wannstedt returns to his roots in Western Pennsylvania after head coaching stints in the NFL with the Bears and Dolphins from 1993-2004. Wannstedt will operate with one of the top passing combinations in the nation in QB Tyler Palko and WR Greg Lee. Lee led Big East receivers with 108 receiving yards per game, sixth nationally, and he also recorded 10 TD catches. Possession receiver Joe DelSardo will complement Lee from the flanker spot where he caught 49 balls for 573 yards and four scores in 2004. Overlooked TE Erik Gill could be a key figure in the passing attack as he caught 25 balls for 433 yards and four scores in 2004.

Palko emerged as one of the country's most consistent and efficient QBs last year as he threw for 3,067 yards and 24 TDs against only seven interceptions, three picks in the last ten games. Palko hopes a Pitt rushing attack that only averaged 97.8 yards per game last season will improve and be a more viable threat. Seniors Tim Murphy and Raymond Kirkley figure to be atop the depth charts when the season begins, but if improvement is not seen, freshman Rashad Jennings of Lynchburg, Va. could be in the offing.

On defense, the Panthers need to find a pair of tackles to take the place of three-year starters Vince Corchunis and Dan Stephens. The 6-4, 285 lb. Thomas Smith could figure prominently at one of those spots. Pitt will have as many as four people vieing for the DE spots, led by Charles Sallet, who started nine games last season. The LB corp will be the strength of the defense as H.B. Blades and Clint Session return. Blades was first-team all-Big East with 108 tackles, 10.5 for loss, and Session deposited 91 spots over the Panthers' 8-4 campaign.

Three of four starters return and eight lettermen are back in a deep Pitt secondary. Bernard Lay will start at one corner where he deflected 15 passes and picked off another three balls, returning one for 82-yards in a win over Rutgers. FS Tez Morris also returns for his senior year as he has started 35 games at the position.

Wannstedt and Notre Dame's Charlie Weis will start their maiden voyages at the two schools when they face each other on Sept. 3. The Panthers play at rebuilding Nebraska on Sept. 17. Both games will be nationally televised and allow Pitt the opportunity to once again gain national attention with a 3-0 start heading into Big East action. Road dates at Louisville and West Virginia highlight November and will spell the Panthers' postseason path.

3) Syracuse - (6-5, 4-3) - The Orange landed quite a coup when they were able to hire NFLer Greg Robinson from Texas where he was the defensive coordinator a year ago. Robinson was an assistant coach in the NFL from 1990-2003 with the Jets, Broncos, and Chiefs as he served as defensive coordinator in both Denver and Kansas City. His task is to revamp a moribund program that once flourished but fell upon hard times in the later years of the Paul Pasqualoni regime. Syracuse returns only five starters on offense, but nine on defense as Robinson will also serve as the defensive coordinator.

Offensive Coordinator Brian Perini, who spent 10 years as the Broncos' TE coach, will install a totally new scheme for junior QB Perry Patterson, who started 12 games a year ago. Patterson completed 58.1% of his passes for 1,851 yards. He is expected to get competition from Joe Fields in camp, but Patterson should emerge as the choice if he maintains and then further asserts his abilities. RB Damien Rhodes was second team all-Big East a year ago as he rushed for 870 yards and 10 TDs. He is also the top returning receiver with 18 catches for 246 yards. WR is the most inexperienced position as Rice Moss and Tim Lane are listed on the early depth charts, but they could be unseated by sophomore Quinton Brown and newcomers Richard Abbney and Daniel Bailey. On the offensive line, senior Steve Franklin will move from guard to center as three starters return.

Syracuse will boast a deep and talented front four, led by DE James Wyche, who had 68 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and five sacks last season. Starters on the inside a year ago, Chris Thorner and Tony Jenkins return to DT positions and then MLB Jerry Mackey will return to boost the LB corp after being injured and unable to practice in the spring. Mackey led SU with 106 tackles a year ago. Athletic and hard-hitting Anthony Smith will start at FS ; he also played CB as he had 85 stops and three interceptions while blocking three kicks on special teams. Senior Thomas Whitfield will provide valuable depth for Smith. Tanard Johnson will also figure at CB where he amassed 56 tackles last year and Marcus Clayton and Lenny Carter will dual for the other corner spot.

Robinson's inaugural game against West Virginia will be a good shot for Syracuse to open on a positive note as WVU is totally rebuilding its offense while the Carrier Dome crowd could provide a huge boost. The Orange host Virginia on Sept. 17, before traveling to Florida State on Oct. 1.

4) West Virginia (7-4, 4-3) - Coach Rich Rodriguez enters his fifth year in Morgantown where he is coming off back-to-back co-Big East championships and now he faces possibly his biggest rebuilding challenge in his tenure. Rodriguez loses 14 starters from 2004 as he points to the fact that 70% of his roster will be made up of freshmen and sophomores. However, he feels comfortable in the fact that they were recruited to fit and be productive in his system.

Rodriguez sees veteran leadership in his offensive line where Gs Dan Mozes and Jeremy Steffey return with T Garin Justice, who stands a towering 6-8 and weighs 300 lbs. With QB Rasheed Marshall, the 2004 Big East Offensive Player of the Year, going to San Francisco 49ers training camp as a WR, three QBs will vie for Marshall's signal calling duties. Redshirt Sophomore Adam Bednarik missed spring practice due to shoulder injuries, but another redshirt sophomore in Dwayne Thompson will be given the opportunity as well as redshirt freshman Pat White.

WR chores are wide open also with Brandon Myles and Rashawn Bolden atop the depth charts, but Joe Hunter and Tito Gonzalez could push for starting positions. RB Jason Colson could be the focal point of the offense, at least early in the season as sophomore Pernell Williams may also figure.

Rodriguez's defensive line positions are open with Keilen Dykes and Ernest Hunter having the most experience while Jeff Nochel and Kevin Lee are the most experienced LB returnees. The secondary is the strong point as two all-Big East returnees in FS Jamile Addaie and SS Mike Lorello will be expected to lead this young defense. Lorello is WVU's returning leader in tackles with 66, 11 for loss. Anthony Mims and Dee McCann saw action behind Adam "Pac-man" Jones last season, so transition should be smooth if both CBs upgrade their game.

The rebuilding Mountaineers open at Syracuse on Sunday, Sept. 4 in Orange coach Greg Robinson's debut. This game could go a long way in definition of the season as Syracuse will implement lots of new schemes and strategies plus an experienced defense. Home dates with Virginia Tech, Louisville, and Pitt will be interesting challenges as they come mid to late season when WVU should have the pieces to its 2005 puzzle in place.

5) South Florida (4-7, 2-5) - The Bulls are a consensus pick to bring up the rear in the Big East in their first year, but coach Jim Leavitt has a very athletic squad which will be able to compete right off the bat, especially if the QB position is squared away in August. The big play potential is there on offense if Pat Julmiste can man the QB chores in a more consistent fashion. He only completed 47.8% of his passes last season and threw only seven TD passes against eight picks. If his output does not improve, Auburn transfer Courtney Denson, who was a DB with the Tigers, could take possession of the offense. RB Andre Hall is arguably the most complete RB in this league as he rushed for an average of 123 yards per game, 6.5 yards per carry, and 11 TDs in 2004. Johnnie Payton and S.J. Green are two big play receivers in Leavitt's spread offense. Payton caught 22 balls for 469 yards last season as he averaged 21.7 yards per catch.

Leavitt is 55-33 in eight years at USF as he has brought this program a long way in a short time. He will demand defensive improvement overall on defense as eight starters return. The Bulls gave up 31.9 ppg. last year and gave up an average of 398 yards per game. South Florida did not have much of a presence in pressure defense as they only picked off four passes although they had a respectable 26 sacks. LB Stephen Nichols could emerge as the top playmaker on this unit as he consumed 98 stops, 11 for loss, in 2004. Terrence Royal could also be a force off the end as he led USF with 13 TFLs and recorded four sacks last season. Leavitt will demand that the defensive backfield improve its play as QBs such as Louisville's Brian Brohm, Pitt's Tyler Palko, and Syracuse's Perry Patterson await in the restructured Big East.

6) Rutgers (4-7, 2-5) - Although coach Greg Schiano returns his leading passer, rusher, and receiver from last season, the Scarlet Knights still appear to be outmanned by the top of this league, even with Syracuse and West Virginia retooling their attacks. Ryan Hart had impressive passing numbers a year ago as he completed 295 of 453 with 17 TDs, but the down side was his 19 interceptions.

Wideout Tres Moses led the Big East in receptions with 81 while Shawn Tucker amassed 726 receiving yards, second in yardage to Moses' 1,056. Senior Clarence Pittman returns to the tailback spot while the fullback, Brian Leonard, was the Scarlet Knights' most valuable back as he proved to be more of a dual threat than a run of the mill power back in 2004. He led the rushing attack with 732 yards on 199 carries and seven TDs and was second in catches behind Moses with 61 for 558 yards. TE Clark Harris is probably as underrated as any player in the league as he tallied 53 catches for 725 yards and five TDs.

Rutgers still posts one of the slower reacting defenses that takes the Division-I field. Schiano is now the official defensive coordinator as he will look to cut into the 31points yielded last season. He has been at RU for four years and they have never given up under 30 per games per season.

The Knights return seven starters to their defense, led by S Ron Girault who was second in tackles a year ago with 61. CB Joe Porter returns to the secondary where he led with five ints. as the Knights only totaled 12 a year ago. The defensive line should be the strong point as it returns seniors Val Barnaby, Luis Rivas, and Ryan Neil, who had 13 TFLs and eight sacks to lead RU in 2004.

7) Connecticut (4-7, 2-5) - Coach Randy Edsall will feature a QB battle extraordinaire as Matt Bonislawski and D.J. Hernandez will battle to replaced the herald Dan Orlavsky who led UConn to its first bowl bid last season. Bonislawski threw only seven passes a year ago, so the freshman Hernandez will be able to challenge on talent alone, not worrying so much about experience. UConn may be much more of a running team at least in the early going as the Huskies return RB Cornell Brockington who averaged 101.5 yards per game and scored 11 TDs last year. Brockington will share backfield duties with Terry Caulley who was out last year due to injury.

On the flip side, the Huskies return four starters on their defensive line and seven overall. DE Shawn Mayne will be the leader fo the line where he led with 10 TFLs and 5.5 sacks. The LB and DB positions will see battle for starting positions. James Hargrave will be the key returnee among the 'backers as he totaled 88 tackles, 15 TFLs, and four sacks.

8) Cincinnati (3-8, 1-6) - The Bearcats will ultimately be a player in Big East wars every season, but there is too much transition in Ohio's Queen City to merit a very successful season from a won-loss perspective. Only three starters return on offense and like Connecticut, UC is replacing a mainstay at QB in four-year starter Gino Guidugli. There is a four-way battle for the spot and JUCO transfer Nick Davila is expected to battle redshirt freshman Dustin Grutza for the spot. Sophomore Ernest Jackson should emerge has the big-play WR as he caught 24 passes for 314 yards in 2004.

TE Brent Celek could be the most consistent entity in the pass attack early as caught eight TD passes last season, a school record for a tight end. The running back spot will be UC's offensive strength with Butler Benton and Bradley Glatthaar set to offset 1,000-yard rusher Richard Hall who has graduated.

Coach Mark Dantonio came from Ohio State as a defensive coordinator and his acuman will be tested as the defense is just as much a rebuilding project. Adam Roberts is the only returnee on the defensive line and he will move from tackle to end to take further advantage of his pass rush skills. Sophomore Anthony Hoke could also start on the defensive line. He is athletic enough to play LB also. Dantonio's secondary is his most experienced area as three starters return. CB Antoine Horton started seven of 12 games last year and recorded 19 stops.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Flip a Coin on the Big 10 champ!

You notice that the projected top four in the Big 10 have the same league and overall records. That is because there is no clear cut favorite in this ever-improving league. All four of these teams have the weaponry to make it to Pasadena; however, there is a good chance that they will knock each other off and Michigan State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin could pull off some surprising upsets in the Big 10 campaign. In the bottom inset, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel holds a discussion with WR Ted Ginn, Jr. at Ohio State's recent media day. The Buckeyes are expected to be in the mix in the competitive Big 10. Posted by Picasa

Four Big 10 Teams Could Be Thrown Into National Title Picture

By Ken Cross

1) Purdue (9-2, 6-2) - Brandon Kirsch steps in at QB for the cool Kyle Orton, who has moved on to the NFL and the Chicago Bears. Kirsch tossed seven TDs as Orton suffered from injuries last season as that in part caused the Boilermakers to underachieve with a 7-5 record. Kirsch will have lots of help in his offense as the Boilers return seven of the top eight WRs from last year, led by Kyle Ingraham and Dorian Bryant. Ingraham caught 51 balls for 624 yards and seven TDs while Bryant averaged 15.4 yards on 38 catches. Both paled in comparison to the departed Taylor Stubblefield’s numbers, but both WRs were consistent and proved to be playmakers in Joe Tiller’s (left) passing game. TE Charles Davis will also provide a nice outlet for Kirsch as he tallied 34 catches for 416 yards last season. Tiller returns his top two RBs in Jerold Vold and Brandon Jones. Vold ran the ball 159 times, netting 625 yards and three scores while Jones averaged 4.2 yards per carry while totaling 477 yards and two TDs.

All 11 starters return on Purdue’s defense, led by SS Bernard Pollard, who led the Boilers with 96 stops last season. MLB George Hall will anchor the Lbs in Tiller’s 4-3 alignment while DE Anthony Spencer will be one of the main sources of concern on the line where he led Purdue in sacks with 7.5. Senior DT Brandon Villarreal lines up beside Spencer as he had 5.5 sacks and a team high 12 TFLs in 2004. Purdue was extremely tough to run the ball on last year as the Boilermakers only allowed 3.1 yards per carry and six opponents failed to hit the 100-yard mark.

Tiller had led PU to eight straight bowls as he has presided over the golden years of Boilermaker football. The only thing that has alluded him is a national championship and that is not out of the question as Michigan and Ohio State do not appear on the Purdue schedule in 2005. The prospects of an 11-0 mark are excellent as Notre Dame and Iowa are Purdue’s two toughest games and appear back-to-back in West Lafayette on Oct. 1 and Oct. 8.

2) Iowa (9-2, 6-2) - The Kirk Ferentz (top right) system at Iowa is quarterback friendly, so the more savvy the QB, the more intrinsic the system. Drew Tate will lead the Iowa offense after completing 62.1% of his passes and tossing 20 TDs in 2004. Tate sees down the field as well as anyone at the level and that bodes well for WRs Clinton Solomon and Ed Hinkel. Solomon caught 58 balls for a team high 905 yards last season while Hinkel’s 63 receptions led the team as he caught a team-high seven TD passes. Scott Chandler will also figure in the passing game as he averaged 13.5 yards per catch. Ferentz obviously needs to improve a rushing attack that averaged only two yards per carry as the Hawkeyes amassed only 871 yards in 12 contests. Sam Brownlee and Marcus Simmons return to the Iowa backfield, but Damian Simms, Champ Davis and newcomer Kalvin Bailey could easily wrestle away the starting duties.

The Iowa defense helped in crafting a plus-13 turnover ratio last season. Leading tacklers Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway return at LB where Hodge led with 116 and Greenway notched 113 stops. Ferentz returns both CBs in Jovon Johnson and Antwan Allen. Both had four interceptions a year ago and were very active in the secondary, making tackles and batting passes. SS Marcus Paschal will maintain his position as he was third in stops with 58. The key for Iowa will be restocking the defensive line where all four starters graduated. Jonathan Babineaux led the team in sacks with 11 and was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons. Redshirt-freshman Matt Kroul should man Babineaux’s spot as Iowa allowed only 2.8 yards per rush and recorded 30 sacks in 2004.

The top four teams in this league are like a deck of cards; you can shuffle them and be happy with which you draw. Iowa is at Ohio State on Sept. 24 and then the Hawkeyes go to Purdue two weeks later. Michigan comes calling on Oct. 22. Winning two of these matchups should shove the Hawks into the thick of the Big 10 race.
3) Michigan (9-2, 6-2) - Sophomore QB Chad Henne displayed the poise of a veteran in his freshman season as he completed 60.2% of his passes for 2,743 yards and 25 scores against only 12 interceptions. Coach Lloyd Carr will feel secure with Henne calling the signals and another sophomore in Michael Hart (right) working as his feature back. Hart carried the ball 282 times for 1,455 yards and nine TDs on his way to 5.2 yards per carry in Michigan’s dynamically diverse offense. Both of these players will have a challenge in surpassing their outputs from their freshman seasons. Henne’s job will be made easier by the return of Jason Avant and Steve Breaston to his WR corp. avant’s 38 catches were second to Braylon Edwards’ 97 last year as he averaged 1.8 yards per catch. Avant caught 34 and Mart checked in with 26 catches for 237 yards. Adrian Arrington will also see plenty of opportunities as he will step into the spot that Edwards vacated. TE Tim Massaquoi caught 18 passes last season as Carr’s offense became more diversified each week.

DE LaMarr Woodley is one of three returning starters on the Wolverines’ defensive line where he tallied 70 tackles, 12 for loss in 2004. Opposite Woodley is DE Pat Massey and DT Gabe Watson. Carr hopes the lateral abilities of this defensive front have improved as running QBs gave UM fits last season. Scott McClintock returns to the middle of Carr’s 4-3 where he made 58 tackles as a MLB. FS Ryan Mundy and CB Leon Hall also reclaim their starting positions as they each had two interceptions in 2004.

Carr has done a great job at Michigan as he has led the Wolverines to every possible accolade that can be achieved. Back-to-back road games early in the year at Wisconsin and at Michigan State could be treacherous and the Wolves go to Iowa on Oct. 22, but host rival Ohio State on Nov. 19. Missing Purdue on the rotation is a breather as an 11-0 season is in the realm of possibility.

4) Ohio State (9-2, 6-2) - Troy Smith and Justin Zwick emerge as Jim Tressel's top two QBs as Smith outplayed Zwick last season with eight TDs and three interceptions. against six each for Zwick, plus a higher completion percentage. Zwick's saving grace is that Smith cannot play in the first game due to NCAA rules violations, so if he is assertive in the opener with Miami-Ohio, he could take command. In the end, Smith's mobility could place him in the lineup at more crucial times. Regardless, OSU will have sensational Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn, Jr. as the big-play receivers. Holmes caught 55 passes for 769 yards and seven TDs last year. Ginn is versatile in that he returned four punts for TDs last year and is a multi-dimensional talent. Redshirt-freshman Erik Haw and sophomore Antonio Pittman will divide the rushing chores. Pittman is the leading returning rusher after Lydell Ross graduated. Either back will enjoy the return of four starters on the offensive line, led by senior C Rick Mangold.

Nine Buckeyes return on defense with LB A.J. Hawk enjoying the preseason hype as he led OSU with 141 tackles last season. LB Bobby Carpenter will bolster OSU's LB core where he was second with 93 stops and three interceptions. OSU returns three on the front four as DTs Marcus Green and Quinn Pitcock will anchor the inside of the line. DE Mike Kudla, who registered four of OSU's 24 sacks in 2004 will join 6-6, 270-lb. Jay Richardson, Jr. on the corners. CB Ashton Youbouty is the leading returning playmaker in the secondary after leading the Buckeyes with four picks and 14 deflections. He will be joined by fellow CB Tyler Everette and FS Nate Salley. All three DBs have a nose for the football and play the run well, so Tressel should be able to dictate tempo with his trade mark aggressive defense.

Three dates will define OSU -- Sept. 10 vs. Texas; Sept 24 vs. Iowa, and Nov. 19 at Michigan. If the Buckeyes can win those three, they should be in national championship conversations as five of their first six are in Columbus and Purdue does not appear on the sked.

Spartans, Gophers on the Verge; Alvarez's Swan Song at UW; Mediocrity in State College, Pa.

5) Michigan State (7-4, 5-3) - The Spartans may regain winning form in the third season under John L. Smith (above). He inherited a program that declined in a hurry under Bobby Williams, who was in over his head. Smith will return mobile QB Drew Stanton who completed 64.1% of his passes while rushing or 718 yards on 96 carries last year. Stanton will toss it downfield to leading WR returnees Jerramy Scott and Matt Trannon. Jason Teague will be the workhorse in the backfield where he rushed for 4.6 yards per carry and 8 TDs. Redshirt freshman Jehuu Caulcrick could find many carries behind an offensive line that returns three starters.

The Spartans will rework their defensive line behind DE Clifton Ray and DT Brandon McKinney. Eric Smith is the leading returning tackler at the bandit position with 115 last season. CB Jaren Hayes bears watching in the secondary where he recorded 68 tacklers last season Newcomer Kendell Davis could provide competition to returnees vying for both safety positions.

State should be bowl bound although Smith takes therm into tough road venues at Notre Same, Purdue, and Ohio State. Michigan had better be ware of its trip to East Lansing on Oct. 1 A win here would throw MSU into Big 10 championship conversations.

6) Minnesota (7-4, 4-4) - The Gophers lose one half of their league-leading rush offense from a year ago in Marion Barber III, but Laurence Maroney returns as he led Minnesota in rushing at 1,348 yards and 12 TDs. Maroney could be thrown into the Heisman Trophy mix as he will be the primary back this season and is capable of 1,700-2,000 yards if the opportunity is there. Minnesota returns its four leading receivers on offense, headlined by Ernie Wheelwright and Jason Ellerson. Wheelwright is a big-play receiver as he averaged 21.8 per catch with seven scores as a freshman. Ellerson led UM with 37 catches while Jakari Wallace caught 20 balls and averaged 17.1 yards per catch.

Coach Glenn Mason will look for better production from QB Bryan Cupito after he completed only 47.1% of his passes in 2004. If Cupito struggles early, redshirt freshman Tony Mortensen might find himself taking snaps.

Three starters return to Minnesota's secondary as SS Terrence Campbell was second on the team with 77 tackles, seven for loss, and CB Trumaine Banks will define shutdown corner for Mason as he started all 12 contests a year ago. Mason has the most depth at LB where leading tackler Kyle Mackenzie could be pushed for starting time by redshirt freshman Leland Jones.

With improved QB play, Minnesota will be very dangerous on offense, but the defense needs to be settled in before a week four matchup at Purdue. Back-to-back matchups at Penn State and Michigan could define the season if UM gets out of its first two matchups with Tulsa and Colorado State unscathed.

7) Wisconsin (6-6, 4-4) - Barry Alvarez's swan song in the Big 10 will be a rebuilding of sorts. Alvarez returns John Stocco at QB and leading WRs Brandon Williams and Owen Daniels from 2004. Stocco was very mediocre last season and could be challenged by sophomore Tyler Donovan or Redshirt freshman Bryan Savage. Jonathan Orr had three TD catches and will also figure in a tenuous Badgers pass offense. Alvarez will replace workhorse Anthony Davis who went over 1,000 yard rushing last year. Colorado transfer Brian Calhoun will have the inside track over incumbent Booker Stanley thanks to Calhoun's consistent speed.

Defensively, the Badgers will be young up front with three untested sophomore scheduled to start. Linebacker will be the key as Dontez Sanders, Matt Zaleswaski, and Andy Crooks return. Sanders led UW with 76 tackles and 5.5 sacks last season. CB Brett Bell is the lone returnee in the secondary where he swiped three passes in 2004.

The Badgers face a major challenge in week one at Bowling Green, who many favor in the MAC. Ohio State is not on the schedule and Michigan and Purdue play in Madison. Road matchups at Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois, and Penn State will be tougher this year than in the past unless young players and newcomers jump in and take command.

8) Penn State (6-5, 3-5) - The Nittany Lions return 17 starters, eight on offense and nine on defense, but the key is for Joe Paterno to take the handcuffs off his athletes and let them play. At age 77 and steadfast in his ways, that is not likely. QB Michael Robinson will settle into that position after being slated at RB and WR early in his career. Tony Hunt averaged 4.7 yards per carry in 2004 and will be the primary back for Paterno, at least to start. Oddly enough, Robinson was the leading receiver a year. That seems like an experiment destined to fail (see Lou Holtz at South Carolina with Syvelle Newton) and sophomore Anthony Morelli should keep his cell phone on 24 hours a day for that starting call.

Defense is where the Lions will be a major problem as three seniors return on the front and all eight players on the depth chart return. Tamba Hall and Matthew Rice look like a sturdy pair of bookends while leading tackler Paul Posluszny had 104 stops, nine for loss at an OLB position. PSU returns three in the secondary as CBs Alan Zamaitis and Anwar Phillips will be a strong pair of contributors. Penn State finished sixth in the nation in pass defense as they gave up only 162 yards per game through the air. This team will go as far as its defense will take it as the offense is in too much of a flux to allow the Lions to be much of a player.

Illini Rebuild; Cats Can Pass; IU in Customary Spot

9) Illinois (3-8, 2-6) - Ron Zook (right) will recruit at Illinois and eventually upgrade the Illini talent base which should make them competitive. The key will be to tread water and be competitive until about two years down the road. RB Pierre Thomas will be the key weapon on offense as he averaged 5.9 yards per carry and scored eight TDs last season. The QB position is wide open with no real favorite; however, the new signal caller will operate behind a young offensive line and will have a key playmaker in WR Kendrick Jones, who caught 47 passes last season.

Three starters return in the secondary, led by SS Justin Harrison. The sophomore DB was second on the team in tackles last season with 79. Illinois needs to win the turnover game as it was (-6) in 2004. A stronger pass rush will be a key as the Illini only recorded 24 sacks also season, six against Western Michigan. Home games in late October against Penn State and Wisconsin will give the Illini a chance for a couple of big wins as they head into October at Ohio State and Purdue.

10) Northwestern (3-8, 2-6) - QB Brett Basanez will be the key offensive option for coach Randy Walker. Basanez passed for 2,838 yards last season and 12 TDs. He returns his three leading receivers from a year ago in Mark Philmore, Jonathan Fields, and Shaun Herbert. Philmore caught 54 passes for 633 yards while Fields netted 48 and four scores. The key for NU will be to develop a running game behind an offensive line that returns only one starter.

Defensively, Northwestern bid adieu to DT Luis Castillo, but they return the right side of their defensive line in end Loren Howard and tackle Barry Cofield. MLB Tim McGarigle will return to his spot as the leader of the unit. He amassed 151 tackles last season as he teamed with Castillo as a formidable duo. A repeat of last season's 6-6 ledger is not likely as the Wildcats could be 0-5 going into their Oct. 15 matchup at Purdue.

11) Indiana (1-10, 0-8) - Bloomington is a football coaches' graveyard and hardly an upgrade in position for Terry Hoeppner as he comes in from Miami of Ohio. Hoeppner has a veteran offensive line that returns three starters as it appear senior Chris Taylor will be the feature back in his running game. Redshirt-freshmen James Hardy and Marcus Thigpen could start in the three-receiver set. Sophomore Blake Powers is slated to start at QB where he threw only 22 passes in 2004. On defense, IU returns nine starters as LB Kyle Killion had 107 tackles a year ago and will be the unit's leader. Much of Hoeppner's job in year one will be to change attitudes and try to pull off a couple of upsets that IU can hang its hat on in recruiting.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Aggies Could Surprise 'Horns, OU in South

By Ken Cross

There will be no shift in the balance of power between the northern and southern divisions of the Big 12 in 2005. Oklahoma and Texas are on most people's radar as national championship contenders, but the most trendy pick could be in Aggieland where coach Dennis Franchione returns 17 starters to a Texas A&M squad that has fewer major questions than the Red River rivals. The Aggies' opponent in the Big 12 title game is anybody's guess as once again mediocrity will, comparatively speaking, reign in the north. Missouri looks like a good pick if the Tigers get a consistent year from QB Brad Smith.

Big 12 South

1) Texas A&M (10-1, 7-1) - Texas QB Vince Young gets the pub in the Big 12 in QB circles, but A&M QB Reggie McNeal puts up numbers in an efficient way through both the pass and the run. He completed 59.1% of his passes while throwing 14 TD tosses and only four interceptions last season. He did not throw an int. in his first 233 passes and he averaged 232.6 passing yards per game. He also rushed for 718 yards and scored eight rushing TDs as he was flanked by workhorse RB Courtney Lewis who had 743 on 175 carries and nine rushing scores.

Franchione has a stable of talented freshman, led by Jay Lucas, who will push Lewis if he cannot up his game McNeal loses the versatile Terrence Murphy at WR, but DeQwan Mobley and Ervin Taylor will man a deep receiving corp that will see lots of WR sets and people in position to be playmakers. Martellus Bennett could be a key in this offense as a true freshman. Franchione's offense was so efficient that it only turned the ball over eight times in 2004.

Three starters return on a defensive line led by Jason Jack and FS Jaxon Appel, an assassin as a hitter, returns to a secondary where he led the Aggies in tackles with 84 last season. Jack's 48 tackles lead returning linemen as six were for a loss. Franchione will want to improve a pass rush that saw only 29 QB sacks and 13 interceptions a year ago. A&M's pass defense was ninth in the Big 12 and brought the total defense numbers down to 10 as the defensive unit only allowed 3.6 yards per pass play. Defensive coordinator Carl Torbush may blitz more so young CBs in Erik Mayes, Brock Newton, and Danny Gorrer will have to improve their shut down skills or they will be exposed as the season progresses.

This team oozes talent and is in a perfect position for a sleeper role as it should roll into Lubbock for a date with the Red Raiders on Nov. 5 with an 8-0 record. Games at Oklahoma and at home against Texas end the season.

2) Oklahoma (9-2, 6-2) - The calling card on offense for Bob Stoops will be Heisman Trophy candidate Adrian Petersen. Petersen is a big play all-everything RB who amassed 1,925 yards on 339 carries and 15 TDs in his freshman year. The Sooners lose efficient QB Jason White which speaks for transition to either Paul Thompson or Rhett Bomar. Thompson, a junior, is more of an athletic, sprint-out style QB while freshman Bomar is more of a dropback threat. With WR Mark Bradley headed to the Ravens, Travis Wilson will be the go-to WR to start with as he had 50 catches for 660 yards and 11 TDs last year. An X-factor with the Sooners offense, may be dual threat Kejuan Jones was can make big plays via the run or pass.

Oklahoma will need more attacking on defense as losing Dan Cody in the middle of the line will relieve lots of blocking problems for their foremost opponents. OU only had seven ints. last year and USC showed the vulnerability in the passing game in the Orange Bowl when they continually scored on long passes over the top. Sooner foes may shoot more RBs on fly patterns like Norm Chow did with USC's Reggie Bush in that 55-19 loss to get defensive reaction. That being said, the real oddity was that Oklahoma was sixth in the nation in passing defense efficiency.

Larry Birdine will step into Cody's spot as OU's defense should be strongest in the middle. Oklahoma held its opponent to 3.1 yards per carry and 94.6 yards a year ago as opponent found establishing the ground game virtually impossible. WLB Rufus Alexander returns where he amassed 74 tackles a year ago. His three forced fumbles led the team. Stoops will have an open house in the secondary where CB Marcus Walker is the only sure starter.

With the QB situation in a make over, the Sept. 17 matchup with UCLA in the Rose Bowl will be a test and then two weeks later is the matchup with Texas in Dallas. Texas A&M comes to Norman on Nov. 12 as the Aggies led OU for most of the game last year before dropping a 42-35 decision in the fourth quarter and the Longhorns rolled up numbers everywhere except on the scoreboard in a 12-0 Sooners victory. Nov. 19 at Texas Tech could be a trap as the Oklahoma State matchup is now the week after that on Thanksgiving weekend.

3) Texas (8-3, 6-2) - The time is now for the Longhorns, but every time this team looks like a player on the national level, it never finds its niche. Coach Mack Brown is a recruiter extra ordinaire, but game day play calling and game planning leaves lots to be desired.

Brown welcomes back one of the most exciting athletes in the country in QB Vince Young, who can beat you with his feet more certainly than with his arm. Texas was 11th in the Big 12 last season in pass offense as the Horns averaged only 165.2 yards per game. Young needs his WRs to step up and be more efficient as David Thomas and Limas Sweed look to man the splits. Sweed is a 6-5 WR who gives Young a nice big target while Thomas averaged 17.2 yards per catch last season. Sophomore Nate Jones and true freshman Jordan Shippley should also figure in Greg Davis' offensive arsenal.

The biggest loss to the Horns' puzzle is obviously all-American RB Cedric Benson. No one ran with the power of Benson in college football a year ago, so that physical presence will be missed. Young rushed for 1,079 yards on 167 carries and ran for an amazing 14 TDs. Whether there is another Mike Vick in the making remains to be seen. Selvin Young and Ramonce Taylor will vie for starting backfield duties as both are talented, but virtually untested. Taylor's athleticism is underscored as he has worked as a wide receiver in the past.

Defensively, the Longhorns do not have as many questions. Gene Chizik comes to Austin from Auburn as the team's third defensive coordinator in three years. He returns the leading tackler in MLB Aaron Harris as he record 118 stops in 2004, 10 for loss. The front seven is experienced as it is led by DT Rodrique Wright, injured lots last season, and DE Tim Crowder, who recorded 10 TFLs and 4.5 sacks last season. Texas' best athlete is strong safety Michael Huff who registered 73 tackles and a team high 14 deflections last season.

Tarell Brown and Cedric Griffin are penciled in at the CBs, but they need to be more aggressive and make more plays or freshman athletes such as Quan Crosby and Ishie Odugewu could come in and take get playing time.
Texas goes to the Horseshoe for a battle with Ohio State on Sept. 10 and the Oct. 8 meeting against Oklahoma combined with the trip to College Station on Nov. 19 will dictate the BCS prowess of this team.

4) Texas Tech (7-4, 4-4) - With Mike Leach at the helm, things will always be interesting in Lubbock. It seems Leach can plug almost anyone into his spread offense at QB and Red Raider fans will see the signal caller flourish. Cody Hodges, a fifth year senior, will be the latest recipient of Leach's system. He has a cannon for an arm and is mobile, but he only stands 6-1.

Jarrett Hicks, who caught 76 balls for 1,177 yards and 13 TDs last season, will be his primary receiver as he stands 6-4 and creates lots of mismatches with DBs. The most talented offensive player is RB Taurean Henderson who rushed for 16 scores a year ago. He carries the ball 162 times for 840 yards and benefitted from the spread offense as he hit the alleys on the spread with lots of quickness. Experience will abound on the offensive line where TT returns three juniors and two seniors, including 333-pound RG Manuel Ramirez.

Defensively, LB Jon Saldi, son of former Dallas Cowboy Jay Saldi, returns as a key leader on this defense. Leach has plenty of depth in the line, especially at ends where Seth Nitschmann and Keyunta Dawson will start. Three senior starters return to the secondary, led by speedy SS Vincent Meeks. The Red Raiders will switch between the 4-3 and 3-4 scheme depending on opponent and situation, so attacking their defense will be as tricky as stopping the offense.

Optimism abounds after TT shellacked favored Cal 45-31 in last year's Holiday Bowl. The Red Raiders put pressure on their opponents because of their style of offense that resemble basketball on grass and they believe in the system and its nuances. If the Red Raiders get by an Oct. 8 date at revenge minded Nebraska (who TT beat 70-10 last season), they could be 6-0 heading into an Oct. 22 date at Texas.

5) Oklahoma State (6-5, 3-5) - Mike Gundy takes over for popular Les Miles who moved into a national championship situation at LSU. Gundy was the assistant head coach a year ago and he has wasted little time in changing OSU over to a spread offense that will try to take advantage of opposing defenses in an attack similar to that of Texas Tech. Gundy stated after the spring game that he was pleased with the way his players had picked up the offense.

The QB position is an open competition with incumbent Donovan Woods returning as he will be challenged by Bobby Reid and newcomer Al Pena. A key newcomer will be offensive coordinator Larry Fedora who comes over from deposed Ron Zook's staff from Florida. No doubt with the new scheme and the loss of RB Vernand Morency to the NFL, OSU will throw more than the 17 passes they averaged last year.
OSU will change its base defense from a 4-2-5 to a 4-3 in effort to get more heat on the passers.

Gundy will look for DTs Xavier Lawson-Kennedy and Ryan McBean to get pressure on QBs from the middle. Marque Fountain and Nathan Peterson will provide the heat from the outside. Petersen should come back 100% healthy after being injured last season. Three seniors are penciled in at LB with the secondary is senior laden also as the Cowboys have had to cope with the loss of starter Vernon Grant in an auto accident in late May. Jamie Thompson will be the leader of the secondary as he led the cowboys in tackles with 81 while picking off two passes a year ago.

6) Baylor (3-8, 0-8) - The Bears will once again suffer as they continue to be overmatched in the Big 12. They have won three games in each of the last four years and they should not disappoint this season as their first three - at SMU, Samford in Waco, and at Army are winnable. Paul Moseley returns at running back where he only averaged 52 yards per game last season. Junior Shawn Bell gives coach Guy Morris hope as he steps into the QB position with experience as he completed 60.2% of his passes last season with six TDs and no interceptions in a back up role.

As the Bears are just as outmanned on defense, they will continue to throw lots of blitzes and stunts at people in effort to keep pressure on offense and not let them rest. Senior Maurice Lane returns at FS where he led Baylor with 104 tackles in 2004. Lane will be joined in the secondary by Willie Andrews, who was fourth on the team in tackles with 68 and amassed 10 TFLs and a team high three sacks.