• OverThePylon

    OTP covers Ball State University sports from the blog perspective in the most overzealous manner possible, proving that as long as there is someone with enough free time you can obsess over anything.
  • Connect to OTP

  • OTP Messageboard

  • OTPcast on Itunes

  • OTPcast on Stitcher

  • Help the Pylon

  • Donate to OTP

    A donation to OTP helps keep the site afloat and Cards fans connected. 50% of all donations sent to Cardinal Varsity Club as well. Help the Cards and your favorite blog in one fell swoop!

  • Join Our Network

Prelude to a Season: #19

19.) Utah Utes

UtahWhat You Need to Know
The Utes certainly ended 2008 on a high note as they demolished Alabama in the Sugar Bowl 31-17. It was their 8th consecutive Bowl win, but perhaps the one game that led to the most controversy and discussion in the offseason. Thanks largely to their dominance and #2 finish, a large population of college football fans felt Utah was unjustly not allowed to compete for the national title. It’s led to Congressional committees, blogosphere fodder, and the issue of the offseason for all of college football as the discussion rages on about how “fair” or “unfair” the BCS is.

For Utah, the offseason was less about reliving 08 and their lack of a cyrstal football, and more about Kyle Wittingham continuing the tradition built under Urban Meyer. Certainly 2008 was Wittingham’s best season, finishing ranked #2 and 13-0, but Wittingham has certainly made Utah a Mountain West frontrunner each and every year. His recruiting is solid, his talent now well stocked, and the future looks just as bright as the past for the Utes.

Offensively, Utah returns 5 starters, but did lose QB Brian Johnson and their top 3 receivers in Freddie Brown, Brent Casteel, and Bradon Godfrey who combined for 176 catches, 2020 yds, and 15 TDs. Returning for the Utes is senior RB Matt Asiata, an effective scoring threat along with his backups in junior Eddie Wide and redshirt freshman Sausan Shakerin. Battling for the starting QB position will be junior Corbin Louks and junior Terrance Cain, a transfer who was the National Junior College Offensive Player of the Year. Neither is Brian Johnson, but either is a decent option for the Utes.

Defensively, the Utes return 7 starters from a unit that ranked 11th in the country in total defense and 12th in points allowed. The defensive line has tremendous losses in DE Paul Kruger and DT Greg Newman, who combined for 111 tackles, 10 sacks, and 16 tackles for loss. Utah also loses both corners in Brice McCain and Sean Smith, who combined for 14 pass break ups and 6 INTs. Utah’s starting safeties are two of the best in the country in Joe Dale and Robert Johnson and will anchor an already solid defense to continued success.

Utah finds themselves in very unfamiliar territory as 2009 dawns. In recent years, they were certainly a talented team but had very little buzz surrounding them save for those exceptionally in the know. This year however, certainly everyone knows just exactly who Utah is. They made sure that was the case last January in New Orleans as they totally destroyed one of the country’s most prestigious football programs.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
RB Matt Asiata: 146 att, 707 yds, 12 TDs
WR David Reed: 25 rec, 427 yds, 6 TDs
LB Stevenson Sylvester: 73 tkls, 3.5 sacks, 4.5 TFL, 4 PBU

Game to Watch
The most challenging non-conference game for the Utes will be September 19th at Oregon. In conference, two games stand between Utah and another Mountain West Conference title: @ TCU (11/14) and @ BYU (11/28). Extremely challenging games… both on the road.

They’ll Do Well If…
… the Utes find a quarterback who leads this team. Finding someone to totally replace a player like Brian Johnson is nearly impossible but finding the next great quarterback in the Utah lineage will have to happen for the Utes to be successful.

Season Outlook
For Utah, replicating last season’s unbelievable dream season will be challenging. But competing for a Mountain West title is well within their reach. Their three toughest contests are all on the road (Oregon, TCU, BYU) and I don’t forsee them losing more than 1 game in conference play. A great season for Utah is what we’re predicting, with the Utes finishing at 11-1 and with a great shot at a Mountain West title, but they must beat TCU, whom we also believe will stumble once in conference play.

Prelude to a Season: #20

20.) Texas Christian Horned Frogs

TCUWhat You Need to Know
While fellow mid-majors Utah and Boise State were racking up BCS paydays, national attention, and significant arguments that they should have a seat at the national title conversation, TCU has quietly made themselves extremely relevant in the college football world. Since head coach Gary Patterson took over in 2000’s Bowl game, he has amassed a 73-27 record as well as 5-3 in Bowls. He’s been Bowling 4 straight years, and has 5 seasons of 10 or more wins. This year, Patterson’s Horned Frogs are primed for even more success, as well as being a potential BCS buster. They return 10 total starters, have a manageable schedule, and will be in the running for a Mountain West title.

Offensively, TCU returns 6 starters, including all of their skill players in junior QB Andy Dalton, senior RB Jospeh Turner, and junior WR Jimmy Young. The interior of the offensive line is the only question mark, as the Horned Frogs need to replace their center and both guards. Anchoring that line will be veterans in junior RT Marcus Cannon and senior LT Marshall Newhouse. Last year saw TCU rack up 220 per game on the ground with 33.6 points per game. To expect that sort of production again might be fool’s gold since TCU set records last season in touchdowns scored and total points scored, but expect TCU to continue their offensive success.

Defensively, TCU was one of if not the, best in the country last season. 4 starters return from a unit that allowed only 11.3 points per game and 218 yards per game. They were dominant against the run, allowing only 1.7 yards per carry and 47 yards per game. Those numbers were good enough to propel TCU to #1 in the country in both rush defense and total defense. It was the third time in the last nine seasons that TCU has had the country’s best defense, so expect them to continue their trend of a dominating defensive unit. Corners Nick Sanders (sr) and Rafeal Priest (sr) have started every game for the Horned Frogs the prior three seasons, and senior DE Jerry Hughes 4.5 tackles for loss and 15 sacks last year.

The Horned Frogs find themselves in a position to win the Mountain West Conference this season in addition to the potential of upsetting two BCS teams on the road. If that happens, it is likely that they will be the Cinderella team looking for an at-large BCS berth. Standing in their way is BYU, whom TCU has to travel to for a game that may very well decide the conference race.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
QB Andy Dalton: 182-307, 2242 yds, 11 TDs, 5 INTs
RB Joseph Turner: 145 att, 577 yds, 11 TDs
WR Jimmy Young: 59 rec, 988 yds, 5 TDs

Game to Watch
The one game on the schedule that has the potential to make or break TCU’s season is October 24th battle at BYU. The winner has an inside track to the conference title, in addition to the possibility of an undefeated season and a BCS berth. For TCU to achieve that they’ll also need to knock off their ACC opponents to start the year, @ Virginia (9/12) and @ Clemson (9/26).

They’ll Do Well If…
… they figure out how to knock off BYU. A victory over the Cougars could very well land TCU in a BCS game for the first time in school history.

Season Outlook
For the Horned Frogs, last season saw them finish the year ranked #7 after an 11-2 campaign, with the only losses to BCS Bowl participants Oklahoma and Utah. Improving on that record and those results will be difficult, but not impossible. In the worst case scenario of 09, TCU loses to BYU and Utah  both, as well as dropping one of the non-conference games. That places them at 9-3. What is more likely is a clean sweep through their non-conference slate and one loss in conference, placing them at 11-1 and right in the hunt for a conference title with an outside chance at a BCS appearance.

Prelude to a Season: #21

21.) Iowa Hawkeyes

IowaWhat You Need to Know
Last season the Iowa Hawkeyes gave the college football world one of it’s most memorable moments in their 24-23 upset of Penn State. That game cost PSU a potential shot at a national title, and as 2009 opens, the Hawkeyes are hoping they will be Cinderella instead of simply ruining other people’s shots. Aside from the PSU win, Iowa’s 2008 was colored by unbelievably close losses, and despite finishing the year at 9-4, the Hawkeyes were an exceptionally talented team, as evidenced by their 31-10 demolition of South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.

Offensively, the Hawkeyes return 6 starters, but one of the 5 lost was superstar running back Shonn Greene. His 1800+ yards and 20 TDs will need to be at least somewhat replaced for the Hawkeyes to hope to make noise in the Big Ten race. Filling in for Greene will be sophomore Jewel Hampton, who took his 5’9” 210lb. frame for 478 yards and 7 TDs last season. Also returning for the Hawkeyes is their leading receiver in junior Derrel Johnson-Koulianos, as well as junior QB Ricky Stanzi. They also need to replace 2 on the offensive line, and those replacements will need to help open holes for Hampton and drive the success of the offensive unit.

Defensively, Iowa loses only 3 starters from a defense that allowed only 13 points per game. They were stout against the run, decent against the pass, but were not a high pressure team, creating only 19 sacks. They must find a way to replace both of 08’s starting DTs in Mitch King and Matt Kroul as well as CB Bradley Fletcher but Iowa’s unit was one of the best in the country in 08 and looks to be just as talented in 09.

Many offseasons past were dominated by questions regarding head coach Kirk Ferentz and his longevity in Iowa City as he was mentioned time and time again for job opportunities and NFL openings. The UI administration put that issue to rest this offseason as they signed Ferentz to a 7-year contract extension running through 2015. His 9-3 record last season put his cumulative record at Iowa at a very nice 70-53 in 10 seasons, averaging 7 wins per season, a number Iowa looks to dramatically improve on in 2010.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
QB Ricky Stanzi: 150-254, 1956 yds, 14 TDs, 9 INTs
LB Pat Angerer: 107 tkls, 1 sack, 5.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 5 INTs
WR Derrel Johnson-Koulianos: 44 rec, 639 yds, 3 TDs

Game to Watch
The Hawkeyes will try to repeat one of last season’s most memorable upsets on 9/26 when they travel to Happy Valley to take on Penn State. Out of conference, their toughest games will be their rivalry at Iowa State in week 2 (9/12) and their contest with Arizona the following week (9/19). The Hawkeyes will also travel to Columbus for the Buckeyes on 11/14 with the opportunity to spoil OSU’s special season or continue one for themselves.

They’ll Do Well If…
… the offensive line and Jewel Hampton perform to a level that opens up the pass for Ricky Stanzi. Stanzi’s abilities and athleticism will be put to the test as defenses no longer need to load the box to somehow try and contain Shonn Greene.

Season Outlook
The good news for the Hawkeyes is every game on their schedule is winnable out of conference. The bad news is their “key games” in the Big 10 are all on the road. Their 4 conference road games are against the teams that will give them the most trouble in some of the most difficult stadiums in the country in Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State. Assuming the Hawkeyes manage a .500 run on the road in conference play, they’re looking at a 10-2 season, and pending the outcome of other conference games, that may just be good enough to compete for a conference crown.

Prelude to a Season: #22

22.) Florida State Seminoles

Florida StateWhat You Need to Know
It’s been an interesting journey for the Seminoles over the last several years. While certainly no slouches in the past 8 seasons, having a winning record each year, it was the unbelievable success the Noles were used to before then that has made this somewhat down decade even harder to swallow. 2001 was the first year in 15 seasons where the Seminoles didn’t finish the year in the Top 5, and they haven’t come close since then.

The offseason was tumultuous as well, as it saw FSU and its administrators wrangle with the NCAA over wins they may or may not need to vacate, which will impact head coach Bobby Bowden’s standings as the potential winningest coach of all time. Suffice to say that Bowden, the players, and the fans are looking forward to this football season if for no other reason to shift focus back to the gridiron instead of what goes on off it.

This season, the Noles are hoping to improve on last season’s 9-4 campaign, and there is certainly reason to believe they will be the front-runner for the ACC’s Atlantic Division crown and berth in the ACC title game. Tempering that sort of belief and what gives non-believers pause are the losses felt on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, the Noles haven’t lost a lot in terms of quantity, but certainly lost more than their fair share in terms of quality. Losing only 3 starters is usually a recipe for success, especially when you return your starting QB and all of your offensive line, however, FSU loses their main threats and weapons. RB Antoine Smith and WRs Greg Carr and Preston Parker are taking with them their combined 1900 yards of offense and 22 touchdowns. Returning is their junior signal caller Christian Ponder, who struggled in his first year as a starter, but still managed a 2000-yard season. Ponder’s year of experience will serve him well, and he is responsible now for using a slew of new skill position players as best he can.

Defensively, the Noles are chock full of holes. Returning only 5 starters, and losing 4 of their top 6 tacklers means there are new faces left and right. Benefiting FSU is the fact that they, like other programs, are long on talent throughout their roster. It is simply a matter of whether that talent can perform despite their inexperience. The Seminoles find themselves replacing 2 of 4 defensive linemen, 2 of 3 linebackers, and 2 of 4 secondary players. The returning senior LB Dekoda Watson will be the primary impact player of the unit. In a very un-FSU-like 2008, the defense gave up an average of 133 yards per game on the ground. That number must get better for this defense to give FSU a chance in ball games.

Florida State plays in the ACC, a conference with no stand outs, and known for parity and upsets week in and week out. Absent from their conference schedule is consensus top 10 team Virginia Tech, and that will bode well for the Noles improving on their 5-3 conference record from last season.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
QB Christian Ponder 177-318, 2006 yds, 14 TDs, 13 INTs
RB Jermaine Thomas 69 att, 482 yds, 3 TDs
LB Dekoda Watson 46 tkls, 8 TFL, 1 INT

Game to Watch
Out of conference, the Noles’ schedule is certainly admirable. Aside from an early season contest against Jacksonville State, they battle in-state rivals South Florida (9/26) and @ Florida (11/28) with the potential of ruining a perfect season a shot at a national title for the Gators. Additionally, the Noles travel for a game at BYU on September 19. In conference, the Noles’ toughest competition for the ACC Atlantic will come @ Clemson (11/7) and @ Boston College (10/3).

They’ll Do Well If…
… the defense is even a shell of former defenses that FSU teams relied on for defensive intensity to win games. While it is a given that the offense will be improved, it is the defensive performance that will dictate just how “improved” the offense needs to be.

Season Outlook
FSU may have to wait another year to see if they return to the Top 5, as it is a longshot for the 2009 season, but Noles fans should feel confident that they will be convincingly improved from recent years in skill and performance if not record. Even though the only sure-fire loss on the schedule for the Seminoles is their season finale at Florida, they have  out of conference coin flip games against South Florida and @ BYU, and then the ACC season begins, and the parity of the ACC makes for several losses. Our prediction of 9-3 for the Seminoles would be a great season, and a virtual guarantee of an ACC title game berth.

Prelude to a Season: #23

23.) BYU Cougars

BYUWhat You Need to Know
It’s a virtual certainty that if you asked a college football fan to name their most successful programs in the last several years, BYU wouldn’t be at the top of that list. Unlike fellow mid-major programs Boise State and Utah, the Cougars have not been to a BCS Bowl, haven’t been a serious threat for a national title, and certainly haven’t made lawmakers, fans, and university presidents lobby for a change to the system because of their play and success.

Yet, BYU has been no slouch in recent memory. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall assumed the reigns in 2005, and after his first season at 6-6, he has lifted the Cougars to impressive levels. Three straight seasons of ten-plus wins, four straight Las Vegas Bowls (2-2), and two conference titles later, Mendenhall now hopes that he can rely on senior QB Max Hall to lead the Cougars to the promised land they’ve known and beyond.

BYU finds themselves sitting quite pretty to continue their recent trends as 2009 opens. Offensively, they return only 4 starters, but Hall, a longshot Heisman contender, is one of the 4. Also returning is junior RB Harvey Unga, a 1000-yard back last season. BYU also has significant holes to fill, as they have lost WR Austin Collie to early entry to the NFL as well as WR Michael Reed to graduation, but do return 08’s second most productive pass catcher in senior TE Dennis Pitta, who caught 83 balls for 1083 yds and 6 TDs. The most troubling fact for Cougar fans is the need to replace 4 of 5 offensive linemen, with the lone returner sophomore LT Matt Reynolds. For the Cougars to be successful this season the offensive line must gel quickly and perform adequately.

Defensively, the Cougars return 8 starters, but do lose two important ones in the defensive backfield in Kellen Fowler and David Tafuna. 6 of their front 7 return, and will feature the conference’s best defensive front unit. If the defense can somehow absorb the losses in the secondary, the defense won’t skip a beat from last year.

Perhaps the defining characteristic of BYU that separates them from other non-BCS schools is their ridiculously challenging schedule. Opening with a “neutral” game against Oklahoma in new Texas Stadium, traveling to Tulane, and lining up against Florida State make for an unusually challenging non-conference season for the Cougars. While one loss is probable and two losses possible, those games will prepare BYU exceptionally well for the real schedule… the Mountain West Conference games. There is no reason to expect BYU won’t be competitive for a conference title, and it is basically a coin flip between TCU, Utah, and the Cougars.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
QB Max Hall: 330-447, 3957 yds, 35 TDs, 14 INTs
RB Harvey Unga: 240 att, 1132 yds, 11 TDs
LB Matt Baumann: 108 tkls, 2 sks, 6.5 TFL

Game to Watch
If the Cougars can somehow upset Oklahoma in their season opener in Arlington, TX on September 5 then BYU suddenly becomes a serious darkhorse for a national championship berth. In conference play, the Cougars’ October 24th and November 28th home battles against TCU and Utah respectively will be the deciding games for the Mountain West title.

They’ll Do Well If…
…they defeat both TCU and Utah in conference play, their two biggest competitors in the MWC. A win over both puts the Cougars squarely in the driver’s seat for the conference crown.

Season Outlook
It is entirely plausible that at the conclusion of the season, BYU may not be the highest-ranked team in the MWC because of their non-conference losses, but it is entirely likely that they will be in the hunt for the conference crown. Having their toughest conference games at home will be a tremendous benefit, as will having significant non-conference games to get them ready for a conference title run. BYU will most certainly lose their season opener against the Sooners, and stand to lose again two weeks later against Florida State. Look for at least one stumble in conference play. The Cougars appear on track for a 9-3 season, with anything better a tremendous success.

Prelude to a Season: #24

24.) Clemson Tigers

ClemsonWhat You Need to Know
Oh, Clemson… how you ruined our Preseason Top 25 last year. The 08 edition of the Tigers saw remarkable talent, a fairly weak conference, and a talented coach in Tommy Bowden totally misdirect those in the know. We, as just about everyone else, looked to Clemson to run roughshod through the ACC and have an outside shot at a national title. That clearly was overshooting the Tiger runway, as Clemson finished 7-6, lost the Gator Bowl to Nebraska, and Tommy Bowden suddenly needed a new job. From game 1 last season, a 34-10 thrashing at the hands of Alabama, Clemson was on the ropes, and their season, Bowden’s legacy, and the hopes and dreams of Clemson faithful died in Atlanta before September even began.

As the Tigers limped through the season, it became evident that despite having talented skill players like Cullen Harper, CJ Spiller, and James Davis, the Tigers lacked a dominant O-line, shut down defense, or any semblance of team chemistry and togetherness. The proof of that team discourse was evident when Bowden was relieved of his duties on October 13th and QB Cullen Harper said, “It’s what he deserved.”

Picking up the pieces of the then-.500 Clemson Tigers was Dabo Swinney, who rode a 4-2 close to the season to a Bowl berth and a removal of the “interim” tag. Swinney now finds himself in charge of a program that is one of the nation’s most notorious underachievers and hasn’t won an ACC Title since 1990. This season, however, is almost the inverse of last.

2008 saw high talent, deep skill positions, but very little trench veterans for the Tigers. Additionally, the expectations and buzz was tremendous and certainly made fans expect far better than what the Tigers could deliver. This year, the Tigers find themselves significantly better and more experienced on the offensive and defensive lines, virtually no preseason buzz, and the benefactors of the same ACC Atlantic without a highly dominant team to compete with for a divisional title.

Offensively, the Tigers lose only 4 starters, but they are all skill positions. They lose their starting QB, leading rusher, and leading receiver, but return all of their offensive line which allowed 5.7 yards per carry as well as only 15 sacks. Sophomore Willy Korn will be the man under center and leading this offense as the season begins, but with freshmen Kyle Parker and Tajh Boyd on the roster, Korn will be pushed to be effective. Senior CJ Spiller now becomes a one man show where a former two-headed monster with him and James Davis used to exist. The largest weakness for the Tigers is a receiving corps that is exceptionally untested and unproven and must replace significant losses.

Defensively, the Tigers return 8 starters from a unit that was not outstanding but serviceable last season. Clemson offers a strong front 7, and a defensive backfield that is finally well stocked, despite replacing FS Chris Clemons and SS Mike Hamlin, due to moving DeAndre McDaniel back to his natural position of strong safety after an experiment at linebacker last season. Leading the Clemson defense will be LB Kavell Conner, a senior who racked up 125 tackles and 5 TFL last season.

For Swinney and the Tigers, the schedule is much different than last year, opening not against a major opponent on a neutral field, but rather against Middle Tennessee State at home in Death Valley. The ACC is challenging but not impossible, and of the two divisions, the Atlantic is the easier to win.

Overall, it will be a much different sort of season for the Tigers, as Swinney and co. take the field with plenty of good things like virtually no expected fanfare or presumed success. There is no momentum killer to start the year, and the Tigers are strongest at some of the most important positions on the field. The Tigers have consistently faltered when much was expected… now they can try the other side of that coin.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
QB Willy Korn: 26-38, 216 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
RB CJ Spiller: 116 att., 668 yds, 7 TD, 34 rec., 436 yds, 3 TD
DE Da’Quan Bowers: 47 tackles, 1 sack, 7 TFL, 3 PBU

Game to Watch
Clemson’s toughest competition in winning the ACC Atlantic will be Florida State. They get the Noles at home on November 7th. Out of conference games against TCU (9/26) and @ South Carolina (11/28) will prove to be tough tests for the Tigers as well.

They’ll Do Well If…
… the offense finds a rhythm and Willy Korn limits turnovers. With CJ Spiller, Korn doesn’t have to be an All-Star, he simply has to be good enough to not cost his team games.

Season Outlook
For Clemson, they find themselves in a conference void of real power teams, but with unbelievable parity. Of great benefit for the Tigers is the absence of Virginia Tech, arguably the ACC’s best, from their schedule. The Tigers have two road games in their first 5 contests, @ Georgia Tech and @ Maryland, both exceptionally tough. Losing one of those two, in addition to a hiccup against at least one of their non-conference foes, with one additional loss in conference leaves the Tigers looking at 9-3 as an extremely successful season. More realistic is 8-4 with an outside chance of competing for the ACC Atlantic, pending how their conference foes fare in league play.

Prelude to a Season: #25

Just as we did last year, OTP will be getting itself in season mode by revealing our Preseason Top 25 one pick at a time, followed by our conference predictions, All-American teams, and finally our conference winner and bowl projections. It’s still sunny and the pool is still open, but it’s time. Sweet tasty football time.

25.) Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre_DameWhat You Need to Know: When people are asked to evaluate the potential successes of the Fighting Irish, it is nearly impossible to receive an unbiased accurate assessment. The Irish fans, and there are many, will always proclaim ND to be one of the best teams in the country and a contender for a national title. On the flip side of that coin are the anti-ND folks, a crowd just as loud, and just as populated, with opinions just as ingrained. They will tell you that ND is annually overranked, head coach Charlie Weis universally overrated, and Notre Dame is a team that is simply past their prime and unable to compete with the modern day dynasties.

In recent years, the anti-Irish have had much to celebrate while the ND faithful have found themselves in fairly unfamiliar territory. After Weis’ first two seasons in South Bend saw the Irish post a 19-6 record with two BCS Bowl berths, the Irish came back to Earth with a Bowl-less 07 at 3-9 and a largely lackluster 2008 at 7-6. Last year saw rumblings of Weis’ early exit from South Bend mainly because of a large and vocal group of Irish faithful questioning whether or not he was capable of winning there. Three double-digit leads blown through the year (Pitt, Syracuse, North Carolina), and a 6-6 record, relegated the Irish to the Hawaii Bowl, a game that no one expected would produce such positive vibes for the Irish.

Behind a record-breaking performance in passing yards (401) and touchdowns (5), Irish QB Jimmy Clausen showed the world why he was universally regarded as a Can’t-Miss-Prospect out of high school. Granted, the competition was a 7-6 Hawaii team, but it was still a much celebrated victory. It could have been because the Irish hadn’t won a Bowl in 15 years or it could have been because the Irish finally just had something worth celebrating, but one thing is for certain: what started as jubilation on December 24, 2008 has morphed into anticipation and expectations as August 2009 dawns.

The question in many fans’ minds revolves around the ND defense. Notre Dame returns only 6 starters, having lost two of last season’s top 3 tacklers in FS David Bruton and LB Maurice Crum. Bruton’s loss is espcially felt, as he also led the team in interceptions. Sack co-leader DL Pat Kuntz, CB Terrail Lambert, LB Steve Quinn, and DE Justin Brown all must be replaced as well. Hoping to ease that transition is one of the most heralded signees in recent ND history… LB Manti Te’o, a 6’2″ 225-lb. linebacker ranked positionally #1 and overall #2 by ESPN.

Notre Dame finds themselves not only on numerous preseason polls or watch lists, but also in possession of a relatively weak schedule. An offense which showed signs of brilliance to close 2008, a head coach who has recommitted himself to being involved in the minuscule details on the offensive side, and an exceptionally talented recruiting class all bode well for the Irish, but could prove to be the loudest talking points for the anti-Weis crowd should ND not find their way to a successful 2009 campaign.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
QB Jimmy Clausen: 268-440, 3172 yds, 25 TDs, 17 INTs
WR Golden Tate: 58 rec, 1080 yds, 10 TDs
SS Kyle McCarthy: 110 tkls, 3.5 TFL, 2 INTs

Game to Watch
Finding must-see television on Notre Dame’s schedule is relatively easy. The Irish may find themselves favorites in 11 of their 12 scheduled games, with the exception being October 17th against USC in South Bend. The game follows a bye-week for the Irish and the Trojans, and is the one game many Irish faithful point to as the sticking point for an undefeated season.

They’ll Do Well If…
… the Irish find viable replacements for their numerous defensive losses. The ND offense will clearly put up points and yardage, it is up to a defense long on talent but short on game experience to ensure those points and yards are enough to win.

Season Outlook
If the season goes according to plan, Notre Dame will finish 11-1, with the lone loss coming to a significantly more talented USC. The Irish will, however, need to perform to their talent level to beat UConn, Stanford, and Boston College, with any sort of major mistakes or significant injuries reducing their chance for victory. As in years past, expect at least one hiccup and potentially more. A successful year would find the Irish with an 11-1 record, a disappointment at 7-5, with expected reality at 9-3.

Prelude to a Season… #1

#1.) Florida

What You Need to Know: Florida. Oh, Florida. Florida isn’t sneaky. They aren’t tricky. There are no hidden questions that will crop up as the year progresses. Florida is simply Florida. And the questions that are there, those that bring pause to folks wanting to declare them the favorite to lift a BCS Title come January, are well known. They aren’t secretive. They will demand answers for the Gators to win Urban Meyer’s second BCS crown at the school.

The question is one letter. D. If the Gators’ defense performs even moderately well, the Gators will win the national championship. Take a moment… let that sink in. Not Ohio State. Not Georgia. Not USC, Oklahoma, BYU, Ball State, or anyone else. The only team that will prevent Florida from winning the championship will be Florida.

Anyone remotely knowledgeable about college football will tell you that last year’s 9-4 team was significantly better than 9-4 on the offensive side of the ball. Undefeated? A National Title? Probably not. But certainly better than the 9-4 record indicates. Most of those same people will tell you that the defense, and specifically the secondary, were responsible for an overwhelming majority of the reasons for the “4” and truthfully, played a whole lot worse than 9-4.

Florida, usually known for a bruising high-speed defense, forced only 11 INTs and 20 total turnovers on their way to being ranked 98th out of 119 in pass defense and 6th in the nation in penalties. The line gave no pressure, the secondary didn’t cover, and the tackles weren’t hard enough to force drops or fumbles. What made the matter worse was that opponents converted nearly 42% of their third downs. That means by the end of the game, you have a defense that is overworked, winded, and tired… that was mediocre to begin with. Another defensive performance like that and the Gators will be fighting for 3rd in the SEC East.

But it’s not all Hemlock Tea with a side of anti-freeze in Gainesville. The Gators return 16 starters, including Heisman Trophy winner and circumcisor extraordinaire, Tim Tebow. That’s right… Tebow spent his time away from football cutting off Thai foreskins. Jesus. F’ing. Christ. Verne Lunquist’s head just exploded.

Tebow. Tebow! TEBOW! AIGIGHHGG


Anyone who has seen Tebow play knows he completely changes the defensive gameplan and is a threat unlike any other in college football. Hard throwing, hard running, hard hitting, and built like a baby gorilla, Tebow provides consistent leadership and performance to an offense in need of firepower to overcome their defensive counterparts. Tebow doesn’t do it alone, though, as a slew of talented backs and receivers pace Meyer’s spread attack. All are Florida fast, and all have the potential to outrun nearly any coverage in the country. The offensive line returns three starters who drove the Gators to the third-best rushing attack in the conference at nearly 200 ypg.

On the aforementioned defensive side, nothing is set. Even junior MLB Brandon Spikes has to come into his own and improve his level of play. And this was a young man who earned All-SEC honors last year as the league’s second-leading tackler. Spikes needs to find his leadership role on this defense, and along with coordinator Charlie Strong, perform like the talent on the two-deep indicates. The secondary, the unit most gashed last season, is a year older, and hopefully for Florida, a year better. They’ve had 6 months to smart after a solid ass kicking at the hands of Michigan in the Capital One Bowl, where the Gators gave up 524 yards of offense. This defense has to prove itself, and assuming they do, watch out.

The schedule for Florida is tough but manageable. Unlike their SEC East and Top 5 brethren Georgia, the Gators do not have an out of conference game against a tough opponent. Their 4 OOC games (Hawaii, Miami, Citadel, @Florida State) are all winnable. Critical SEC opponent LSU comes to the Swamp, but most troubling are road games (if you count Jacksonville as a road game) against Tennessee and Georgia. Huge games. Must wins.

Who You Need to Know and Their 07 Stats:
QB Tim Tebow: 3286 pass yds, 32 pass TD, 895 rush yds, 23 rush TD
RB Percy Harvin: 764 rush yds, 6 rush TD, 59 rec, 858 yds, 4 rec TD
MLB Brandon Spikes: 131 tkls, 16 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 3 FR, 1 FF

Game To Watch:
While Florida hopes to win the National Championship they must first win the SEC Championship. And before doing that, they must win the SEC East. Two games are must win for the Gators… September 20th at Tennessee and November 1st against Georgia in Jacksonville.

They’ll Do Well If…: Like several other teams in this Top 25, defense is the key for the Gators this year. A performance like last year will have them out of the title hunt before the season really kicks into high gear. If the defense can step up, force turnovers, hold teams on 3rd downs, and provide even moderately decent pass coverage, this team will be a special one.

Season Outlook: The Gators begin this season as the team to beat in this blog’s poll. The UT game on 9/20 will tell the world all they need to know about this Florida team. A win means it’s a very real possibility that when the Gators and Georgia meet it could be #1 vs. #2, with the winner in the driver’s seat for the national championship. Look for Florida to drop a game in conference in the regular season, but rebound to take the SEC Title, and defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes in the BCS Title Game. Final Record: 13-1

Prelude to a Season… #2

#2.) USC

What You Need to Know: USC is still USC. That should be enough to justify a #2 ranking and being a contender for the BCS title. In case you’ve been asleep for the past 6 years, let’s recap shall we?

6 straight conference titles. 6 straight BCS Bowls. 6 straight seasons of 11 or more wins. 6 straight years being ranked Top 4 to close the season. A final tally of 70 wins, 8 losses, and 2 National Titles. Oh yeah… those came back-to-back. Suffice to say, USC has been the belle of this ball for going on the last decade.

What’s changed in South Central? Quite a bit actually. The Trojans lose 11 starters, and they weren’t the starters who didn’t really matter (like their whole wideout corp). They were impact players and defensive standouts. How impactful were they? 7 of them were taken in the first two rounds of the NFL draft.

Questions abound around USC. In such a strange offseason, highlighted by a pesky outbreak of jock itch, many wonder if USC’s stranglehold on good fortune, positive karma, or what have you has come to an end. Stud RB Joe McKnight injured his hand in a freak accident when his dorm door was closed on it. He then hyperextended his elbow in a scrimmage. Newly minted QB Mark Sanchez suffered a dislocated kneecap in practice. This is not the way USC wanted to begin its bid for a title.

The questions reside exclusively on offense, as the Trojans have an untested QB, untested RB, an under performing class of wideouts, and an offensive line that is big, fast, strong, and completely unknown. They replace 4 of 5 starters on the O-line, and if this team doesn’t gel quick and effectively, it could be a long season for Trojan faithful.

What is giving folks optimism and hope is the defense. You will not find a better defensive 11 anywhere in the country. Top to bottom, and all over the two-deep depth chart are players that are extremely athletic, extremely talented, and extremely good. Offensive woes or not, this defense will keep the Trojans in any game and allow for mistakes and miscues from a green offensive unit, something that will benefit USC greatly as this season advances.

Who You Need to Know and Their 07 Stats:
DT Fili Moala: 32 tkls, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks
LB Rey Maualuga: 79 tkls, 10.5 TFL, 6 sacks, INT
SS Kevin Ellison: 57 tkls, 8 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INT, 2 FF

Game To Watch:
The game that everyone has had circled in red on their calendar since schedules were announced has been September 13th. However, with the hype, the quality of the opponents, even a loss will not destroy USC’s chance to make it to the BCS title game. Any other loss would be devastating. Outside the OSU game, the Trojans’ toughest tests are back to back on October 4 and October 11 against Oregon and Arizona State. Both those games are in the Coliseum, and both should be wins for the Trojans. Every other game will have USC a heavy favorite. Their most challenging road game comes at the conclusion of the season when they travel to UCLA.

They’ll Do Well If…: The Trojans will do well if the offensive line comes together and allows Sanchez and a bevy of running backs to make plays. The Trojans will do great if they win the games they should.

Season Outlook: While it’s true that USC could rebound from a loss against the Buckeyes, a win would mean USC could be staring an undefeated season square in the face. Despite the game being at home for the Trojans, it’s a loss, though much closer than many expect. They’ll run the table the rest of the way, though there will be scares. The Notre Dame and UCLA games will be much closer than many expect, and the Arizona State and Oregon games will be shootouts that come down to the wire. In the end, USC is USC, and they’ll pick up their seventh straight Pac 10 championship and seventh straight BCS appearance. They’ll finish the year 11-1 and will wait for the computers to spit out the participants of the BCS title game.

Prelude to a Season… #3

#3.) Georgia

What You Need to Know: It stands to reason that a preseason poll can take one of two forms. The first is a ranking of teams based on talent. Clearly as you move up the poll, each position gained means more talent on the field. The second approach is trying to predict where these teams will finish at the conclusion of the year. This poll is more so a hybrid of the two. Georgia is without question the most talented team in the country. Pair them against any team in a best-of-five, and Georgia walks away with the series win, bar none. Do I think Georgia will be bringing hardware back to Athens, though? I do not. And I do not believe that Georgia will even be playing for the chance to engrave their name on another trophy.

Much has been made about Georgia’s schedule and the brutality of it. The six-game stretch in conference play that features Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, and Florida. An unusual out-of-conference game against a Top 15 opponent on the road against Arizona State. They have trap games at South Carolina and at Kentucky, and quite frankly, I don’t think there is any chance of this team running the table. In fact, to be so bold, it’s a good bet Georgia won’t be in the SEC title game and may finish tied for second in their division.

The Dawgs have all the pieces, though. One of the best head coaches in the business, Mark Richt, enters his 8th season as Georgia head coach. He’s 72-19 during his tenure, including three SEC East titles and two SEC conference titles. They also have the talent, 17 starters returning, and a two-deep depth chart that rivals any in the country. They have experienced leadership in Matthew Stafford, a distinct homefield advantage in Sanford Stadium, and a fanbase that expects excellence and demands a title. And that’s what scares me. The road is littered with potential potholes, the expectations are suffocating, and Georgia’s season may be “over” before they even hit conference play.

Who You Need to Know and Their 07 Stats:
QB Matthew Stafford: 2523 yds, 19 TD
RB Knowshon Moreno: 1334 yds, 14 TD
DT Geno Atkins: 14.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks

Game To Watch:
There are four games which will decide Georgia’s fate this season. Two on the road, two at home. The Florida and Tennessee games are must wins. Both are at home, and both are divisional opponents. Arizona State and Auburn are both on the road, and will provide the Bulldogs an opportunity to make their claim at a national title. Win them both, along with UF and UT, and the Bulldogs will be celebrating their school’s 4th national title.

They’ll Do Well If…
: The offensive line gains experience and confidence early. The Bulldogs can cope with the extreme amount of expectations, pressure, and scrutiny. Stafford makes plays throughout the game, not simply when his team is down and needing a miracle.

Season Outlook: This season is eerily reminiscent of 2004. Loaded Georgia team, expected to contend for the national title, and all that slipped away when they lost to Tennessee between the hedges. Expect Georgia to win a close game against Arizona State, but they’ll finish the year 9-3 with all three losses coming in conference (Florida, Auburn, Tennessee). Georgia is still one of the most talented teams in the country, but this schedule and this conference is simply too tough for the Bulldogs to manage.