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09 Homer Preview: The Cardinals Edition

homer previewIn an effort to provide coverage of teams outside of the OTP Preseason Top 25, we’ve asked some of our friends and fellow college football aficionados to follow our preview format for their team or go outside the box. This edition of The Homer Preview featuring our very own Ball State Cardinals is courtesy of Edge, a two-time alum of Ball State University, resident rocker here at OTP, and the guy responsible for shouldering the heavy burden of being OTP’s Muncie Bureau Chief. Give it up… this one goes to 11.

Homer Preview: Ball State Cardinals

Ball State logo

What You Need To Know
Nate Davis is not going to walk through that door.

Are we understood? Ok, he wasn’t the only one who has left the program, but it seems to be the main thing on every prognosticator’s mind. “What will they do without Nate?” “How will the offense rebound from Davis’s departure?” What you need to know is this: keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times, and if you have a heart condition, the 2009 Ball State Cardinals can not be held responsible for injury or death.

Kelly Page steps in to some pretty big shoes this year offensively, and before we all make ridiculous homer predictions on the final record, it’s my duty to inform you that the odds we have a 12-0 regular season and repeat appearance in the MAC championship game are not good. I say this because in 2008, Ball State dominated offensively. I’m reviewing the numbers this morning, and I think you’ll find this statistic impressive: Ball State scored 202 more points than their opponents in 2008. The next closest in the MAC was Northern Illinois with 80. Ball State also scored 65 more total points than the next highest-scoring team in the MAC, which was Buffalo. (But I’m admittedly tiptoeing around the fact Ball State played one FCS opponent as well as Western Kentucky, arguably a second 2008 FCS team). There’s no two ways about it. Ball State in 2008 was an offensive juggernaut.

The 2009 offense won’t be this effective. Kelly Page hasn’t played much yet at game speed, but that young and inexperienced offensive line will be the biggest issue. It’s great we have a big game back in MiQuale Lewis, but without great blocking, his preseason accolades will go right out the window. By all reports, the roller coaster ride I mentioned earlier will likely be a reality. The first few games are good in that we have a couple, um, non-BCS opponents, but we could really be in trouble at Auburn if the offense isn’t 100% ready.

Ok, how about the defense? Well, they honestly don’t look to be too bad. There’s been some losses, but those stepping up this year look to have their act together. Brandon Crawford will once again anchor this squad, but you also need to know that Sean Baker has had an 8-month fast on soul-eating. That ends in six days, when he gets another chance to feast. All joking aside, Ball State will have a good season defensively should the veterans remain healthy.

Those are the main things you need to know about Ball State in 2009. That and the coaching staff overhaul… don’t think I forgot about that. Don’t use the GMAC as a barometer for head coach Stan Parrish. In six days, we’ll find out what he has in store for us.

Who You Need to Know
New head coach Stan Parrish
QB Kelly Page – the offensive line will make or break his success
HB MiQuale Lewis – ditto
TE Madaris Grant – offensive captain
DE Brandon Crawford – defensive captain
FS Sean Baker – soul connoisseur

Games to Watch
Any conference game this year will be one to watch. But if you are limited in time to attend or listen to games, make sure to tune into the last three games in November. Our friends at Northern Illinois and the duo of Central and Western Michigan are going to want some serious payback for 2008. I have a feeling at least two of those will be very close. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which game will be an embarrassment… and for whom.

Aside from conference games, the obvious game to watch should be at Auburn. I fear this game, not only for the beating which could occur, but for the damage it could do to the rest of the season. A good showing on our part could be a nice boost, but a blowout could really kill the morale for the next two weeks. Of course, we could eke out the win, but at this point in the offseason, it’s time to get real and pull our heads out of the clouds.

They’ll Do Well If…
… the offensive line shows it can play at the college level. Preferrably, the FBS level.

… Kelly Page relies on his captain Madaris Grant for quick receptions he will undoubtedly need with an inexperienced offensive line.

… Ray Bentley doesn’t commentate on any BSU games this year.

… Brandon Crawford remains healthy and leads his squad effectively.

… Stan Parrish settles in, runs the team effectively, and has the support of the fans and Muncie community (which can be difficult).

Season Outlook
This is a homer preview, but I have to play it realistic. Scroll down and you’ll see I predict a record of 8-4 this season. Realistically, this is possible, and it’s something we all hope will happen. But this season could really take us in a number of directions, including 9-3 like Alan predicts. Or we could seriously backpedal due to our offensive youth. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about Florida, Oklahoma, USC, Texas… so while a lot of thought goes into my 2009 record prediction, I could be embarrassingly wrong. But I think that either 7-5 or 8-4 should be viewed as a serious accomplishment given what we lost from 2008. I guess the motto for this whole season will probably be: “We’ll See…”. See you Thursday against North Texas. Rock on. Game on.

09 Homer Preview: The Wildcats Edition

homer previewIn an effort to provide coverage of teams outside of the OTP Preseason Top 25, we’ve asked some of our friends and fellow college football aficionados to follow our preview format for their team or go outside the box. This edition of The Homer Preview is courtesy of Alan, OTP’s creator, chief writer, and resident Kentucky fan here.

Homer Preview: Kentucky Wildcats

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What You Need to Know
It’s certainly been an interesting 6 years for Rich Brooks. His first three years saw him win 9 games overall and only 5 in conference. Weekly call in shows were a frustrating exercise in informal fan approval ratings for both him and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart. The margin for error was getting razor thin in Lexington, certainly amplified by the success of rival Louisville just up I-64.

But a funny thing happened on Brooks’ trip down coaching Death Row in 2006… the Cats went 8-5 and won the Music City Bowl over Clemson as 10 point underdogs. While many were happy with that, some simply said it was a fluke… which Brooks promptly dismissed with his 2007 8-5 record and victory over Florida State in the Music City Bowl. For good measure, Brooks and the Cats added in a third straight Bowl victory last season against East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl. Three short years make a world of difference. From hot seat to bourbon bottles… we should all be so lucky.

2008 for the Cats was certainly the Year of Blah. Other than a season ending exciting victory over ECU, the Cats finished a year .500 and provided virtually nothing to be exceptionally excited about. Sure, there was reason for celebration after nearly shutting out Louisville. They nearly beat Alabama. They came back against Arkansas with a furious 4th quarter rally that ended up being critical given their barely Bowl eligible record. But all those goods were buttressed by heartbreaking defeats and downright embarrassment. There was the shellacking at Florida. There was the potential miracle toss that nearly was cause for an upset at the hands of MTSU. There was the heartbreak against Georgia, as well as the foot shooting against Vandy. Just as many lows as highs.

The offseason was a similar sort of tumultuous roller coaster for the Cats. Players like Trevard Lindley, Corey Peters, and Micah Johnson all announced they were coming back and completing their senior season. Fans, for the moment, were significantly stoked about their defense coming up in 2009. For a brief moment it looked like the offense would be the only question… and it didn’t even need to be a dominant answer with the defense taking the field. That all changed as summer dawned, and senior DE Jeremy Jarmon was ruled ineligible for the coming year. Jarmon has moved onto the NFL, and Cat fans moved back to worry mode.

Worry mode was certainly the offseason home for those thinking about the offense. As a unit, the 07 Cats averaged only 22.6 points per game and 299 yards per. Not great numbers. Most of the blame for that lack of firepower falls on Mike Hartline, who as a sophomore was thrust into the position of replacing Andre Woodson. Certainly no easy task. The Cats battled injuries, lackluster firepower, a QB controversy, and an overall mediocre sort of feeling better than any Kentucky team I can remember. They didn’t fold, they didn’t quit, and for the 08 Wildcats, billed for a while as a rebuilding year Post-Woodson, that’s success in and of itself.

It’s certainly easy for fans to point to last year as a down year, but after the tail end of the Mumme years, the Morris years, and the early Brooks years, 7-6 and a Bowl seems like a pretty successful campaign for me. For years, as we were getting destroyed by SEC team after SEC team, most Kentucky fans said something to the effect of, “If we could just go 6-5 and make a Bowl I’d be happy.” Well, we’re three years running fulfilling that wish.

For 09, the Cats return only 4 starters on defense, and 7 on offense. And this is the year when the fruits of the recruiting successes of Brooks and Joker Phillips need to demonstrate themselves. It’s easy to say you’re recruiting better athletes, but those athletes at some point or another need to step up and prove that the gap between them and the “dominant” SEC teams is shrinking, not growing. People point to the new folks like QBs Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski as the saviors of the future, but they are freshmen, and frankly, freshmen in the SEC in the QB role rarely do exceptionally well. Brooks says Hartline is his guy and its his position. Randall Cobb will predominantly play WR. The running back position is likely Alfonso Smith’s, but Derrick Locke provides a valuable speedy weapon for spelling. 3 of 5 return on the offensive line. The pieces are there… it’s just a matter of how they fit together.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
QB Mike Hartline: 172-311, 1666 yds, 9 TDs, 8 INTs
LB Micah Johnson: 93 tkls, 2.5 sacks, 10.5 TFL
CB Trevard Lindley: 39 tkls, 0.5 TFL, 11 PBU, 4 INTs

Game to Watch
For Kentucky and its fans, it has to be determined what determines a valuable game. If we’re looking at national attention, an upset of the Gators on September 26th would certainly be attention gaining. The same could also be said for their October 3rd battle against Alabama or their November 21st contest at Georgia. When it comes to emotional victories, the Wildcats game against Louisville certainly fits that bill. Perhaps the most emotional game for the Cats may very well be their season finale against Tennessee. They have the Vols at their weakest in recent memory, and nearly every Kentucky fan would savor a victory over UT, considering it hasn’t happened in 24 years, the longest streak in the country.

All those games would be certainly sweet and tasty, but the game I look at as most important for the Wildcats is their November 14th game at Vandy. It is a game that may very well seal the fate of the Wildcats on the quest for their 4th straight Bowl appearance. I would love for the Cats to knock off a national power, but if I had my choice between that or another season that demonstrates consistency and post-season play, give me the extra game.

They’ll Do Well If…
… the numerous questions heading into this season get answered… even moderately well. There’s two biggies in terms of the offense and their ability to do anything note worthy. The other rests squarely on the defensive line and filling the holes of departures, planned and otherwise.

Season Outlook
For the Cats, this is a team that will surprise some people this year. Perhaps it’s the eternal Big Blue optimist in me perpetually wearing Big Blue shaded glasses, but this is a team capable of beating most anyone given the right circumstances, breaks, and oppositional mistakes. Unfortunately for Kentucky, they do not have a team capable of overcoming significant mistakes themselves. In terms of the schedules, they have 4 games that are probable wins against Miami, Louisville, ULM, and Eastern Kentucky. Their 3 probable losses are Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. That leaves 5 games as toss ups. A winning record against South Carolina, Auburn, Mississippi State, Vandy, and Tennessee means the Cats are going Bowling, and that’s what I’ll stick with. Wins over South Carolina, Vandy, and Mississippi State means a 7-5 record and another post season celebration for Brooks and company.

09 Homer Preview: Huskies Edition

homer previewIn an effort to provide coverage of teams outside of the OTP Preseason Top 25, we’ve asked some of our friends and fellow college football aficionados to follow our preview format for their team or go outside the box. This edition of The Homer Preview is courtesy of Mike Breese, an ardent NIU supporter and proprietor and creator of one of the best blogs out there… Red and Black Attack.

Homer Preview: NIU Huskies


What You Need to Know
Last year there weren’t too high of expectations for Coach Jerry Kill and the Huskies. He inherited a lot of returning players, but it was hard to prepare for the season as 20+ players were recovering from significant injuries they endured during the “injury plague” that was the 2-10 2007 season. Coach Kill managed to take a strong grasp of the team with limited turnover and turn them in to a team that won the games that they were supposed to win. In the regular season the Huskies finished 6-6, but ended up with a losing 6-7 record after falling to the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in the Independence Bowl 10-17.

Throughout the entire off-season, we’ve been known as “That MAC team that lost Larry English to the San Diego Chargers in the 1st round.” It’s become a stock quote for any media conglomerate that doesn’t pay a lick of attention to the non-BCS schools out there. In previous seasons, we’ve just been “That MAC team with Michael Turner/Garrett Wolfe.” This year we don’t really have any star power at this point and only hardcore Huskie fans can name off a few of the players.

Our preseason favorites for All-MAC status are offensive linemen in LG Jason Onyebuagu and C Eddie Adamski (Outland Watch List). K Mike Salerno (Groza Watch List) should be the best all-purpose kicker in the MAC this year as well. Obviously offensive linemen and special teams guys aren’t going to be household names.

Something just has to flourish on the offensive passing game for any sort of success this year, depending on the development of QB Chandler Harnish and the WR corps. Also a “go-to guy” will have to appear at the RB position (possibly Me’co Brown?). Expect to see a lot of action to the Fullbacks & Tight Ends this year as outlets for the QB.

The NIU D has a ton of talent waiting in the wing. Coach Kill rotates defensive players like crazy, so a lot of guys have a lot of experience. DE Brandon Bice figures to step up big this year as he had 6.5 sacks last year and was named 3rd team All-MAC as a BACKUP. On the other side of the line is (just like Ball State) an older former Marine in Jake Coffman. DJ Pirkle is also a force at DT.

At LB, be have speedy productive guys returning on both outside spots in Alex Kube, Cory Hanson & John Tranchitella. Young talent Mike Schiller should step up big in the middle after playing in all 13 games last year with 24 tackles.

Safety has a trio of players returning that performed spectacularly last year in FS David Bryant and Strong Safeties Tracy Wilson and Mike Sobol. At CB, we have to replace two starters but both speedster Patrick George and Kiaree Daniels have a ton of experience and talent.

Who You Need to Know
QB Chandler Harnish – Finished with 2,067 total offensive yards last year as a redshirt freshman. Will have to do a lot of growing up this year and improve his 8-9 TD to INT ratio and be more consistent game-in and game-out. Will need protection from the offensive line and a group of young Running Backs and Wide Receivers to really step up their games. Harnish has to stay healthy and can’t have another season as the leading rusher. Last year he was the leading rusher for 539 yds but missed a few games with an ankle injury.

LB Alex Kube – Hands down one of the biggest leaders and hardest hitters on the team. A converted SS, Kube gradually made his way to starting on the Strongside LB spot and finished with 59 tackles and 7 TFL.

FS David Bryant – The returning leading tackler for the Huskies with 83 last year. Is touted by Coach Kill as the next of his players to reach the NFL. The leader of the defense and a tremendous athlete that played RB and LB before switching to his current position.

Game to Watch
I’m extremely excited for our Week 3 game against Purdue in Ross-Ade Stadium. In our opener we kind of get thrown to the wolves in Madison, WI but then we have a nice scrimmage against in-state FCS squad Western Illinois (who actually has been a thorn in our side for years). The experience from these two games, plus the combination of Purdue having a lackluster squad this years provides us with a great opportunity to upset a BCS squad for the first time in several years.

We kind of have a revenge tour with our home games this year. First we get Western Michigan in Week 5 after only losing to them by 3 in Kalamazoo last year. Week 9 Akron comes to town and it’s time to demolish the Zips after what they did to us in the 2005 MAC Championship (yes I was in Detroit for that one). Then two weeks later it’s time for us to obtain the Bronze Stalk for the first time against the Cards!

They’ll Do Well If…
…the Huskies grow up FAST on defense and in the passing game. As if NIU were already young enough on defense, our projected starting DT Mike Krause went out for the season this past week with a heart problem. There is a ton of talent here, but the middle of the D-Line and the CBs don’t have much experience. Despite the loss of Larry English, the defense should be able to come together and work more a team this year to overcome the departure. Depth is a huge issue especially considering how much Coach Kill likes to rotate his players on the defensive side of the ball.

In terms of the passing game, one or more WRs this year needs to step up this year big time. Returning candidates include 6’3″ Landon Cox, Willie Clark and the injury-riddled Nathan Palmer. Some of the true freshman that we have coming in are extremely talented, led currently by Daniel Rodriguez of Florida and Perez Ashford of Ohio who has amazing hands.

Season Outlook
Things are looking up for the Huskies this year with the amount of returning talent on both sides of the ball. The team is very young, but the leadership and team togetherness has improved in the second year in Coach Kill’s tenure. The players are finally used to the system and can focus in on things now and improve immensely.

We’d like to take one of the BCS games (either Wisconsin or Purdue) in the non-conference slate. In-conference, our schedule is very manageable. The home games are all winnable. Two ‘trap’ road games include @ Toledo and @ Ohio and of course our season finale is against MAC West favorites Central Michigan in Mt. Pleasant.

The Huskies look like they are fielding another bowl squad this year and I see an 8-4 finish in their future.

09 Homer Preview: The Wolverine Edition

homer previewIn an effort to provide coverage of teams outside of the OTP Preseason Top 25, we’ve asked some of our friends and fellow college football aficionados to follow our preview format for their team or go outside the box. This edition of The Homer Preview is courtesy of Jackie Jones, a Michigan fan and ardent anti-Buckeye… even their marching band!

Homer Preview: Michigan Wolverines

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All In for Michigan

It was funny when I first started writing this review at a local coffee shop, Hang on Sloopy was playing in the background on a radio station. If you have no idea what that does to a Michigan fan, let me tell you, hearing this song is like hearing nails on a chalkboard. An unpleasant feeling going through your entire body, kind of like the same feeling Michigan fans had at the end of the 2008 football season with their 3-9 record and a 42-7 loss to Ohio State.

But, it can’t get any worse, right? Well, that’s what most Michigan fans are hoping as we enter the 2009 football season. It has been a trying couple of years for the program, and with major coaching changes and attitude of the players and fans, it is still up in the air how this team is going to perform. It is time to go “all in” as the season mantra states, and Michigan needs to give it all it has to remain a credible team in the Big Ten. All of those who cheer on the maize and blue are optimistic, but with a healthy sense of skepticism. Wolverine fans haven’t had to face major changes often, let alone head coaching changes. I can still recall the days of Bo Schembechler coaching, the brief period of Gary Moeller, and Carr stepping into his shoes. Most Wolverine fans will never forget losing the last six out of seven games to Ohio State under Carr’s watch but recall it was through Carr that Michigan has had back to back Big Ten Championships (2003 and 2004) and a National Title (1997).

Rodriquez has some big shoes to fill (whether some Michigan fans will admit it with Carr or not), but the program has high expectations and the fans are not shy about letting the coaches know when they have fallen short of their duty. The coaches are the source of inspiration for the players, and last year it seemed to many Michigan fans that Rodriquez wasn’t connecting to the team. Granted, the players were recruited into a different system, a different team, and the change is difficult for them too. However, if the coach isn’t inspiring the players, he’ll be fighting an uphill battle until the program becomes his own, the players come on board, or he gets fired. Whichever comes first.

A Wolverine running back, Brandon Minor, stated that “Everybody on the team didn’t buy in like they’re supposed to. We’ve got a couple of guys not going hard, but we’ll correct that. Most definitely. It ain’t happening on my watch next year.” Well Brandon, let’s see them step up to the plate and make it happen.

Something every Michigan fan wants to know right now is who is going to be playing QB this fall. Well, no one knows. Not even Rodriquez. For most of us, that is a scary piece of information to not have before the season starts. None of the quarterbacks have even thrown a play in college football, and I know that has many Wolverine fans on edge. Will it be Forcier, Robinson, or Sheridan? Is this Michigan’s biggest problem to worry about right now? Probably not. And even if Rodriquez plays all three to some varying level of playing time, which is suspected right now, Michigan will be better for it in the long run to have each quarter back with some field experience under their belts. My guess is Forcier will start and ultimately keep the starting position, but we’ll see when the Wolverines suit up against the broncos of Western Michigan University Saturday September 5th at the Big House.

Other fun tidbits of info about the Big House for 2009:
Because of the 100,000+ people that step foot into the Big House for games, Verizon Wireless has activated a COLT (cell on light truck) that doubles capacity of its high-speed wireless network in and around Michigan Stadium. So if you’re going to the games, don’t be afraid to bring your Blackberry along and send some pictures to your friends of the victorious Wolverines! Also, the Big House is now serving Coke instead of Pepsi. For most that isn’t a big deal, but in the land of the mid-west we are a Coke nation (and I am a Diet Coke girl, so this news was exciting to hear).

And, most notably Michigan fans can see the new suites added to the upper level—which are 70% sold out for the 2010 season. Suites range from $55,000-$85,000 but with those prices you get to bring 15 of your friends, two flat screen televisions, smooth granite counter tops, fancy wood floors, and modern cabinetry. Not exactly in the mix of it all with the rest of the fans down below, but if luxury is your thing, the Big House has it for you if you have the money to pony up!

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats:
RB Brandon Minor: 103 att, 533 yds, 9 TDs
DE Brandon Graham: 46 tkls, 10 sacks, 10 TFL
QB Tate Forcier: All-world recruit, looked at as potential savior.

Games to Watch:
I think the two most important games in the Michigan season this year are the first and last—reason being that there is much anticipation for this season and in the first game we will know how well to expect the rest of the season to go. Will this be an embarrassing start to this season like in 2007 against Appalachian State, or will the Wolverines continue where they left off with a 3-9 record and a huge loss to Ohio State 42-7? Or will Michigan perform like the team many of us have come to know and love? The first game will have glitches and hang ups, I imagine, as Rodriquez is still working out the kinks, but if he can’t get it together early on, I don’t imagine much hope for the rest of the season or the rest of his career as head coach at Michigan.

Ohio State is an obvious choice for any Michigan fan, it is the be all game for college rivalries. This game has determined bowl eligibility, national titles, and much more. It doesn’t matter if Michigan walks into this game with a 3-8 record, if they win against Ohio State, that’s all the Michigan fans will remember for the rest of the winter until spring training picks up again. It would be nice to have a Michigan victory in Ann Arbor, and Michigan fans will be praying for it for months to come.

They’ll do well if…
… the players adapt to the spread offense that Rodriquez has brought to Michigan. Michigan can be successful if the offense holds on to the ball—they have had too many fumbles and turn overs that have brought to their dismal performance in 2008. Michigan’s defense is not the biggest concern here, I think if Michigan establishes a solid offense from the quarterback and throughout, then the team will be much better off than it was last year.

Season Outlook
It’s all in for Michigan, and all in for Rodriquez. If he can’t perform this year, I don’t expect his coaching position to last longer than one more year. Michigan fans have high expectations, if you don’t step up, you’re out. No hard feelings, it is the way the Wolverines operate. Rodriquez may have some adjustments coming from the Big East, because the Big Ten is like no other conference, and Michigan is like no other team in the Big Ten. With a 3-9 finish last year, I imagine that with the time to prepare, Michigan will do much, much better this year. I imagine an 8-4 season, with potential loses to Michigan State, Iowa, Penn State, and Ohio State (a girl can only hope that this isn’t the case however). Michigan could be in position to go to a bowl this year, but it’s hard to say which one or if it will really happen. The players need to step up and perform, the coaching staff needs to inspire the players and make sound decisions about who is playing and when. I’m feeling good that Michigan will turn it around, and may even surprise us with a finish in the Top 25.

09 Homer Preview: The Rams Edition

homer previewIn an effort to provide coverage of teams outside of the OTP Preseason Top 25, we’ve asked some of our friends and fellow college football aficionados to follow our preview format for their team or go outside the box. This edition of The Homer Preview is courtesy of Jim Kenny, a loyal Colorado State alum and fan, as well as poker player extraordinaire, and aside from being a Red Sox fan, an all around good guy.

Homer Preview: Colorado State Rams

colorado-state-logoWhat You Need To Know
The CSU Rams are starting their second season under new coach Steve Fairchild. Fairchild came to CSU after the rocky departure of long time coach Sonny Lubick. Lubick, who had garnered great success early in his career at CSU, saw his success steadily deteriorate starting with the 2003 season. Aside from his inaugural campaign in ’93, Lubick had a streak of 10 winning seasons and won 6 conference championships. He also brought a stingy defensive philosophy with him and mentored future NFL players like Joey Porter and Clark Hagans. However, there was a sharp decline in his final 4 seasons, when he went 17-30 overall and, in 2007, landed his worst season with a 3-9 record. Athletic Director Paul Kowalczyk was forced to make a change, which was heard with conflicted ears by the community. Lubick was put off by his offer to stay on as an Associate AD involved with PR and fundraising, which caused much of the friction. It was also reported that Lubick contacted one of his former assistants, Urban Meyer at Florida, about a job on his staff. In the end, Lubick turned CSU down and did not run for Gainesville, instead choosing to ride what was left of his fame out in Fort Collins. With all due respect to Lubick and his supporters, I love when people whine about losing and then complain when you fire the coach for being “such a nice guy.” You know what is nice? Winning games. You know what Sonny did towards the end of his career at Colorado State? Lose games. If it takes the sting away, I’ll bring my buddies to your new steakhouse, Sonny, and buy a few porterhouses. I applaud the AD for making the hard choice and aiming the PR heat squarely at himself.

Okay, now that I am down from my soapbox, let’s talk about the 2009 season. Steve Fairchild is starting his second season as the head coach. Fairchild came to the Rams from his position as Offensive Coordinator of the Buffalo Bills. Prior to that, he was Offensive Coordinator under Mike Martz in St. Louis. What made Fairchild a phenomenal choice given the PR situation were two things. First, he is a CSU alumnus and played QB for the team. Second, and perhaps most important, he was on the coaching staff at CSU for 6 years as QB coach and then Offensive Coordinator under…wait for it…his predecessor Sonny Lubick. In his first press conference, Fairchild said more nice things about Lubick in 30 minutes than the entire Fort Collins press corps had in the previous 5 years.

Fairchild’s first year was, by all standards, very solid. He led the team to 7 wins, the most by a first year coach in CSU history. He also brought the program its first winning season in 5 years and, with their win over Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl, Fairchild became the first coach with a bowl victory in his first year. The strong performance last year was largely because of RB Gartrell Johnson, who racked up more than 1400 yards, 12 TDs and the rushing crown for Mountain West Conference. Combine that with the solid QB play of Billy Farris, you had a decent year. The only blemishes would be the 4-4 conference record and the defensive play under coordinator Larry Kerr.

The CSU defense was pretty awful last season. Opponents averaged 190 yards rushing per game and the defense only had 9 sacks and 10 INTs all season. This was because of a less than stellar secondary, inconsistent D-line and young LB’s. The lone bright spot was freshman LB Mychal Sisson, who led the team with 105 tackles and was named a freshman All-American, CSU’s first player to earn that award. Sisson will anchor a solid linebacking corps this year and the secondary should improve given they are returning 3 out of 4 starters. However, their D-line may still be their Achilles heel with only one returning starter.

Who You Need to Know
QB: Coach Fairchild has yet to commit to a starter, I think it will come down to one of the following: Jon Eastman, a Junior College transfer or Senior Grant Stuckey
WR Rashaun Greer – a Senior with more than 1,100 yards last year and is on the Biletnikoff Watch List.
LB Mychal Sisson – a Sophomore who led the team in tackles last year with 105

Games to Watch
Because of the question marks surrounding the key offensive positions of QB and RB, I am choosing to highlight some key games, instead of one matchup. For CSU this year, their key games with be those in October vs. conference teams San Diego State and Air Force. I think the team with be 4-3 heading into these contests and, depending on the results, will either set them up for a great year with a great bowl game or a disappointing year where they are watching TV while others are playing football in December.

They’ll Do Well If…
… their O-Line stays healthy. The line comes into this year with a combined 125 starts, the most of any school in the country.

… they find a QB who can be effective and throw it a lot to WR Rashaun Greer

… the RB competition inspires excellence and not conflict. Juniors John Mosure and Leonard Mason will likely lead the pack, but look for freshmen Lou Greenwood and Chris Nwoke to challenge them for carries.

Season Outlook
Unfortunately, I think this season is going to be either really good or really bad. With only 10 days before their season opener, the Rams have yet to name a starting QB and but have announced they are likely to have a “RB by committee” format. They have an experienced offensive line, but you still have to have producers at the QB and RB positions to take advantage of their skill. I think their schedule will make for a roller coaster season. I think they win their first 3 games, but will most likely drop 3 of their next 4 when they play away against BYU and TCU and at home against Utah (even with my cheers at the game). The key to their season, as I mention above, will be winning the following home games vs. SDSU and Air Force. If they can prevail in those two contests, CSU should be able to run the table and go onto another solid bowl at the end of the year. If they struggle in those two games, then I fear they will under perform in the final stretch of the season and not be bowl eligible. As an alumnus, I am certainly hoping for a solid second year for Coach Fairchild and the Ram program.

09 Homer Preview: The Tigers Edition

homer previewIn an effort to provide coverage of teams outside of the OTP Preseason Top 25, we’ve asked some of our friends and fellow college football aficionados to follow our preview format for their team or go outside the box. This edition of The Homer Preview is courtesy of Olan Garrett, a proud DePauw grad, BSU fan, and all around football fanatic. His alma mater? D3. His Homer Preview? First class.

Homer Preview: DePauw Tigers

depauwlogo109What You Need To Know
OK, we know, we know, why is a site dedicated to Ball State and Division I Bowl Subdivision football taking any of its’ god forsaken time to publish any story related to Division III football, let alone the DePauw Tigers? Well, to answer the DIII question–for one, TRUE college football fans LOVE college football, no matter what division it’s played in. Second, if you want to watch a football game that’s played with individuals who truly love the game and want to be involved in it instead of getting a scholarship to play in it, then you need to catch a Division III game at some point in your life. And third, as for the DePauw Tigers, the answer is simple, and no, it’s not because one of OTP’s faithful is a 1999 DePauw graduate (GO TIGERS!!!). In short, this team is good!

Expectations in Greencastle are high this season after the Tigers had a very successful 8-2 season last year, tying with Trinity (TX) for second place in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) and narrowly missing their first NCAA postseason berth. Buoyed by the return of 41 lettermen, including 17 starters, DePauw is nationally ranked in two 2009 preseason national DIII football polls, ranked 19th by USA Today Sports Weekly and 25th by D3football.com. All eyes are on winning an SCAC title.

Offensively, the Tigers return seven starters to a strong offense that last year put up the 16th best passing offense in the nation. Let there be no doubt that this team knows how to move the football and knows how to score points as they outgunned their opponents all season long in 2008. They are led by their senior quarterback from Indianapolis, Spud Dick. This guy is intelligent and efficient. He completed over 67% of his passes last season, ranking 15th nationally in DIII for passing efficiency, and is already DePauw’s career leader in passing yards, total offensive yards, and pass completions. He’s also DePauw’s version of Cal Ripken—he’s started 29 games in the last three seasons—and was named as one of four Division III players to watch this season by USA Today Sports Weekly. Dick is complemented by a highly skilled veteran receiver core of senior Bryan Mulligan, and juniors Alex Koors and Brayden Dahlstrom. Defensively, the Tigers return eight starters to their defense and those starters are well spread out among the offensive line, linebacker core, and defensive backfield. These starters look to provide leadership for a defense that, despite putting up the best red zone defense in the SCAC in 2008, was marginal overall and is looking to improve greatly.

The biggest question for the Tigers may not be about the team, but rather the head coach. Interim head coach Robby Long took over the reins on August 6 after the sudden departure of former coach Matt Walker. Long has been on the Tiger coaching staff or the last five years as an assistant coach, and as the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for each of the last three seasons. Long adjusts into the head coaching duties with about a month to go before the season begins.

The Tigers do not look to have a difficult road schedule, with games at non-conference Anderson, Sewanee, Rhodes, and Birmingham Southern. However, the home schedule has three nationally ranked opponents, including the winners of the last three-straight SCAC titles, Millsaps, conference rival Trinity, and the annual Monon Bell clash against Wabash.

Who You Need to Know
QB Spud Dick
WR Bryan Mulligan
WR Alex Koors
WR Brayden Dahlstrom
K Jordan Havercamp

Games to Watch
The Tigers don’t figure to have a difficult road schedule, but the home schedule includes three nationally ranked opponents, and these are the games that will likely determine DePauw’s success this season.
October 3 vs. Millsaps—if the Tigers are going to win an SCAC title this season, they’ll have to go through the preseason favorites to repeat as conference champions for the fourth consecutive year. Millsaps’ pass offense was the best in the SCAC last season, but the team will be younger and much different as the team lost 20 seniors to graduation. This will have to be a statement game for the Tiger defense (see “They’ll Do Well If…”).
October 24 vs. Trinity (TX)–Trinity has developed into an SCAC conference rivalry in all sports, and this game always seems to be entertaining. Last year, DePauw lost in San Antonio. Along with Millsaps, SCAC coaches picked Trinity to figure prominently in the title hunt.
November 14 vs. Wabash—this is the 116th Monon Bell Game, one of the biggest and greatest rivalries in all of college football! The all-time series is dead even, 53-53 with 9 ties. The Tigers look to retain the Bell for the third straight year after regaining it in 2007 with a come from behind victory at home and retaining it in 2008 by embarrassing Wabash in Crawfordsville 36-14. Wabash will not only be looking to regain the Bell but also to exact some revenge, as DePauw also ruined their undefeated seasons in both years! This won’t be a football game, it’ll be a fight, and you can expect both teams to pull out all the stops!

They’ll Do Well If…
…the defense can defend against the pass and keep the points off the board this season. If there was a weak spot for the Tigers last season, this was it. The Tigers put up both the worst pass defense and the worst overall defense in the SCAC, giving up an average of just over 364 yards a game, 223 of those over the air. In particular, the Tigers’ two losses were in shootouts by a combined score of 100-45.

But the defense did the best job in the conference of keeping their opponents from scoring in the red zone, and also showed a lot of promise in last season’s final two games, allowing their opponents to score only three touchdowns combined. With several defensive starters returning, and the interim head coach being a defensive guy, look for this team to continue to make significant improvements this season.

Season Outlook
Don’t expect the head coach transition to be a distraction for this team. The Tigers are focused, and this looks to be the season that DePauw breaks through and meets their expectations. They don’t go undefeated, but they keep the Monon Bell, win the SCAC for the third time, and make the NCAA postseason for the first time! Who says DIII football can’t be exciting?

09 Homer Preview: The Black Bears Edition

homer previewIn an effort to provide coverage of teams outside of the OTP Preseason Top 25, we’ve asked some of our friends and fellow college football aficionados to follow our preview format for their team or go outside the box. This edition of The Homer Preview is courtesy of Lucas P. Calhoun, soon to be Dr. Lucas P. Calhoun… though it is unconfirmed that an honorary Doctorate of Awesome has already been conferred. While the team he covers is FCS, the review is BCS quality.

Homer Preview: Maine Black Bears

maine logoWhat You Need to Know
Continually strong in the Colonial Athletic Association, the University of Maine football team is looking to capitalize on a unique 2008 season. A team previously known for a strong defense and utilization of the West Coast Offensive scheme, head coach Jack Cosgrove was forced to make critical adjustments and switch to a running attack. The first step was a quarterback change when Mike Brusko replaced an injured Adam Farkas as the starting quarterback. Brusko, a stalwart on both sides of the ball, went 5-2 as the starter, caught passes as a receiver, punted once, and even recorded a special teams tackle. From there, Maine won six of its last eight games and reached the FCS playoffs.

Speaking to his team’s six-game winning streak that started against Delaware, Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove said, “The experience we had last year is going to be tremendously helpful to this team. You just see the confidence developing.”

Cosgrove and offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin are not hiding the fact that a varied running attack will be their season long plan. The following numbers give them confidence for future success. Brusko (1,353 yards of total offense, 12 TDs) is joined by All-American and 2009-preseason CAA All-Conference fullback Jared Turcotte (910 all-purpose yards, eight TDs as a redshirt freshman), Pushaun Brown and Derek Session (538 all-purpose yards) in a versatile backfield. The offense rushed for over 2,400 yards last season and numbers most likely go up this year.

The offensive line could be a key, as it must replace three starters, including center Ryan Canary. The team is fortunate to have a mobile quarterback because holes in the O-line may lead to limited pocket-time for Brusko.

In recent years, an ace-in-the-hole has been the play of Maine’s “Black Hole” defense, which will be looking to continue an impressive streak it has been building since the 2005 season. For the last four seasons, Maine has finished in the top third nationally in total defense. Defensively, the Black Bears take pride in aggressive play, but also in player development. Defensive Coordinator Joe Rossi has created a system in which players evolve in the position, including mentorship by veterans. The sense of camaraderie amongst the defense is evident in their approach to workouts, practices, social times, and of course, game day. Four starters return to the unit in 2009, including DL Jordan Stevens, DL Raibonne Charles, LB Mark Masterson and LB Brandon McLaughlin. In addition, three other defenders return who started at least one game in 2008. However, the Black Bears must replace Buchanan Award runner-up and two-time CAA defensive player of the year Jovan Belcher (98 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks) at end, as well as six other starters. Nevertheless, Jordan Stevens (53 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss) will take over both Belcher’s #9 jersey and spot as the defensive field general. Linebacker Mark Masterson (68 tackles, seven pass breakups) and strong safety Brandon McLaughlin (51 tackles) will also provide both leadership and a calming presence for the new members to the unit. The kicking game needs improvement. The Black Bears must replace their punter, and kicker Brian Harvey must improve as he was just 5-of-13 on field goals last season.

The team has a schedule allowing for tremendous success in 2009. Instead of starting against an established FBS opponent, the Black Bears open against the St. Cloud State Huskies. Good in their own right, they are not Iowa, and Maine should be able to take advantage of St. Cloud’s weak-against-the-run defense. An early conference game against Northeastern precedes two non-conference games, including a first-ever meeting with the Orangemen of Syracuse. After Syracuse, the Black Bears get into the heart of conference play. Strong performances will be needed against annual challengers, Hofstra, Richmond, and James Madison.

Who You Need to Know and Their ’08 Stats
QB Mike Brusko: 67-104, 936 yds, 8 TDs, 7 INTs, 112 att, 417 yds, 4 TDs
FB Jared Turcotte: 105 att, 625 yds, 7 TDs
DL Jordan Stevens: 53 tkls, 4 sacks, 7.5 TFL
LB Mark Masterson: 68 tkls, 2 sacks, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT

Game to Watch
Having received a beat down at the hands of Iowa to begin last season, the Black Bears chose to start the season with much lighter fare. With some momentum, the fourth game of the year versus Syracuse could make for an interesting season. Playing at Syracuse in their first ever meeting, a W will give the team a tremendous confidence boost heading into the heart of conference play. In addition, the final regular season game against rival University of New Hampshire is always an important date on the game calendar. UMaine hopes to rebound from a tough 24-28 loss last year.

They’ll Do Well If…
…they utilize their versatile quarterback and continue to pound their diverse ground attack. If the defense can adjust for the loss of seven starters and the offense sticks to their running attack, this blue-collar approach will keep the Black Bears in the hunt for both the CAA North title and a second-consecutive FCS playoff berth.

Season Outlook
Picked to finish 3rd in the CAA North, this is a very real possibility. With a solid quarterback in place, UMaine is ready to start the year strong. Opponents will attempt taking advantage of the defense, but the Black Bears will be ready despite personnel losses. The first four games are vital. Starting with a home opener, the team hits the road three Saturdays in a row, concluding with the Syracuse meeting. If the team comes out of that stretch 3-1, the rest of the season will be easier. Overall, expect some positive surprises along the way including a 9-2 regular season record and a small run in the playoffs.

Maine Football 2

Maine does their best Iverson impression, talkin' 'bout practice

09 Homer Preview: The Hoosier Edition

homer previewIn an effort to provide coverage of teams outside of the OTP Preseason Top 25, we’ve asked some of our friends and fellow college football aficionados to follow our preview format for their team or go outside the box. This edition of The Homer Preview is courtesy of Kelper, an IU fan who comes not only highly recommended but also highly enlightened and knowledgeable about the Hoosiers. And that recommendation did not in fact come from Bill Lynch. Which would have negated its validity.

Homer Preview: Indiana Hoosiers

iu logo
What You Need To Know:
The Indiana Hoosiers are looking to rebound from a dismal 3-9 season in 2008. The Hoosiers managed only one Big Ten conference victory over Northwestern, with the other two early season victories over barely 1A Western Kentucky and 1AA Murray State. Over the course of the last two years there has been a major renovation project going on at Memorial Stadium that will debut in 2009 looking completely different. The now enclosed north end zone houses what is now one of the largest weight room facilities in the country as well as many other upgraded amenities that Hoosier faithful hope will soon help the coaching staff bring in an upgrade in talent from the recruiting circuit. With the stadium renovation completed, Coach Bill Lynch and his staff have implemented a pistol offense hoping to renovate the product on the field in 2009 as well.

Offensively the Hoosiers are now completely rid of former quarterback Kellen Lewis. Lewis was dismissed during the offseason for continued lack of discipline off the field. Indiana will look to now-veteran quarterback Ben Chappell to lead the new pistol offense. Chappell saw a lot of playing time in 2008 and showed some flashes of brilliance. After getting the majority of the reps in spring practice, and without having to worry about a constantly flexing QB rotation, Chappell should be able to settle in and perform more consistently. In part, his success will depend on the health of the offensive line and the production of the running back corps. The line brings back significant experience and it is time for late head coach Terry Hoeppner’s “7 Blocks of Limestone” class to push the Hoosier offense to the next level. Experience mixes with expectations as Bryan Payton returns at RB and will be pushed by redshirt freshman Darius Willis. Willis has all the hopes of Hoosier Nation on his back as he is the most talented RB recruit to join Indiana football since perhaps Alex Smith in the early ‘90s. DeMarlo Belcher, Tandon Doss, Mitchell Evans, and Terrance Turner will lead the wide receiving corps as one of 2008’s better playmakers, Ray Fisher, has been moved to the defensive side of the ball. The IU offense scored 13 or fewer points five times in 2008 and will have to become more consistent with getting the ball to the end zone and keeping the defense off the field if they plan on improving upon the 3-9 record in 2009.

The Hoosiers return a great deal of talent on the defense, headlined by the tremendous pass rushing duo of Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton. Middleton was a monster in 2007 when he had 16 sacks, but fell off a bit last year only to see Kirlew to step up in a big way (10.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss). The biggest question mark for the Hoosier defense going into fall camp is at defensive tackle, where Deonte Mack returns as the only experience player joined by a promising group of redshirt freshmen. The linebacking corps is packed with experienced players in Matt Mayberry, Will Patterson, Justin Carrington, and Tyler Replogle. Senior leadership leads the defensive backfield as Austin Thomas and Nick Polk return from injuries that shortened their seasons in 2008. The cornerbacks will likely rotate amongst veterans Donnell Jones, Richard Council, Chris Adkins, and converted WR Ray Fisher. The Hoosier staff hopes to utilize Fisher’s great speed to strengthen the depth and performance in the defensive backfield after seeing several teams pass all over them in 2008. The IU defense gave up 260 yards passing per game and 432 yards per game overall to their opponents last season. The Hoosiers will need Greg Middleton to return to form and for the secondary to lock down coverages in 2009 if they want to have any hope for getting back to a bowl game.

The road to playing a 13th game will certainly not be easy. The Hoosiers have only 6 home games in 2009 and they will have to travel to out of conference opponents Akron and Virginia. IU also travels to Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa, and Penn State during the conference season. The home slate is no piece of cake either with Ohio State, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Purdue traveling to Bloomington. The Hoosiers open the season on a Thursday night against 1AA Eastern Kentucky before Western Michigan comes to town 9 days later.

Who You Need To Know And Their 2008 Stats:
QB Ben Chappel 80-153, 1001 yards, 4 TD, 3 INT,
DE Jammie Kirlew 74 tackles/53 solo, 10.5 sacks
DE Greg Middleton 18 tackles/14 solo, 4 sacks

Game to Watch:
Despite the likely outcome, the game to watch in 2009 has to be October 3rd against Ohio State. This will be the dedication game for the “new” stadium and will likely be a full house given the number of Buckeye fans that love to turn Bloomington into Columbus-West. Energy will be high and the Hoosiers will have had 4 games to iron out the kinks of the new offense, including a game a week prior in The Big House against Michigan. The Hoosiers will be on the lookout for a statement game to let the rest of the Big Ten know that they are truly on their way up in the world. Will this be that game? I don’t think anyone is ready to step up and make that claim, but it could certainly become a wild one with the 7:00pm start time and the Hoosiers looking to shine under the lights.

They’ll do well if…
…the offensive line lives up to expectations and stays healthy. Those who know football know that games are won on the front lines. If the offensive line can finally get over the hump and create a push that improves the IU running game and keeps Ben Chappell off his back, then the Hoosiers will have a chance to compete 4 quarters against everyone they play. If not, then 3-9 in 2009 might be overly optimistic.

Season Outlook:
The 2009 season is full of uncertainty at this point for IU. The schedule is much more difficult than the previous two seasons, and with last year’s easy schedule the Hoosiers only managed 3 wins. It is quite possible that the loss of Kellen Lewis could be an addition by subtraction change that makes Indiana a much better football team. The talent is there for IU to be a competitive football team, but execution will be crucial. This team can not survive many mistakes against the quality of opponents they will face each week. An optimistic person can look at the schedule and see 7-5 as a possibility if the veteran leadership performs each week and pushes this team forward. At the same time, 2-10 could be just as possible and Hoosier Nation could be clamoring once again for Bill Lynch to be replaced as head coach. I for one will be hoping for 7-5. I plan to see at least 8 games in person including the road games in Charlottesville and Evanston. I sure wouldn’t mind adding one more road trip in late December.

09 Homer Preview: The Scarlet Knights Edition

homer previewIn an effort to provide coverage of teams outside of the OTP Preseason Top 25, we’ve asked some of our friends and fellow college football aficionados to follow our preview format for their team or go outside the box. This edition of The Homer Preview is courtesy of Kevin Lawrence Pitts, a proud Rutgers alumni, who now resides in College Park. Kevin also follows the advice of Greg Schiano, and keeps chopping wood… proverbially speaking.

Homer Preview: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

rutgers logo

Resting Upon & Creating a Football Legacy

The moment you arrive on the banks of the old Raritan River as a wide-eyed freshman at Rutgers University you can feel the university’s history creaking under every step you take. The ghosts of Rutgers’ past are omnipresent on campus; at freshman convocation myself and a few hundred of my fellow freshman were marched past ivy coated buildings and rustic memorials of Rutgers legends past and reminded constantly that Rutgers rests on the shoulders of giants long gone. Rutgers is a curious mix of tradition and grandeur mixed with a hint of Northeastern athletic cynicism and apathy.

While pride certainly exists and strong alumni connections certainly remain, the history that weighs heavy on Rutgers’ campus is exactly that, “history.” And that disconnect between past and present is no clearer than with Rutgers football. From the moment you arrive on Rutgers’ campus you are reminded, again and again, you are a student on the hollowed grounds of the birthplace of college football, and Rutgers’ 8 to 6 historic victory over Princeton in 1869. But as a freshman entering Rutgers Stadium in 1998 for the very first time this disconnect between history and present was very real in so many ways.

The grandeur and pomp and circumstance was painfully absent as I sat in silent anguish through dismal seasons such as the infamous 1-10 1999. But with the acquisition of Coach Greg Schiano in 2000, Rutgers football has been re-branded, remixed and reformed into a respectable name in college football and a force to be reckoned with in the Big East and the Scarlet Knights seem to finally be building a legacy that seems separate and unique from the hollowed legacy that relied to heavily on Rutgers’ ancient history and not enough upon winning football games.

The 2008 season began disappointingly with three loses to unranked Fresno State, North Carolina and Navy but Coach Schiano, with the help of Mike Teel’s 60% accuracy in the quarterback position, was able to readjust and salvage the season with six straight strong wins, earning a trip to Birmingham, Alabama for the Papajohns.com bowl. While most loyal diehard Rutgers fans were pleased with Schiano’s cool temperament tempered with passionate leadership that motivated the team to pull the season from the ashes, many were disappointed that the Scarlet Knights weren’t able to replicate the success seen in 2006 when Rutgers ended the season at an unprecedented 11-2. Rutgers has lost some talented players including some of former quarterback Teel’s favorite targets in wide receivers Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood who combined, had almost 5,000 career receiving yards and 33 career touchdowns. Rutgers has also lost some defensive muscle with the loss of 6’3” 265 pound Jamall Westerman who had over 140 career tackles while at Rutgers.

Though Rutgers has experienced some dramatic talent transitions this offseason the Rutgers coaching staff has made some significant and tangible adjustments in both offense and defense for the 2009 season. With the loss of Mike Teel, the quarterback position is in flux with a multitude of great options for Coach Schiano to choose from. These names include: Tom Savage, who seems to be the heir apparent, Jabulani Lovelace who’s potential was hindered because of injuries, and D.C. Jefferson who stands at 6-6 and weighs in at a solid 240 pounds. Other names to look for this year include Art Frost, who at right guard is certain to make some noise this season. Frost is a perfect addition to an already very powerful, talented and explosive offensive line that will certainly be giving more than enough time to make quick and wise decisions in the pocket, whichever QB ends up residing there.

This highly anticipated offensive line will also be making holes for running backs De’antwan Williams and Joe Martinek who many hope can live up to Ray Rice type expectations. Rutgers defense seems to be rotating upon a powerful center of gravity also known as Manny Abreu who is nothing less than amazing and hypnotizing force of nature to watch and will certainly be an integral element of Rutgers’ defensive machine this season.

Being an alumnus of both Rutgers and the University of Maryland, I am naturally anticipating the rematch between these two teams this season. In 2007 Maryland shocked the prognosticators and left Rutgers Stadium with a win. This year it will be exciting and intriguing to see Rutgers fast paced passing offense and hard hitting defense against Maryland’s traditional heavy reliance on putting the football on the ground will certainly be one of the more entertaining match-up’s of the year.

Thinking back to those less glamorous and glowing seasons of the late 90’s and early 2000’s it certainly gives me a much deeper appreciation for how far Rutgers has come, as well as, a richer perspective and appreciation on my alma mater’s contribution to the game of college football. It is certainly time for Rutgers to write a new history and my only wish for this season is that Rutgers can continue to build upon a legacy rooted in victories of today and tomorrow and not a legacy only seen in black and white photos buried in the archives of college football’s past.

09 Homer Preview: The Orangemen Edition

homer previewIn an effort to provide coverage of teams outside of the OTP Preseason Top 25, we’ve asked some of our friends and fellow college football aficionados to follow our preview format for their team or go outside the box. This edition of The Homer Preview is courtesy of Matt Tobia, Syracuse alum and fan, and proprietor and creator of Get Gross Out, one of the only websites out there dedicated to firing the Athletic Director. Giddy up.

Homer Preview: Syracuse Orangemen
syracuse logo

What You Need To Know
After 4 years and only 10 wins, the Greg Robinson Experience at Syraucse has ended. Along with losses to Akron, Miami (OH), Rutgers and Washington, Robinson led the Orangemen to their worst 4 year stretch in their 120 year history. Following the 2008 season, Robinson was let go and former Orangeman and New Orleans Saints Offensive Coordinator Doug Marrone was hired as the new head coach. Marrone is another first time head coach, but he brought with him some experienced assistants and according to the committee that oversaw the hiring process (which included Donovan McNabb and Hall of Fame Coach Dick MacPherson), Marrone came into the interviews with binders upon binders of information on how he planned on turning the ship around. If nothing else, it sounds like Marrone is well prepared to attempt to right the ship.

While the Greg Robinson Experience left Syracuse fans with a sour taste in their mouths, Marrone seems to be making all the right moves and saying all the right things. Whether or not he will have the talent to actually turn the Orangemen around is another story. A total of 18 players have left the team since Marrone took over, with the latest being the Orangmen’s only scholarship PK, Shane Raupers. Punter Rob Long returns with the sixth best punting average in the country.

Returning for the Orangemen are three starters on an offensive line that improved from their abyssmal 2007 season. Marrone has focused extensively on both the offensive and defensive lines and both units look to be much improved. Being a former lineman himself and getting his coaching start on the line, Marrone has returned to the basics for what he is teaching the both units and the players are already noticing a marketed improvement.

Also on offense, converted tight end Cody Catalina should provide some balance to Mike Owen (TE) who was the second leading receiver last season. Leading receiver Donte Davis also returns. In the backfield, Syracuse will look to attack by committee. Returning are Averin Collins, Antwan Bailey and Delone Carter. Carter was a Sporting News Freshman All American in 2006 and had the most rushing yards by a Syracuse Freshman since Joe Morris in 1978. Carter was injured for the 2007 season and lost his starting job to Curtis Brinkley in 2008 but still managed to play in 5 games.

Fortunately for Marrone, he made two key acquisitions in the offseason. Starting off the acquisitions is the return of senior wide receiver, Mike Williams in March. Williams led the team with 10 touchdown receptions in 2007 but was suspended from the school in the spring of 2008 for academic issues. Williams returns to the team as their top receiving threat and his streak of 9 games with a touchdown catch leads the FBS division.

Marrone’s recruiting coup of the year was bringing in everyone’s favorite, flopping white guy, Greg Paulus. Paulus was last seen on the basketball court for Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils. Paulus was heavily recruited by the football programs of Notre Dame, Syracuse, Miami, etc. coming out of high school to lead their offenses. Paulus was the Gatorade National High School Football Player of the Year his senior year of high school and still holds most New York State passing records. Recently, Paulus was named the started for Syracuse and his effect will be seen immediately if only in the butts in the seats statistical category.

Defensively, Syracuse returns All Big East Nose Tackle Arthur Jones. Jones returned for his senior year (possibly so that he could play with his younger brother, Defensive End Chandler Jones). Jones led the team in tackles for a loss last season with 13. A candidate for the Outland Trophy, Jones is considered a Top 10 NFL draft pick and is the #2 Defensive Tackle behind #1 Draft Prospect Ndamukong Suh out of Nebraska.

If personnel issues aren’t enough to hamper the Orangemen this season, the schedule won’t do them many favors. While the Big East has no clear favorite for this season, the Orangemen are still considered the worst team in the conference and have little chance of beating most of their opponents. Fortunately for Marrone, Louisville is still on the schedule.

The Orangemen will be helped by the fact that they play 7 of their first 8 games at home with only a road trip to Penn State in their second week. Their first three games are against Big Ten opponents, starting with Minnesota and ending with Northwestern. A date with FCS opponent Maine gives the Orangemen a little break before the Big East season hits with home games against South Florida and West Virginia. Last season’s spoilers, Akron, return to the Loud House a week before the final game of the home stand against Cincinnati at the end of October. The Orange will play at Pittsburgh and Louisville before a home date with Rutgers and the season finale at Connecticut.

Picking up a win against any Big East team will be difficult this season for Syracuse and they can only hope that teams underestimate them and are looking ahead to other opponents. This will certainly be a tough year for the Orangemen, but there is a definite sense of calm amongst the fan base now that Greg Robinson is gone and former Orangeman Doug Marrone is at the helm.

Who You Need to Know And Their 08 Stats
QB Greg Paulus: None (HS Total: Over 11,000 passing yards, over 150 TD passes)
WR Mike Williams: None (2007: 60 rec, 837 yds, 10 TDs)
NT Arthur Jones: 60 tkls, 13 TFL, 3.5 sacks

Game To Watch
Syracuse has to start the season strong with a good showing on ESPN2 against Minnesota (9/5). It will be an extremely difficult game for the Orangemen to win, but if the team shows signs of improvement it could lead to a better year.

They’ll Do Well If…
..Greg Paulus plays half as well as he did in high school. This season is all about Greg Paulus and whether or not he can lead an offense that ranked at the bottom of the Big East and FBS last season in practically every category.

Season Outlook
There is no reason to believe that Syracuse will do better than 3-9 this season. Maine and Akron provide the only two non-conference games that the Orangemen can win and they have to hope that Louisville is just as bad as they were last season or that another Big East team chokes when they come to play in the Carrier Dome. Greg Paulus will provide some sort of boost to a floundering program and hopefully it is enough to allow Doug Marrone to move forward with recruiting and start setting the tone for future programs. On the positive side, they only direction that the Orangemen can go is up.