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"Life in the UK"
• Sideline: Yes, Non–Conference Games DO Count
• NCAA Preview 2009
• Sideline: Time For The Talking To Stop
• Sideline: In Memory of Air McNair
• Sideline: Will Goodell Hand Out Hard Time?
• Sideline: Marshall's Not Joshing
• NFL Draft: No Rush To Judgment
• NFL Draft Analysis 2009 (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts
• Sideline: Will Play For Food
• Sideline: Wonderlic Scores
• Sideline: Manning and Sanchez
• Sideline: 2010 Leagues Sci–fi, or Fantasy? / March Madness
• Sideline: Break Out The Brackets
• Sideline: LaDainian Tomlinson On The Record
• Sideline: The Incredible Sulk Continues
• Sideline: Guildford Heat Fired Up
• Sideline: Super Bowl thoughts from the Valley of the Sun
• Sideline: I know I came in here for something
• Sideline: College Football National Signing Day
• Sideline: 27 Points — 27 Super Bowl thoughts
• Sideline: An Epic QB Matchup?
• Sideline: Appreciating Arizona for What They Were
• Sideline: NFL Divisional Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Bowl Season Hangover
• Sideline: Six weeks Later
• Sideline: Wildcard Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Santa's Sackings
• Sideline: A Weis Decision ...for Now
• Sideline: Eye on the Ticker
• Sideline: Lions — An Anagram of Losin
• Sideline: Ready for the Turkey
• Sideline: Making it to the Big Dance
• Sideline: Brighter Days Ahead for Chargers?
• Sideline: Unnecessary Hits To The Pocket / Upset: BYU
• Sideline: Romo's Pause / Seattle Seahawks
• Sideline: Weekend Prep: Red River and More
• Sideline: College Football's 'Crossroads' Weekend
• Sideline: Gramatical Error
• Sideline: Turning The Page
• Sideline: So Cal 'Quizzed
• Sideline: 3rd Tuesday Panic / Forté Yard Dash
• Sideline: Two and Oh; Oh and Two
• Sideline: No More NCAAffeine
• Sideline: Week 1 College Football
• Sideline: How To Spell Heisman / Chad Ocho Cinco
• Sideline: A Second Slice
• Sideline: The Favre story STILL won't go away
• Sideline: Olympic Notes / Ricky's Still Relevant
• Sideline: Committee Meetings
• Sideline: Let the QB Battles Begin
• Sideline: Slinging The Slinger — More Favre
• Interview: Clint Dempsey
• Sideline: Welcome to the 2008 season
• Sideline: Plus One
• 2008 NFL Draft Review
• Sideline: Draft: The Morning After
• Sideline: Draft: Thinking the Unthinkable
• Sideline: Draft: Ready For The Long Haul
• Sideline: Sofa–bound Sport
• Sideline: Post–Winter Wonderland
• Sideline: Six Impossible Things
• Sideline: Brady's Misdirection Play
• Sideline: Colorful Language
• Sideline: Let the Romo–bashing begin
• Sideline: Bowl Bites: The Wrap
• Sideline: All About The Coaches
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 3
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 2
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 1
• Sideline: Coach Situations Vacant
• Sideline: For Some, The Playoffs Are Now
• Sideline: A Certain Lack Of Welcome
• Sideline: Unrelated Notes
• Sideline: Two Thanksgiving thoughts
• Sideline: Halftime: NFC
• Sideline: Halftime: AFC
• Sideline: London / A Tale of Two Chads / Intimidation
• Sideline: Damp Squib / Other London Notes
• Sideline: Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em / Dolphins – The Aftermath
• Sideline: The Dolphins Did What?
• Sideline: Notes on the Defenses
• Sideline: Habits to be Broken
• Sideline: Overtime
• Sideline: This Week's Starters
• Sideline: USF: Covering The Spread / Fantastic Football
• Sideline: Grossman: The Final Act? / McNabb, the Epilogue
• Sideline: Eagles QB in Slight Controversy
• Sideline: Leftwich's Parting Gift / Boos cruise
• Sideline: Notre Dame M.I.A.
• Sideline: Looking Beyond NFL Wk. 1
• Sideline: Best Hope For Heisman
• Sideline: Coaching Hot Seats / AP Poll Feeling ’Appy
• Sideline: The NFL’s Prime Cuts
• Sideline: Michigan Falls to Killer Apps
• Sideline: Look Out Couch / The Taint's On You, Bud
NCAA Preview 2009
Observations, Opinion & Occasional Silliness by Richard L Gale
The Big 12 North can fight amongst themselves — writes Richard L Gale — national implications are to be found over in the South Division, where Texas and Oklahoma's epic rivalry continues.
Todd Reesing is, without doubt, the marquee quarterback of the Big 12. Okay, he isn't, but he is the marquee QB of the North division. If the Kansas offense is anything less than scary–good this year, it'll be a disappointment. Reesing was 112 yards short of 4000 last season, and his top four receivers — including Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe, who each caught 90+ balls for 1000+ yards — are back
Another of those receivers is speedy RB Jake Sharp, who should have a 1000–yards rushing and whose 25 catches in '08 may only be skimming the surface. But before this entry descends entirely into statistics, here comes a caveat: the line must assert itself before Kansas can book their tickets for the conference championship. There will be a change at center, where Jeremiah Hatch reassumes the job from departed Ryan Cantrell, while Jeff Spikes remains at one tackle position — that much is good news. The other three positions may all be filled by redshirt freshmen, including Tanner Hawkinson, a converted tight end protecting Reesing's blindside. At 200lbs and standing under 6 foot, Reesing is not a big player, and if the line doesn't hold up, single–back Sharp's 190lb frame isn't going to stop the star QB from being sat on by, say, Ndamukong Suh.
A bigger and more versatile back (17 catches) last season was Angus Quigley. The reason I haven't mentioned him so far is because he's now a starting linebacker, and this points to another reservation with Kansas' appointment as the North's no.1. In what is, after all, a 4–2–5 alignment, how shallow does a team have to be at linebacker to promote their no.2 RB to starting linebacker? Last year, most of the pass–rushing pressure came from LB James Holt (now graduated), thus the need for Quigley's dynamism. Three of four defensive linemen return, but none of them are monsters, and there are offensive lines out there that will manhandle them. Four of five return in the secondary too — defense at least has experience — and SS Darrell Stuckey may be the best defensive player on the team. The rest are a mixture of size and agility, though few excel in both.
Normally I try not to gush over the prospects of teams whose claim to dominance is tenuous, but in the Jayhawks' case, I'll dip a toe in the hype because the passing game IS that good.
Back in the glory days, Nebraska dominated at Xs and Os. The Cornhuskers' defensive line returns to those times with Ndamukong Suh, a playmaking tackle who should be one of the first names in next year's draft. Whatever statistic you choose, Suh features, and in tackles and sacks, he stars, leading the team in both categories last season. His presence unleashes the rest of the line. In all, guys with shirt numbers in the 90s tallied 21 sacks, and the two–deep this year could tally even higher.
Linebacker is something more of an unknown. Rangey freshman Sean Fisher could join the sack count, and safety convert Mathew May will chase any tackling crumbs that fall from the D–Line's table, but MLB could be a job–share. The secondary should be just fine for tackling; four starters return, and the two–deep averages 200lbs. It all sounds good, yet Nebraska's defense had plenty of defensive melt–down moments last season. The reason they reached 9–4 was because of their own offensive points production, an average of almost 40 points per game in those wins. During the regular season, if they scored less than 32 points, they lost.
That high–production offense faces a couple of challenges behind an unexceptional line. The first is losing QB Joe Ganz, who, despite not being a superstar passer, threw for over 3500 yards and 25 scores last season, as well as running for another 5 TDs. Junior Zac Lee brings his two career attempt to bear on the position, but the team is confident in the son of former NFL passer Bob Lee, and there isn't a close second option. The receiving corps loses over 180 catches to graduation, but the next generation, led by Menelik Holt (30 catches) and Niles Paul (23) aren't green.
2008's running stable — Roy Helu, Quentin Castille and Marlon Lucky combined for almost 1800 yards — loses Lucky to graduation, and last week lost Castille to dismissal. Helu, the best and most durable of the backs, becomes the featured runner in a predominantly one–back set, and could be headed for 1300+ yards.
Picking Nebraska for second in the North is a stretch. The schedule is hard (at Virginia tech, at Missouri, at Kansas, at Colorado, plus Texas Tech and Oklahoma visiting), and if the offensive line doesn't progress, or anything happens to Lee or Helu, the 'Huskers could slide a long down the Divisional totem.
100–Word Dash: Missouri
For a moment in 2008, Missouri crept into national title contention, starting 5–0 before finishing 4–4 when the big teams came calling. Now without QB Chase Daniel, WR Jeremy Maclin and TE Chase Coffman, a repeat share of the North title seems unlikely. They will now rely on 1000–yard back Derrick Washington and the 6'5"–to–6'5" passing combination of Blaine Gabbert to Danario Alexander. The NFL has the best of their defense too, but at least LB Sean Weatherspoon and CB Kevin Rutland remain. If they can find some new pass–rushers, a slip–back 7– or 8–win season will be the result.
100–Word Dash: Colorado
Towards the end of this season, the learning curve will favor the defense, but for now, a host of sophomores and juniors populate the line and secondary. Just two returning starters — CB Cha'pelle Brown and LB Jeff Smart — must lead. The important thing in conference play is they have 3 corners who are of start quality (Jimmy Smith, Benjamin Burney the other two). Sophomores litter the offense too, both on the two–deep line and in the committee backfield. If coach's son Cody Hawkins can utilize his receivers better, Colorado could take seize the division …but that's a story for 2010.
100–Word Dash: Iowa State
The Cyclones won just two games in 2008, but lost four more by one possession. Two things could make a big difference this year. First, the arrival of Paul Rhoads as Head Coach: the former defensive coordinator of Auburn would have to work miracles to make this defense good right away, but with some discipline in the secondary and some pressure from the front seven, the could begin to compete. Second, if junior QB Austen Arnaud (almost 2800 yards, 15 TDs, plus 400 yards rushing in his first season) takes the next step, some of the blow–outs might become shoot–outs.
100–Word Dash: Kansas State
Bill Snyder promoted the Wildcats to national relevance before. Can he do it again? He re–inherits a team that went 5–7 last season with Josh Freeman at QB. While the competition to replace Freeman continues, the winner has tiny–but–dangerous WR Brandon Banks and tall converted RB Lamark Brown to target. The running game looks to JuCo transfer Dan Thomas for inspiration. A three–parts senior defensive line and a three–parts experienced secondary should mean K–State isn't victimized by the pass in the pass–happy Big 12, but the run defense needs work. At least Snyder's team has its traditionally feeble non–conference schedule.
Colt McCoy expects to see five changes from 2008 to 2009:
(1) to boost his NFL value by taking some snaps under center instead of pure from the shotgun;
(2) for a Texas back to do more rushing than he does;
(3) to be in the Big 12 championship game;
(4) to be in the National Championship game; and
(5) for some Heisman voters to remember if his team beats Sam Bradford's team again.
Many of these expectations are connected. For example, the inclination for McCoy to run may be reduced by the drop from center, or Texas might at least predestine more plays to be handoffs to RBs Vondrell McGee (375 yards) or Cody Johnson (12 scores but just 340 yards), who were cruelly underused during last season's shootouts. Despite the Longhorns scoring 34 times through the air and 33 times on the ground last year, McCoy's 3860 yards passing remains the focus. Quan Cosby's 92 receptions are gone, but returning WR Jordan Shipley almost matched him, and three other significant WRs also return, plus utility man John Chiles, a converted QB who threw and ran for 3 scores last season. While TE is a massive concern after a spate of injuries, the massive line is mostly back.
Business pretty much as normal on offense, then. While the defense has suffered some departures, Texas simply recruits monsters on a yearly basis. On the line, senior end Sergio Kindle (10 sacks last year) and junior end Sam Acho will be spelled by true freshman Alex Okafor. Kindle arrived as a linebacker, but transitioned to end because of the tackling talent already at the second layer, where Jared Norton and Roddrick Muckelroy are joined by Emmanuel Acho. With all four starting members of the secondary back , the only questions on defense being at tackle, where sophomore Kheeston Randall must prove he's the right guy to stand next to 300lber Lamarr Houston, and in picks — the secondary just don't grab any.
With the kicking game sound and potential return specialists littering the roster, Texas should be battle Oklahoma for the South again. Beating Oklahoma wasn't the problem last year, beating Texas Tech was, and this year the Longhorns must be careful that any win over the Sooners is followed by road wins over Missouri and Oklahoma State. If they accomplish that string, numbers 3–5 on McCoy's expectations should fall into line.
Oklahoma's offense was a thing to behold last year, scoring 60+ points in five straight games, and never scoring less than 35 until they met Florida. Now for 2009. Heisman–winning Sam Bradford, who threw for 50 TDs in '08 is back, but much of the starting offense isn't. Massive TE target Jermaine Gresham (66 catches) is here, and so is adaptable running back DeMarco Murray who accounted for 18 scores in shared time with now graduated Chris Brown. The biggest loss at a skill position is Juaquin Iglesias, a drive–making target who led the team in receptions and yardage.
The line is the unknown. Trent Williams takes up the left tackle position full time after playing RT most of his early career, and Brian Simmons (two starts) will assume one guard position. The rest of the line are inexperienced sophomores, including center Ben Habern. While they haven't seen live action, they have been practicing against the Sooners' defensive front, however, and they're not going to experience anything much more challenging than that. Six of the front seven starters return, including tackling maniac LB Travis Lewis (144) and fellow wrap–up artist Keenan Clayton (82). The returning line of English–Taylor–McCoy–Beal had 24 sacks between the, last season, which, when compared to the 13 allowed by the offensive line is a measure of just how dominant the Sooners were in the trenches a year ago.
Life is not perfect on the defensive side of the ball, however. Two of the top four tacklers, Lendy Holmes and Nic Harris are gone, and while free safety Quinton Carter will soon be racking the hits, finding a replacement at strong safety has been more of a chore. And a really high tackle–count is sometime a sign of a defense that doesn't snuff out drives soon enough; in an nine–game stretch beginning with the Texas game and ending with — well, it hasn't actually ended yet — the Sooners have surrendered 21 or more points. This may be wide–open college ball, and Oklahoma can match 21 points in one quarter, but the occasional shut–down performance would be nice.
Oklahoma better be looking for some shut–down. The season starts with offensively–potent BYU, and schedule has them on the road at Miami, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas Tech. Oklahoma are a top 5 team, but finishing with a top five record relies heavily on that offensive line playing beyond their years.
The Cowboys' offense lost TE Brandon Pettigrew (42 receptions) and WR Damian Davis (19) this offseason, which isn't much to lose by comparison to some receiving corps in the Big 12 South, but does leave a whole lot o' nothing opposite all–everything receiver Dez Bryant. Backs aside, the next most popular returning target after Bryant (87 receptions, 19 TDs) is TE Jamal Mosely (5 catches) — and he hasn't even assumed Pettigrew's job, surrendering the role to single–catch Wilson Youman. Nothing bad better happen to redshirt freshman Justin Blackmon, expected to provided an excellent no.2 option.
At least returning QB Zac Robinson (33 combined scores in '08) has Kendall Hunter to throw to. If you don't know who Hunter is, you've probably stumbled into this Big 12 preview by mistake, but we'll forgive you — Hunter doesn't get anything like the recognition he should. All he did last year was lead the conference in rushing (over 1500 yards), run for 16 scores, and become Robinson's no.3 target. The line in front of him returns both tackles and sees Andrew Lewis shift from guard to center. The guards will be new.
The defense has a lot more adjustment to take care of. The line returns only two starters, and none of the four projected first–teamers had more than 2 sacks last season. Then again, the whole defense only managed 15 sacks in 2008, and in the Big 12 South, that's an unacceptable lack of pressure for a team tickling some people's preseason top 10. At least when it comes to tackling, the senior linebacker set are mavens: Sexton, Lavine and Lemon made 260 stops between them last season, and are the pride of the Cowboys defense.
If that front seven can generate anything like a threat to opposing passers the DBs may not be toast this time out, but only CB Perrish Cox returns. The Cowboys really need to seek out some other return specialists so that Cox and Dez Bryant don't have to handle kick return and punt return duties respectively. Oklahoma State may love their big play potential, but if either gets hurt, that would seriously impact the team in other phases.
Schedule–wise, division rivals Texas and Texas Tech visit, and Oklahoma State could reach the season finale at Oklahoma with just one loss. However their non–conference schedule (conducted entirely at home) begins with Georgia and Houston. The Cowboys must be careful.
The brief I gave myself for these preview capsules was that I could pick 30 teams — one quarter — on which to elaborate beyond the '100–word dash' format. I also promised myself one off–the–radar team to play bowl what–if with. Baylor is that choice.
Baylor need to upset somebody this year; it's as simple as that. Five of their games are winnable, but if they want to get to a bowl game for the first time in… ['Prompt!'] …a decade and half, they must upset one of: Wake Forest, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Missouri, Texas, or Texas Tech. Last year, they came close to beating UConn, who they meet again, Missouri, and Texas Tech. It's hard to argue that any of those three won't be taking a step back this season, so the question is, with OT Jason Smith now in the NFL, can the Bears take the necessary step forward?
While both tackle positions reload, Baylor may need an agile quarterback — and they have one. Once these McCoy and Bradford fellas get out of the way, Robert Griffin is going to be the star of the Big 12 South. As a freshman, he produced 2836 yards and 28 touchdowns, with over 2000 of that through the air, and two of his top three receivers — Kendall Wright and David Gettis are back, as is TE Justin Akers, who caught only 14 balls last season, but had 43 in '07. RB Jay Finley is no superstar, but he contributed over 1000 yards from scrimmage and 9 TDs. Offense should be okay, and when it isn't Derek Epperson is a fine punter.
On defense, Baylor has had trouble against the pass. Is it a good or bad thing that the defensive line is changing? Two sophomores (the only starting underclassmen on that side of the ball) will start at DE, tackle Trey Bryant is a returning starter, and massive 355lb Phil Taylor is a Penn State transfer (not that Penn State seemed to miss him much). If that set can get up–front pressure on opposing passers, linebacker Joe Pawelek is a ballhawk. In their first full scrimmage, the defense stripping the ball repeatedly. Baylor fans can only hope that's a measure of how good the defense is and not just offensive misfires — winning the turnover battle would do a lot to close the gaps between the Bears and the Big 12 juggernauts.
100–Word Dash: Texas Tech
QB Graham Harrell (5000 yards), gone. WR Michael Crabtree (19 TDs), gone. WR Eric Morris (9 TDs), gone. Three starting linemen gone, and just one at the same position. Junior QB Taylor Potts is big and will produce big numbers in this system, but whether he has Harrell's delivery, we will see. The defensive line should know what it's doing, but the secondary has some new faces, and Tech has a merciless schedule in the category of opposing passers, and mid–level threat games against Houston, Nebraska and Baylor are away from home. Will the Red Raiders step back or tumble?
100–Word Dash: Texas A&M
The Aggies can pass — Jerrod Johnson threw for 2435 yards and 21 TDs, and returning receivers Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller each had 50+ catches a year ago. Question is, do they have anything else? The line allowed 39 sacks, and the running game barely stumbled past 1000 yards. Passing just isn't enough in the Big 12, where everybody passes. No player in the secondary returning to the same position won't help prevent being on the wrong end of shoot–outs. Somebody has to come last. At least last year A&M shared their misery. This year could be a lonely experience.