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THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE ONLINE
Features & Blogs
"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
Tim Tebow — clean living, weight room–punishing, defense–terrorizing Tim Tebow, the all–everything superman of Florida sports. The only year he hasn't won the National Championship, he won the Heisman instead. This year he might win both.
Last season he had something of a down year, scoring only 42 times (hey, he'd scored 55 the year before — what was wrong with him?), but he remains the big reason Florida tops nearly every preseason poll in the nation.
Not being in the nation, we have them as our no.2, the width of a sneeze behind Texas, but our independently–minded sports collective at The American has its reasons not to swoon before the Gators. For one thing, Tebow, while certainly an X–factor in the offense, was not the X–factor last season, the role belonging to Percy Harvin, the leading receiver and second–leading rusher behind Tebow. Harvin's gone, and Andre Dubose was expected to take up Harvin's role. But Dubose has a serious hamstring injury, so kick returner Brandon James is the next man up as a backfield receiver. With Louis Murphy in the NFL, TE Aaron Hernandez is the leading returning target (34 last year).
The Gators lose two of their four 600+ rushers from last season (nobody gained 700), with the speedy Jeffery Demps the remaining RB from that group. Emmanuel Moody (over 400 yards) is also back, so the committee is deep. Florida amassed 3235 yards on the ground last season, and while the line was still shuffling in the last days before kickoff, that's just a matter of getting the best of the best onto the field.
All of which is far too many words about the offense, because the defense is phenomenal. They conceded 21+ points just once last season, and of the four occasions when they conceded more than 14, three involved garbage–times scores against backups. And every single position has a returning starter, including future first round pick MLB Brandon Spikes, emerging force DE Carlos Dunlap, a pair of 300lb tackles, and a secondary so deep that even though strong safety Dorian Munroe's return from injury has been delayed by 6 weeks, the two–deep won't miss a beat (he was never going to steal the start back from 7–pick Ahmad Black in any case).
Okay, I am swooning. Incomplete receiving corps aside, could you pass my voting slip back: I'm going for Tebow & Co. after all.
If Georgia stand on tip–toe and squint into the far distance, they can almost see the orange haze of the Gators, but if Stafford, Moreno and home field advantage equaled a 49–10 loss in 2009, not too much is expected of QB Joe Cox and RB Caleb King.
King — plus fellow sophomore rusher Richard Samuel — is expected to be good now that Moreno is giving others a chance. Senior Cox hasn't had much opportunity either up until now, but after backing up Chris Leak in high school and Matthews Stafford here, he's nothing if not a patient passer. The transition will be aided by a wealth of experience on the line, where past injuries woes reward Georgia with an experienced two–deep (though there could be a week one emergency at center vs Oklahoma State).
The receiving corps loses top target Mohamad Massequoi. Competing to replace him as the alternate to 6'4" WR AJ Green are Michael Moore (29 catches last season) and exciting freshman Tavarres King.
Last season, Georgia's defense dropped from 42 sacks to 24, and the Bulldogs have a wealth of DEs waiting in the wings to borrow game time from DeMarcus Dobbs and Justin Houston. With Houston suspended for the first two games, Rod Battle has a chance to regain a starting role after a 2008 season pocked by niggling injuries. That alone should cause the sack tally to upswing, but watch too for converted TE Kiante Tripp and converted LB Marcus Washington to put in situational appearances. They will all be aided by the return from injury of DTs Jeff Owens and Kade Weston. Geno Atkins is another inside name contributing to a unit that could be massively improved — or rather restored this season.
The linebackers are lightweight, but fast, and with the line returned to its savage best, the secondary should fare better, despite a likely youth movement (sophomore Brandon Boykin, freshman Branden Smith) trying to get on the field at cornerback. Another Brandon, Bogotay, coud get involved in the return game, and with this much fast depth in the secondary and linebacking corps, one would hope for improved special teams. Kicking has been an adventure, however.
Things aren't shaping up too well for the trip to Oklahoma State, but with both lines returning to fitness and depth, it wouldn't be surprising to see Georgia play the Gators a lot closer than 49–10 this season.
100–Word Dash: Tennessee
Coach Lane Kiffin isn't just making media waves — he intends to begin tomorrow today. Freshman abound, and true freshmen at that. Eight superfroshes will take to the field as starters or close backups, including RB Bryce Brown, and WR Nu'Keese Richardson. The secondary is littered with teenagers, though juniors lead the way. So am I mad to think Kiffin can pull this off and land a winning season? Maybe, but it isn't just a stunt — with the class Kiffin brought home, he's playing his best players. Mind you, away trips to Florida, Alabama and Mississippi are going to be urrrgly!
100–Word Dash: South Carolina
Some say Spurrier may be losing his edge at South Carolina. I wonder whether the Gamecocks ever had an edge, or whether mediocrity is as far as even Spurrier can push them. This year's offensive cast includes erratic passer Stephen Garcia — likely no better or worse than Chris Smelley, who he succeeded last year, but a better runner — and the thunder–and–lightning backfield combination of Brian Maddox and Jarvis Giles. Defensively, there's experience on the line, future pro Eric Norwood amongst the linebackers, and, a little like Georgia, a secondary that improves as the D–line does. Expect 6–6, but no more.
100–Word Dash: Kentucky
Kentucky will be another team around 6–6, grabbing a bowl bid for no more reasons than four–fifths of a returning line, and Rich Brooks' steady coaching: They'll win the games they're supposed to. To do more than that, QB Mike Hartline will have to find a new level. Last year, he barely threw more scores than picks. With Randal Cobb at receiver (he played dual–threat QB last season), RB Alfonso Smith should be able to rhythm–rush for more than last year's 310 yards. Talented as the secondary of Trevard Lindley, Randall Burden et al may be, only three starters return on defense.
100–Word Dash: Vanderbilt
Eighteen starters return for a Vanderbilt team that went to and won a bowl game last season: that's good and bad news. Defensively, it's fine, as eight seniors supply a cohesiveness that promises to keep them in most games — only Florida scored more than 24 on them last season. The secondary is downright dangerous, with CB Myron Lewis (5 picks) and FS Ryan Hamilton (4) back there, although it lost DJ Moore to the NFL. Offensively, more of the same won't be good enough, so they go with sophomore Larry Smith over Mackenzi Adams at QB. They'd need upsets for 6–6, though.
The strange affair of Tim Tebow's non–unanimous all–conference selection did at least give Jevan Snead a little extra coverage. He deserves some; last season the Rebels passer threw for 2700 yards and 26 scores (adding 3 more on the ground). Those numbers may not hold a candle to Tim Tebow, but they were a fine debut, and Snead was the only quarterback to lead his team to victory over the Gators. That has them generously placed above Alabama and LSU in many preseason rankings (the sharp–eyed amongst you will notice this is one of them) despite sandwiching that Florida win between losses to Vanderbilt and South Carolina.
So, too much hype? In one respect, yes: the Rebels are patching an offensive line that loses Michael Oher at left tackle. But center Daverin Geralds is a hold–over, Snead is just getting started as a passer, and the backfield is awash with experience — their top five rushers (and 7 of 8) return to the team. Foremost amongst those is Dexter McCluster, a Harvin–like athlete who had almost 1300 combined yards from scrimmage last season, evenly split between rushing and receiving. Their no.1 ball–carrier, Cordera Eason tacked on another 650, but may have lost his start role to sophomore Brandon Bolden, who also was 500+ back. The lightweight McCluster (165lbs) plays opposite the bigger Shay Hodge when lining up at WR. Neither are classic no.1 receivers, however, so true freshman Pat Patterson may make an early appearance.
Much of last year's defense is back, plus some others who the Rebels have been waiting on. LB Patrick Trahan was slow off the mark last season for academic reasons, but is now part of a fleet set of starting linebackers. After an injury–stuck 2008, defensive end Greg Hardy will become part of a rotation that still features Marcus Tillman and Kentrell Lockett. At tackle, Peria Jerry has moved on, but 320lb Lawon Scott joins 300lber Ted Laurent as fireplug tackles — neither is much over 6 foot tall. The secondary is good but lacks the depth of the SEC's current big–time programs.
Mind you, Ole Miss may be earning some big–time looks this season. For an SEC team, the schedule is helpful. The non–conference games aren't challenging, LSU and Alabama are home games. Of course, before they play the Tide, there's the small matter of road games at South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Nothing should be assumed.
The Crimson Tide are back amongst the elite, but Alabama's resurgence under Nick Saban may have reached a plateau. While OT Andre Smith's workouts and hold–out entertained haters of the Cincinnati Bengals, back at Alabama, Smith leaves a massive hole on the line. With guard Marlon Davies and center Antoine Caldwell also playing pro football, there's no quick fix, even with impressive giants like Drew Davis and Mike Johnson still around.
Behind them, Alabama also lost John Parker Wilson — never a star quarterback, but a steady force — and RB Glen Coffee, who ran for almost 1400 yards last season. Assuming their roles will be junior QB Greg McElroy and sophomore back Mark Ingram, though with the line in transition, producing similar numbers will be difficult.
In all, only four offensive starters return, the other two of whom are receivers Marquis Maze and Julio Jones. Jones has Randy Moss–like ability, his 58 catches for over 900 yards barely scratching the surface of his potential. Fellow sophomore Maze has been a bit–part player in the past.
The defense is largely intact, with 8 starters back, though free safety Rashad Johnson is gone, and defensive end Brandon Deaderick was on the ouch end of a shooting incident just a couple of days ago. The extent of his arm injury is unclear (he has been released from hospital), but presumably he won't be making an appearance anytime soon, which could be a problem; Deaderick was expected to step up after the graduation of Bobby Greenwood, so getting pressure on opposing passers could be an issue.
The middle of the field is no place for runners. 365lb tackle Terrance Cody clogs the middle, while Rolando McClain is becoming an every–down leader next to Don't'a Hightower. Mark Barron appears to have beaten out Justin Woodall at strong safety, while the corners will be Kareem Jackson and Javier Arenas, one the most dangerous return men around.
Kicker Leigh Tiffin is back, and while imperfect, he has fine range. Add in punter PJ Fitzgerald and Arenas, and this is a three–phases–good squad, and again a contender, despite a lot of youth. The Tide host LSU and avoid Florida (at least until December), so even if they lose their opening against Virginia Tech, they may have only their October 10 visit with Mississippi between them and an unbeaten run to a rematch with Florida in the SEC title game.
Changes at quarterback? Nothing new in Baton Rouge. Russell became Flynn, and was almost Perriloux before Andrew Hatch's leg injury morphed him into Jarrett Lee. Jordan Jefferson finished the season, and his two–game tally of 4 scores to 1 pick has him leading the Tigers now. The quarterback wheel has probably halted for a while, though dual–threat freshman Russell Shepard may play 'Tebow' to Jefferson's 'Leak'.
In the phenom–rich SEC, LSU is another school unfazed by a shortage of upperclassmen in the offensive lineup. Senior receiver Brandon LaFell will be partnered by either Chris Tolliver (redshirt freshman) or Rueben Randle (true freshman), while sophs Josh Dworaczyk and T–Bob Hebert (son of Bobby) join the starting line. This isn't necessarily to LSU's detriment, however. While the passing game is just potential, the running game is sure. Lyle Hitt, Joseph Barksdale, and outstanding LT Ciron Black — all seniors — make up the rest of the line, with RB Charles Scott crashing the endzone for 18 scores last season. Keiland Williams is a fine no.2 and Trindon Holliday, the Tigers' return specialist is a change–of–pace and home–run threat. Between them, they averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season. With TE Richard Dickson (31 catches) back, LSU have a heady blend of exciting youth and sturdy experience. Unless Jefferson's 38–3 victory over Georgia Tech was an aberration, the offense looks good.
…the defense, by comparison, may be more than a step away. It has size (310lb+ senior tackles Al Woods, Charles Alexander) and senior playmakers (DE Rahim Alem, 8 sacks; CB Chris Hawkins, 3 picks, 2 forced fumbles), but if freshmen take to the field, that's as much a measure of desperation of depth as an undercurrent of talent. Chancey Aghayere and Chase Clement will join the DE rotation, and in an attempt to shake up a secondary that seemed to lose focus at times last year, a couple of last years' starters could be headed for the bench. Safety Craig Loston — another member of this year's outstanding recruiting class — will probably be starting before September is done. The linebacking corps has the most senior depth, and tackling leaders Perry Riley, Kelvin Sheppard and Harry Coleman, while unexceptional, are a solid unit.
The Tigers should start out 4–0 before visiting Georgia and hosting Florida. Both Alabama and Mississippi are away games, so improving on last year's 3rd place finish in the West seems unlikely.
100–Word Dash: Arkansas
The Arkansas defense may get better this year (as in 'it can't get no worse), after coming dead last in the conference in anything you care to check. They mirror LSU's defense (in a cracked kind of way), with a staunch set of linebackers, a D–line that needs more options, and a secondary that needs …well, culling. However, an injection of freshmen could do a lot to improve the unit this year. Offensively, the line's a–shuffle, BUT if ex–Wolverines QB Ryan Mallet can feed the WRs and not just star TE DJ Williams, the Razorbacks' offense should improve as well.
100–Word Dash: Auburn
New coach Gene Chizik appears at least another class away from contention, and he's picking through bones on offense. QB Kodi Burns — now a receiver after the promotion of Chris Todd — barely topped 1000 passing, and the whole offense eked out just 3600 yards, bothering the endzone less last season than Tim Tebow alone did in November. However, Chizik has a defensive résumé, and will build from a good secondary forwards. As tight as their wins were in '08, so were losses — with just a little progress each side of the ball, a return to bowl eligibility is no stretch.
100–Word Dash: Mississippi State
Last year, after several key departures, the Bulldogs returned to their traditional sub–.500 form. Quarterbacks specialist Dan Mullen arrives from Florida as head coach, so fireworks are anticipated. QB Tyson Lee shows the fundamentals needed to respond to Mullen, and RB Anthony Dixon soldiered on for 870 yards, but there's a lot of work to do on the line. Defensively, the Bulldogs couldn't stop the run consistently last season. The defensive line welcomes new faces, but if a big set of linebackers comes up in run–support, an inexperienced secondary will be victimized. It's going to be a tough first season.