19 June 2011

A Look Ahead: Utah State

Last time around for the cougs it was 31-16 loss with an assistant coaching change in the works. This time revenge should be sweet. A whole new slate. A whole new outlook. And simply, a whole lot different. For starters on the aggies, is Diondre Borel lost to graduation who left with numerous school records. Finding a signal caller could be intriguing and one of the aggie top priorities. The aggies will have plenty of experience in the trenches. Back to the fold will be Robert Turbin who rushed for nearly 1300 yards and scored 18 touchdowns in 2009.

After allowing nearly 34 points a game to opponents Head Coach Gary Andersen took over that role hoping to change the course switching the aggies to a 3-4 alignment in the process. The linebacking crew will be led again by a dynamic duo of seniors in Bobby Wagner and Kyle Gallagher. Wagner has led the WAC the past two season with 298 career tackles. Gallagher isn't far behind either at 191.

On special teams Kerwynn Williams leads the way with a 25.2 yard average WAC best. Williams had 5 returns of 60 or better as well as 3 returns of 70 plus yards. The aggies must find more consistency who ranked 83rd nationally in the TO margin. With Boise State gone from the WAC the league should have more parity among its members. Its time for the aggies to take advantage of its opportunities.

A Look Ahead: Univ Central Florida

Primed for another CONF USA title run the Knights are out to show opponents they are for real. UCF finished with a 11-3 record including a Liberty Bowl victory over Georgia. Yes, Georgia. This isn't some South Prairieview State we're talking about here. When the Knights come to LES the jerseys in blue could certainly have their hands full.

They are led by dual threat quarterback Jeff Godfrey who had a phenomenal freshman season passing for over 2100 yards connecting on 13 TDs while rushing for over an additional 500 yards. Four out of his five linemen return as well with 87 combined starts. The offense is well balanced which averaged last year about 180 yards through the air and 180 yards as well on the ground. UCF understands efficiency and putting points on the board. In 8 of the 14 matchups the Knights were able to drop 35 or more against opponents including 61 at Tulane.

The Knights have some talent and depth on the ground. Look for junior battery ram Latavius Murray (nearly 6 yards per carry average) and senior Ronnie Weaver in the backfield to get plenty of touches. Weaver returns with 11 TDs on 890 yards and nearly a 5 yard a carry. Brynn Harvey also returns after missing last season with a torn ACL who had previously earned first team All Conference USA honors back in 2009.

In the receiving rotation Godfrey will look to returning senior AJ Guyton who had 28 receptions and 353 yards. Guyton will be paired up with elusive junior Quincy McDuffie. Last season McDuffie had double duty also on special teams returning punts with a 32.19 yard return average leading the nation including a 93 yard return for six against NC State.

On defense the Knights return 4 starters including a pair of defensive line super sophs in Victor Gray and EJ Dunston. In the secondary both Kemal Ishmael and Josh Robinson (held ex-Georgia superstar now Cincy Bengals AJ Green to 77 yards) earned first team all conference usa honors last year.

A Look Ahead: Utah

How will team north manage the transition into the PAC12? With new territory on the horizon Utah couldn't have asked for a better tour guide than Norm Chow. After stops along the way with USC and UCLA as well as seeing the rest of the PAC12 weekly Chow should be a rather valuable asset for the utes. He will certainly have his hands full from the start. There is no proven carrier in the backfield. Gone also from the mix include co-starters Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide who combined last season for over 1400 rushing yards. Is Harvey Langi ready for the bigstage? And will the new offense be ready in time for the season? Definately makes things tough to implement when also the starting QB has been out for much of the offseason recovering from surgery to his right throwing arm. If the QB situation returns to an even form look for junior receiver DeVonte Christopher to get some touches who had 39 receptions and 6 TDs last season.

Team north's DL will see Star Lotulelei at the nose with Dave Kruger and James Aiono also in the trenches. Former Davis High walk on safety converted to linebacker Chaz Walker returns who led utah with 113 tackles (had 18 against TCU). Sophomore hard hitting Brian Blechen moves from safety to strongside backer. The secondary has some questions and is untested. With Brandon Burton's departure somehow the utes must replace all four starters. There will be some rebuilding on special teams as well with both Shaky Smithson and reliable Joe Phillips gone. Can team north compete weekly in the PAC12? Time will tell. The bar has been raised and its certainly time to execute at a higher level.

A Look Ahead: Texas

The eyes of Texas will be clearly be focused on the Longhorn's first real test of the season against the cougs. Was last years Longhorn's 5-7 record only a hiccup or actually something much bigger? Texas finished with a 2-6 record in last years Big12 matchups. With such a disappointing disrailment major changes were inevitable where winning seems to be the constant. In the aftermath five assistants were replaced including bringing in Boise State's Bryan Harsin looking to right the longhorn ship. Off the field the Longhorns continued recruiting strong despite the on the field performances. All but one recruit was from Texas and all but six (of 22) had rankings of 4 star or higher. The recruiting website scout.com had the Longhorns ranked nationally 3rd overall from this years incoming crop.

Leadership under center would likely begin with former Gatorade player of the year in Garrett Gilbert who seemed to be a mess last season throwing 17 TDs and no longer the solidified starter. Gilbert who may not have the "it" factor also appears to be pressed heavily by sophomore Case McCoy (yes that's Colt's brother). The longhorn offensive trenches anchored by senior center David Snow will look to three new starters under the direction of new position coach Stacey Searels. The QB position will eventually shake out. Only question is who will take the reins and when with some big Texas strides.

Last season few playmakers emerged. Texas absolutely has a stable of capable options available for Harsin to work with. Veteran RB Fozzy Whittaker will likely receive plenty of touches. However, he will have to hold off freshman Malcolm Brown who was one of the most prized recruits in the country. Brown is a punishing runner built like a tank who in high school amassed over 6600 yards with a 9.8 average. Yes, nearly 10 yard average. Sophomore WR Mike Davis only had 47 receptions and 2 TDs last year but could emerge in a much larger role pending if a signal caller truly emerges.

Righting the ship clearly begins with its strength the defense which overall was ranked 6th in the nation. Newcomer defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has got to like what tools he was given to work with. Senior DT Kheeston Randall (22 starts) is a tough inside run stopper and cornerstone for the tough longhorn line. The senior led linebacking crew of Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho combined for 200 tackles last season (Keenan had 137 himself). Sophomore linebacker Jordan Hicks could well be a future all american in the making. In the Texas secondary Kenny Vaccaro and four year starter Blake Gideon unquestioned starters return. With the pieces in place look for the longhorns to place on the field yet again another top ten defensive unit.

If things get close Texas will look to a reliable senior kicker in Justin Tucker who made 23 of 27 FG attempts last season. Often the pigskin matchups are won on field position. Seventeen of his punts were downed inside the 20. However, Texas must find a way to correct the TO margin which ranked 116th nationally.

18 June 2011

A Look Ahead: Ole Miss

After a rather disappointing 4-8 season the Rebels road to recovery clearly won't be an easy one. This might be considered the momentum matchup game. One team riding the wave up while the other one taking the elevator down. The cougs wrapped up its 2010 season winning 6 out of its last 8 games. On the other hand the Rebels lost 6 of its last 7 games.

Calling the shots will be new offensive coordinator David Lee. Those plays will be sure to often include getting the pigskin in the hands of Brandon Bolden. Last season the senior from Baton Rouge amassed a nice resume including 17 TDs with 1320 yards of offense. Ole Miss has an experienced offensive line is which allowed the fewest sacks in the SEC last season anchored by fifth year senior Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie. They will be sure to help take the pressure off some JC transfers Randall Mackey, Barry Brunetti, and Zack Stoudt who will all be vying for the starting QB position. Mackey seems to be one of the more dynamic athletes on the team. Brunetti is transfer from WV who is clearly a run pass threat. The rebels could also look to Stoudt who is a pure pocket passer. Ole Miss certainly has some options in the stable at quarterback.

Are the rebels ready to show defensive improvement? Last season Ole Miss gave up over 35 points on the scoreboard and nearly 400 yards of offense per contest. Unfortunately, that won't win many games. New secondary coach Keith Burns was brought to help stop the bleeding and the rebels will also be relying on a pair of JUCO transfers to answer the call immediately. Heaps and his band of brothers will likely be chomping at the bit looking to test Ole Miss and often.

Ole Miss junior Tyler Campbell last season led the nation in punting with a 46.4 average and might be called upon often. The rebels added explosive Philander Moore from Blinn College who scored six TDs on kick or punt returns. Fans might recall the junior pyschology major had earlier went from a commitment with team north but had a change of heart to an Ole Miss signee after visiting the rebel campus.

Keys to the game? Stop the rhythm against whoever get's the start behind center for the rebels. Provide pressure on the rebel quarterback from the start and keep them out of sync. Don't let Bolden get into a groove. Ole Miss has a solid experienced OL but the cougs must find a way to keep the momentum in their favor. The jerseys in blue must also find a way to play keep away. Yes. That means winning the turnover battle. Last season Ole Miss was ranked 88 in the TO margin. If you don't have the pigskin you can't score. It's simple as that. Open the flood gates. Give some time to Heaps and trust him. Test the rebel secondary with frequent doses of the cougs receiving corps (yes that does include the tight ends which seemed to be almost nonexistent last year) while mixing in some shots of the cougs three horseman (Kariya, Di Luigi and the juice Quezada) to keep the rebels guessing. Last season Ole Miss ranked dead last in the SEC in pass efficiency defense giving up nearly 250 yards per game (246.3).