Spring practices are coming to a close and we will all have to wait until the fall to salivate or agonize over statistics from scrimmages. We will start kicking out our Pre-Season Previews in a few weeks but until then let's take a look at some of the big games of 2011. The way I see it there are 15 regular season games that will decide the National Champion. These aren't the only 15 game you should watch, because somebody could come out of nowhere like Auburn did last year, but these are the 15 most important games of the 2011 season. Let's start off with week one and a game that will take place on a neutral field in Arlington at Cowboy Stadium.
When I discussed the Georgia Bulldogs Spring Game earlier this week I reminded everyone that we need to cool our jets a little bit when we talk about spring games. Sure they are important but they are really just another spring scrimmage glorified in front of fans. It's important not to overreact to the good and the bad that we see. A lot of times play-calling is dialed down in these games such as the case of Arkansas where they didn't allow blitzing in their spring game. All that being said, I came away from the Arkansas Spring Game more impressed than I thought I would.
On Saturday, Tyler Wilson put on a show in front of 42,000 Razorback fans on ESPN. Despite putting up 418 yards passing in a previous scrimmage this summer Bobby Petrino had still not publicly decided on a starting QB. On Saturday, Wilson went 12 for 25 for 242 yards and 2 TD. His primary competition, Brandon Mitchell, had a rough outing as he threw 3 interceptions while going only 11 of 29 for 85 yards. I think everyone knew coming in who should be the Razorbacks opening day QB and this just cemented it. Prior to the Spring Game I had already dubbed him as one of the SEC's Breakout Players this year.
There won't be any college football games played for quite a while but that doesn't mean we are going to stop talking about the sport we love. Each week during the off-season we will bring you the top stories and we will also be discussing a variety of topics in our weekly roundtable. Over the next few weeks we will be touching on all of the BCS Conferences and also taking a look at the non-BCS teams. We started with the ACC, hit the Big 12 , talked Big Ten football and last week went discussed the Big East. This week we head west to talk about the Pac-12. There are no special guests this week so it's all up to the Zealots to preach to you about the ways of the Pac-12. Enough with the chit chat, let's talk college football!
Which team has the best chance to challenge Oregon and Stanford for the conference championship?
Kevin: In all honesty I don't think anyone will challenge Oregon and Stanford this year for the conference championship. That being said, I think the team with the "best" chance to challenge them is Arizona. They finished in the top half of the conference in both scoring offense and scoring defense. They return the second leading passer in the Pac-12 in Nick Foles, they return their leading rusher Keola Antolin and have a promising back-up in Greg Nwoko. Arizona also returns 83% of their receptions from last year including CFBZ Pre-Spring All-Pac 12 selection Juron Criner. Arizona showed some promise last year starting out 6-1 before losing their last 5. I think it's the bitter taste of those last 5 games that has been left that will help Arizona be a better team this year. The memory of those games will help them work harder in the off-season. The major question for Arizona is their lines of scrimmage as they lost a lot of players in those areas. If they can perform well enough in those areas then I think they can be the third best team in the Pac-12 and with some luck maybe better.
Ross: A few weeks ago, I would have said Arizona State because they had an absurd number of returning starters (20 -- ten on each side of the ball), but then they had a host of players suffer injuries that could keep them out of action for the season. So with them sliding out of the picture, I'll default to the usual Pac-10 kingpin, USC. Eventually, the effects of the NCAA sanctions are going to really hit them, but for now they still have enough elite-level talent to mount a serious challenge to Oregon and Stanford. Their problem (exacerbated by the sanctions) is depth -- or rather, lack thereof. They can ill-afford injuries at most positions, so they'll be walking a thin line between big success and mediocrity.
Each week during the off-season we will be doing this feature that will simply be called "This Week In College Football". We will cover the biggest news and stories of the past week and give some opinions and analysis. In addition to covering the weekly happenings we also do a weekly roundtable where we discuss varying topics and we give several opinions on each topic. If Spring Games are your thing then we've got you covered this week with a rundown of the Georgia game and will have others up later in the week. Enough with the chit chat let's talk about this week in college football...
On Thursday the NCAA's Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved some notable rule changes. The first is the "Derek Dooley rule". Basically it says that a 10-second runoff can occur if a team commits a penalty in the final minute of a half. Teams will have the option of taking the yardage and the time, only the yardage or declining the penalty. The panel also voted to allow video monitors in the coaches' booths. The coaches will not be allowed special equipment but will be allowed to watch the live broadcast of the game which will help in deciding on whether to challenge a call of not. As Mark Richt said yesterday during the G-Day game, this is important because sometimes in visiting stadiums the home team has access to a TV (even though it might be one booth over it's still viewable from where they sit) and the visiting team might not.
Earlier this week I said that Mark Richt's decision to allow the players to draft teams for the G-Day game could be awesome or could blow up in his face. It didn't quite blow up in his face but it made for some awkward moments in the first half as you had first teamers, second teamers and walk-ons trying play on the same side of the ball and it produced some inconsistencies. If you just watched the first half of the G-Day came you probably came away confused and maybe a bit worried about this year (if you weren't worried coming into the game). If you watched the second half then I think you came away with a totally different viewpoint.
Let's put it all into perspective before we anoint guys as heroes or goats. This was just a Spring Game. It's just a practice in front of fans. Also, Richt said that the teams would only be using offensive and defensive plays that they used last year so they wouldn't tip off Boise State and/or South Carolina to any wrinkles that have been added in the off-season. That being said despite struggling mightily in the first half, the second half showed you why you should have some hope for the Dawgs this year. Aaron Murray came out of half-time on a mission and led the Dawgs right down the field for a TD. Murray looked really efficient today and went 12 of 17 for 122, 1 TD and 1 2-pt conversion pass. Murray did take a safety early in the game but it was on a play where he would have gotten rid of the ball if they weren't playing with the protect the QB rules of the spring. Because of how the teams lined up it's really hard to say that overall the defense or the offense looked good or bad so let's talk about three guys on offense and three guys on defense that shined during the game today (I've already talked about Aaron Murray so we'll skip him but just know that he's solid):
Branden Smith, DB- While not technically an offensive player, Smith was used on offense today and was the most explosive player on the field. Last year I hyped him as Georgia's "X-Factor" and that run that he had against South Carolina as a freshman still sends chills up my spine. Unfortunately, last year Smith was riddled by injuries and didn't make much of an impact in his sophomore season. If he can stay healthy he can make an impact for Georgia on offense, defense and special teams this year. Today he had 2 catches for 38 yards and a TD and ran the ball twice for 11 yards. Doesn't sound like much but he's the type of guy who can hit a home run every time he touches the ball.
Tyler Wilson QB, Arkansas
I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb with this one. Wilson will take over an offense that ranked 4th in the NCAA last year in passing yardage per game. Did I mention that the Razorbacks return 6 players that caught over 10 passes last year (and 4 that caught over 30). Arkansas has the best WR corps in the Nation and a coach that's almost as good drawing up offensive plays as he is at sneaking out of Atlanta in the dark of the night. Don't read too much into spring stats when you see them but when Wilson puts up 442 yards in a spring scrimmage it kind of catches your eye. Arkansas has a chance to be a Top 10 team this year and Tyler Wilson's success is the key.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
Most people will tell you that this is Trent Richardson's year. I'm not going to argue with them because I think Trent is a fine talent who will have a really solid season but by the end of this year people will know the name Eddie Lacy. He red-shirted in 2009 and then got stuck behind a Heisman Trophy winning RB in Mark Ingram and his side-kick Richardson. As a third-stringer last year Lacy totted the rock 56 times for 406 yards which equated to an eye-popping 7.25 yards per carry. Sure, most of that was in mop up duty but Lacy is picking up where he left off this spring and I look for him to make a name for himself starting this year in the SEC.
1. Carolina Panthers = Marcel Dareus DT Alabama
The Panthers can go any way here as all of the top prospects are in play due to the Panthers having needs just about everywhere. They will definitely look at QB here but I think that the Panthers brass will stick with Jimmy Clausen for at least one more year as there is no franchise QB in this year's class and the Panthers surely know that they won't be winning too many more games than in 2010 in 2011, so they will be drafting high again next year. Andrew Luck & Landry Jones will be in the 2012 draft so the Panthers could bring in a veteran QB to spell Clausen and if that doesn't work out then they could go QB next year. Defensive tackle has been a huge need since trading Kris Jenkins to the Jets and guys like Nick Hayden & Derek Landri aren't going to get the job done as starters so the Panthers will double down here and go for Dareus who according to sources they are extremely high on.
2. Denver Broncos = Von Miller OLB Texas A&M
Denver like Carolina has needs across the board but luckily for them it's mainly on defense which is loaded at the top at DL and excellent players like Miller at OLB and Patrick Peterson at CB. Champ Bailey re-upping with Denver was huge for them and took away some of the pressure from taking a CB here so they will mainly focus on the front seven here and with Denver going to a 4-3 defense now, Miller makes a ton of sense here as he is at his best as a pro as a SLB in the 4-3 defense rather than a outside rusher in a 3-4. Denver definitely needs some DT's in the draft but with D.J. Williams as your only OLB of substance, they gotta add some pass rush here and with a Miller/Elvis Dumervil combo on the strongside, that would be a huge problem for opposing offenses.
3. Buffalo Bills = Cameron Newton QB Auburn
Buffalo really likes Ryan Fitzpatrick as their quarterback and both GM Buddy Nix and HC Chan Gailey has endorsed him to everyone they talk to but it is also no secret that they have scouted all of the top QB's in the draft heavily and sources say that Newton is now the #1 player overall on their draft board. Newton won't start immediately so Fitzpatrick would pretty much a lock to start this season at QB with Newton on the sideline but he would be lurking over his shoulder and the fans would be calling for him if Fitzpatrick has a bad stretch. I personally think the Bills should go defense here but if your #1 player overall on the board is available when you pick then you have to take him no matter what.
4. Cincinnati Bengals = Blaine Gabbert QB Missouri
The Bengals won't trade Carson Palmer this year but they will definitely take his replacement and now that Jay Gruden is in the fold as the OC, I definitely see them going QB here now whether it's Gabbert or Newton will come to who they prefer for their system. Gabbert didn't throw at the combine but he had a very impressive pro day last Thursday in Columbia and multiple sources said that he sealed the deal as being the top QB selected in the draft with that performance. The Bengals could go other ways though as A.J. Green could fill a huge need at WR and they need help on their pass rush so Robert Quinn could be in play as well.
5. Arizona Cardinals = Patrick Peterson CB LSU
Lots of factors will come into play here as the Cardinals would definitely look at QB here but they supposedly have an affinity for Kevin Kolb and if that doesn't work out then Marc Bulger's name which has been linked to them for free agency would come to the forefront to fill this need. The Cards surely needs help in their pass rush and Da'Quan Bowers is sitting here but with his injury concerns and the fact that he doesn't really fit in with what they do on defense also with Ray Horton coming in as the new DC, he would definitely look at a DB with different eyes than others. Peterson also would be a great value pick plus brings versatility where he may transform into a safety before it's said and done.
I know I just updated you with Georgia Bulldogs spring notes yesterday but Mark Richt has done something that has created a little buzz about the upcoming G-Day game. He's basically taken it from being "just" a scrimmage to it being a competition. This will either end up reeking of awesomeness or it could blow up in his face but I will definitely be watching. Richt picked team captains and had them choose their teams after practice on Monday. The Black team is captained by QB Aaron Murray and CB/KR Brandon Boykin. The Red team is captained by ILB Christian Robinson and C Ben Jones. These guys seem pretty serious about winning this competition and have taken to twitter to "trash talk".
Last Thursday, AuburnSports.com owner Jeffrey Lee succeeded in stirring up the state of Alabama into a frenzy with his allegations of Alabama engaging in a pay-for-play scheme to secure the signature of Russellville (AL) RB/LB Brent Calloway this past February. But it didn't take long for fans and fellow journalists (if that's what you want to call Lee) to begin poking holes in his story. And when it came time for Lee to take his scheduled victory lap Friday morning on the same Mobile-based radio show he first went public with his allegations...he was nowhere to be found. According to the hosts, numerous phone calls and text messages to Lee went unreturned. In fact, just 24 hours later, the rose was so far off the bloom, Lee couldn't show his face anywhere, save for poking his head out on his premium message board to claim he was gathering new information on the story. The rest of the world would not hear from him again the rest of the weekend.
What was Alabama up to during that time? Unsurprisingly, not once did Nick Saban appear before the media and proclaim the report "pure garbage" or call detractors "energy vampires." No, as I suggested they might when the news broke on Thrusday, Alabama moved quickly and quietly to get a handle on the situation. Friday evening, several state news outlets reported that UA compliance department representatives had arrived in Russellville that morning (and possibly sooner) and begun investigating the parties involved: Calloway, his adoptive father Harland Winston, school staff at Russellville High, officials at the bank where Winston's mortgage was held, and buisness owner Darren Woodruff, the "supporter" that Lee refused to name in his allegations, in vintage message board rumormongering form.
By Saturday afternoon, it was all over. And what did they find?
Georgia's annual G-Day Spring Game is right around the corner on Saturday. But Mark Richt has an interesting new twist planned for this year. Usually it's the first team offense against the second team defense or the first team offense against the first team defense. Instead of the usual, Richt will allow the players to pick the teams. Tonight he will have two offensive and two defensive players sit down and pick who they want to play on their team. This could be wildly entertaining or completely disastrous.
Update: The captains have been named for the G-Day teams. ILB Christian Robinson and C Ben Jones will captain one team against QB Aaron Murray and CB Brandon Boykin.
Injuries Are Mounting Up
We already told you about Trinton Sturdivant's crushing injury this past Saturday. Going into their scrimmage on Saturday Georgia held out 18 players due to injury. What does this mean? It means that Georgia is trying to get it's edge back by having a very physical spring practice. In addition to that, Richt is declaring winners and losers of each drill so everybody is fighting harder in the spirit of competition. I love the continuation of "building a tougher bulldog" that started with the change in the Strength & Conditioning program but I also would like to see the guys get more reps. It's a double edged sword.
Leadership Council Trying To Clean Up Off-Field Issues
Mid-way through the 2010 season an informal players-led leadership group was started to fix some of the off-the-field problems the Dawgs were having. It's an advisory group that is player driven and not led or dictated by the coaching staff. The panel includes upperclassmen Christian Robinson, Brandon Boykin, Aron White, Ben Jones, Orson Charles, Tavarres King and under-classmen Aaron Murray, Hutson Mason, Michael Bennett and Kenarious Gates. It's a huge positive to see the guys come together like this and hopefully this will be a good sign of things to come in terms of keeping guys heads on straight and providing needed leadership on and off the field for Georgia.