Why They’re Here: The Iowa Hawkeyes are kind of like that girl in high school that is actually really hot but no one notices her because she has a flat chest and is kind of antisocial. She’s got a nice body and is really cute in the face (maybe she’s got a weird nose or something) but she doesn’t talk to anyone or go to parties, so she never gets included in the “hottest girl in school” conversation, even though she absolutely should be. The Hawkeyes’ great body is their offensive line, which even without LT Bryan Bulaga and a number of other stand outs from last season should be above average. The face is quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who can absolutely play the game, but isn’t flashy, big or particularly interesting for any reason. And the fact that they’re antisocial is really due to them being boring and antisocial – and from Iowa.
The Good: Kirk Ferentz is quietly starting to look like one of the best coaches in the Big (11, maybe 12 next year) Ten Conference, if not the best. He has a knack for building and rebuilding offensive lines and for installing powerful rushing attacks. He’s a master of the faceless team – outside of Stanzi and Bulaga, can you name a starter on either side of the ball for Iowa in 2009? They return eight starters to last year’s fantastic defense and they get to play Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State at home this year.
The Bad: The offensive line – the key to any success on offense – will need to be almost completely rebuilt. Bulaga was the biggest departure, but the Hawkeyes will also have question marks at right tackle and the center position. This offense needs an anchor at left tackle to keep Stanzi upright and Center is the most important position on the line for the running game and for making calls in the passing game. How well Ferentz fills those holes will determine how good this team is.
The Last Word: Stanzi is the key. Those who make College Football Odds know the defense should be there, the running game should be there and the coaching will be there… but can Stanzi deliver? If he has a great year – meaning the offense can rely on him to actually make plays, not just to keep them from losing by throwing stupid interceptions – this team can compete for a national championship. Really. The stars have aligned for the Hawkeyes this year and they’ll be flying just enough below the radar to have a chance. If Stanzi holds up his end of the bargain, there should be a lot of chips on the table when Ohio State comes to town on November 20.
Final Record: 12-1
As crazy as it may seem, both Tom Brady and Payton Manning are still waiting to get their new contracts… contract that will likely make the duo the highest paid quarterbacks ever in the NFL. It seems like both camps are playing a game of chicken, waiting for one side to sign so they can use that as leverage in their own negotiations. Either way, should be interesting to see how much they make.
Why They’re Here: The question to be answered this year is whether Texas’ pathetic excuse for a running game the last four years can be great again. With guys like Cedric Benson, Jamaal Charles and Ricky Williams having toted the rock for the burnt orange in recent memory, it’s absolutely bewildering that this is a team that’s been unable to find a running game the last few years. Mack Brown, who will probably be college football’s next incarnation of Bobby Bowden, is still at the helm and he’ll have to show that he can replace a legendary quarterback (again).
The Good: Despite losing LB Sergio Kindle, DT Lamar Houston and S Earl Thomas to the League this year, the Longhorns are poised to have probably the best defense in the Big 12. They return seven starters including every member of their secondary except Thomas, which ain’t too bad given what we saw from Blake Gideon and the Brown boys (Chykie and Curtis) last season. Nate Newton’s son, (who I think is literally half the size Nate was when he played for the Cowboys) Tre, returns to the offensive backfield along with my second favorite name in all of college football, (after T-Bob Hebert) Fozzy Whittaker.
The Bad: In Austin the question is whether Colt McCoy carried the ground game on his back because he could or because he had to. Without him, the Longhorns did basically nothing on the ground last season. If sophomore QB Garrett Gilbert doesn’t turn out to be a playmaker of McCoy’s caliber, the offense may be in some serious trouble. McCoy didn’t just make plays in the running game, he bailed himself out of a lot of bad situations in the passing game as well. That’s something you can’t design or put into a gameplan. The loss of Jordan Shipley is going to be huge as well, since he was not just a playmaker on offense, but on special teams as well. Finding guys who can play at the level of those two stars and creating a running game not dependent on the quarterback are Mack Brown’s two biggest issues this season.
The Last Word: I expect this team to be all defense this year. Nothing against Garrett Gilbert, but watching him against Alabama in the national championship game last year did not bring me memories of Vince Young or Colt McCoy. It’s hard to follow a legend, and it’s gotta be even harder following two. I can’t say that I see Gilbert carrying this team the way both of those guys did and Mack Brown hasn’t shown he’s got what it takes to win without a superstar at QB. Then again, he hasn’t had to. The horns have a four-week death row on their schedule where they play at Texas Tech, then home for UCLA, to Dallas for Oklahoma and then to Lincoln to play Nebraska without a week off. I fully expect them to lose two of those games, and three wouldn’t surprise me. If they can come out of that stretch unscathed, though, be prepared to talk national championship.
Final Record: 9-4
Yes, outrageous, I know.
The Lakers are thin up front and Shaq was the best player still available. But the Lakers have the triumvirate of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom? True, and no team has three better players in the frontcourt. But take away one of them (probably you, Bynum, who can’t seem to stay away from the operating table) and there’s a problem.
Again, wishful thinking.
Instead, Shaq signs with … the Celtics? Why, Shaq, why? The hated rival to the Lakers and you sign with them? No, this can’t be. This is just as bad as waking up one morning and finding out John Walker Lindh, an American, was a member of the Taliban. I had never heard of Lindh, however, I know he’s serving time for being a turncoat.
Boston gets a burly center to make up for the loss of Kendrick Perkins, who will be sidelined for about half of the year with a knee injury. But if you wanted to shore up your defense with a backup player capable of playing like a starter then the Diesel was the way to go. For years I envisioned the Big Aristotle’s career coming full circle. Winning another title with Kobe Bryant and then riding off in the sunset. Now, his career will end with the Celtics.
Ugh, where’s the Pepto Bismo?
The Lakers never thought of Shaq… instead they added a veteran to spell Bynum. Theo Ratliff, a player I remember from way back, was brought in. I didn’t even know he was in the league any more.
If Bynum gets hurt can you see the 37-year-old Ratliff starting for the Lakers and delivering? Hell no.
Not that the former Big Cactus is any younger; Shaq is the oldest player in the league at 38. But he’s a very capable player. He can’t dunk over two or three guys like he used to, but he sure can box out, take up space and intimidate. You think a guy like Dwight Howard, who was on the cover of Men’s Health looking all swoll, will be able to knock around the original Superman? Afraid not.
Like loving a relative who goes off and marries some malcontent, I will still wish Shaq the best. Every team he has ever played for I have rooted on. Boston, however, I will not.
Multiple sources are reporting today that Brett Favre has officially called it a career. Uh huh…
See, the thing is, he’s done this at least twice before. Now I know his ankle is probably still bothering him, but I just can’t imagine Favre staying on the sidelines when the season starts in September.
Lane Kiffin is at it again… Over the weekend he hired Kennedy Pola to be his new Offensive Coordinator for the Trojans. Only problem, he ruffled Jeff Fisher’s feathers in the process. You see, until recently, Pola had been the Titans Running Backs coach, and Kiffin didn’t even bother to ask Fisher’s permission ahead of time. Classy, Lane. Real classy.
Why They’re Here: Question marks abound for this Oklahoma team. Landry Jones is a big question mark at quarterback, but he’s not the biggest one. Gerald McCoy anchored this defense and Trent Williams anchored the offense. The importance of an all-American left tackle cannot be overstated and neither can that of an all-American defensive tackle. The skill players get all the glory, but it’s the big hogs down in the trenches that really define a team and make the difference between greatness and mediocrity. I’ve never known a Bob Stoops team not to reload, but he lost some once-in-a-lifetime big boys this offseason.
The Good: Oklahoma returns nine starters from last season. Getting Landry Jones gametime experience last year turned out to not be so great, but that was last season. That bodes very well for this season. You can’t replicate the intensity of the fourth quarter on the road against Oklahoma State or against Texas in the Red River Rivalry. The kid has now gone through it, taken his lumps and lived to fight another day. As Kobe Bryant would say, he’s “battle tested,” and a battle tested quarterback is an absolute necessity in the Big 12.
The Bad: In addition to losing two big, beefy hosses in Williams and McCoy to the NFL, Stoops will also have to replace RB Chris Brown and TE Jermaine Gresham on offense. On defense, the Sooners only return four guys who started last year, and two of them are on the D-line, which will be a big question without McCoy. Also, Landry Jones was nobody’s Sam Bradford last year. With a full offseason and spring as the team’s leader behind him, he’s all out of excuses if this team doesn’t win.
The Last Word: Stoops is an excellent recruiter and he brought in a top 5 class this offseason that included not one, not two, but three four-star defensive tackles. With his penchant for finding freshman gems, I doubt there will be a significant drop off in talent. I expect this team to reload and be back to national prominence. Folks in Norman don’t take too kindly to appearances in the Sun Bowl. Don’t be surprised if they are squarely in the hunt for the national championship this season. But that all – and I do mean all – depends on Landry Jones.
Final Record: 12-2