HEAD COACH: Don Treadwell, First Season |
OFF. COORDINATOR: John Klacik |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Pete Rekstis
Don Treadwell considers himself blessed with the presence of two high-caliber quarterbacks on his first roster as Miami’s coach. Junior Zac Dysert played well enough in the RedHawks’ first 10 games last season to be named second-team all-conference, but when he missed the rest of the season with a lacerated spleen, then-redshirt freshman Austin Boucher stepped in and led Miami to four consecutive wins, including the MAC Championship Game and the GoDaddy.com Bowl. That set up a spirited competition for the starting job that is expected to go deep into summer camp.
Dysert is more of a dual-threat, and he averaged more passing yards per game than Boucher, who finished with a slightly better efficiency rating.
Whoever wins the job will work behind a talented and experienced offensive line that features returning starters in center Brad Bednar, left guard Brandon Brooks and tackles Josh Harvey and Matt Kennedy. He also will throw to a productive group of wide receivers. Sophomore Nick Harwell didn’t hit the starting lineup until midway through last season, but he wasted no time reminding observers of the explosive Ryne Robinson.
Treadwell’s main concern is finding a running back, especially after Tracy Woods left the team after spring practice. Woods was expected to start this year, after backing up Thomas Merriweather last season.
Nine starters, including the top eight tacklers, return to a speedy and aggressive Miami defense. Upholding the tradition of a strong linebacking corps, senior middle man Jerrell Wedge set the pace last season with 101 tackles, including a team-high 15 for a loss, while junior Evan Harris logged a team-high 48 solo tackles and tied cornerback Dayonne Nunley for the team lead with six interceptions. Injury-plagued senior Ryan Kennedy could push the starters if he stays healthy. Kennedy had 8.5 tackles for a loss in only six games last season.
Nunley, who started five games at cornerback and five as the nickel back, moves into a full-time role at corner opposite D.J. Brown. The RedHawks lost veteran strong safety Jordan Gafford, last year’s defensive quarterback, to graduation. Junior Pat Hinkel, the returning starter at free safety, will help plug the leadership gap.
The linebackers and defensive backs weren’t Miami’s only disruptive forces. Junior end Jason Semmes led the RedHawks with six sacks. Semmes and junior tackle Austin Brown are the anchors of a deep, talented and experienced defensive line.
Placekicker Trevor Cook overcame his inconsistency to be named first-team all-conference last season, his last at Miami. Sophomore Mason Krysinski gets the first crack at replacing him. Dependable sophomore Zac Murphy returns as the punter.
Treadwell, a former Miami walk-on wide receiver who became a team captain, has big shoes to fill. His predecessor, Mike Haywood, oversaw the most dramatic improvement from one season to the next in college football history, going from 11 losses in 2009 to 10 wins last season.
Treadwell, who filled in last season as Michigan State’s coach while Mark Dantonio recovered from his heart attack, faces the pressure of not only replacing a successful coach, but also doing it with a roster loaded with depth, talent and experience. In other words, if the RedHawks struggle, guess who will be blamed?
HEAD COACH: Neil Callaway, 15-33 (4 years) |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Kim Helton |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Tommy West
Take away the tight end position, and UAB has talent and experience everywhere you look on the offensive side. And playing without a tight end is an option for coordinator Kim Helton’s offense.
The offense starts with senior quarterback Bryan Ellis, who developed into a top-notch signal caller in his first season as a starter. He threw for 2,940 yards and 25 touchdowns in basically 10 games last season.
Ellis also has plenty of dependable targets, including a promising batch of youngsters. The potential star of the group is veteran Patrick Hearn, who had 35 catches last season despite playing through the pain of a sports hernia most of the year. Freshmen Jamarcus Nelson, the team’s fastest player, and D.J. Vinson are future stars, and Nick Adams is healthy after missing last year with a torn Achilles tendon.
Running back Pat Shed is poised for another big year after contributing 177 total yards per game last season. His backups — Greg Franklin and Georgia transfer Dontavious Jackson — are potentially outstanding.
Tying everything together is an offensive line that features experience at every spot. Tackle Matt McCants is a returning All-Conference USA player, guards Terence Edge and Caleb Thomas have been solid throughout their careers, and going at least two deep at every position shouldn’t be a problem. Center Darion Smith is among the best at his position in the conference.
Former Memphis head coach Tommy West takes over as UAB’s defensive coordinator. Can he work miracles and turn UAB’s defense around? He can’t if the Blazers don’t find some help up front. Defensive tackle Elliott Henigan has NFL potential but is surrounded by inexperience. The Blazers can’t have success if junior college tackles Tevin Wells and Jewel Christian aren’t ready to join the rotation right away. Defensive end is also filled with question marks.
Other than that, though, the Blazers could be solid. Middle linebacker Marvin Burdette is tackling machine, and his backup — junior college transfer D.A. Autry — might be just as good. Both are surrounded by some experienced playmakers.
Cornerback T.J. Ballou is outstanding, and the Blazers have experience on the other side with Marquis Coleman and Terrell Springs. If Chase Daniel is healthy then he’ll team with Jamie Bender to give UAB one of the best safety tandems in the conference. Of course, that’s if they can fight off the challenge of junior college transfers Johnny Cockrell, Calvin Jones and Lamar Johnson, who turned some heads during the spring.
Two-year starter Trey Ragland returns at punter, but the Blazers will rely on a true freshman — either Colin Anderson or Ty Long — at kicker. The Blazers have plenty of capable options in the return game.
One of the first things that West did after taking over the defense was simplify things for his group. If simple means better, then Neil Callaway could have his first winning season as UAB’s head coach. Of course, only time will tell if the defense is ready to help the Blazers become a winner.
UAB’s offense is good enough to carry the Blazers. But is it good enough to help them reach bowl-eligibility after maneuvering through a rugged schedule that includes road games at Florida, East Carolina, Troy and Tulsa? If not, then Callaway might not be around for a sixth season.
HEAD COACH: Bill Cubit, 40-33 (6 years) |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Bill Cubit |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Dave Cohen
Western Michigan’s attack begins with junior quarterback Alex Carder, who developed from gritty leader to dangerous passer as the 2010 season wore on. He passed for 3,334 yards, 30 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in his first 12 games as a starter. But he can be reckless with his body, choosing to take on linebackers for the chance at an extra yard.
What makes coach Bill Cubit nervous is a somewhat unproven offensive line in front of his franchise quarterback, including possibly a first-year starter at left tackle.
Carder will have his top wideout back, with Jordan White granted a sixth year after catching 94 passes for 1,378 yards — the most in school history — and 10 touchdowns last season. White’s wing man, Juan Nunez (91 catches, 1,032 yards, 10 TDs), is gone, leaving questions about who will be WMU’s No. 2 wideout.
At running back, Aaron Winchester is a returning starter, but Brian Fields and Tevin Drake are likely to see the bulk of the carries. Fields and Drake both showed they can be productive in limited opportunities as freshmen. Drake led WMU with 405 yards rushing — at 10.1 yards per carry — despite playing in just six games. At 5'11", 212 pounds, he’s considered the Broncos’ most dynamic and promising runner of the Cubit era.
For the first time heading into a season in Cubit’s tenure, the Broncos look as if they have a pair of established difference-making tackles and a true edge-rusher. Senior Drew Nowak (6'4", 292) and sophomore Travonte Boles (5'10", 303) proved to be a productive defensive tackle tandem last season. Lanky 6'5" junior Paul Hazel returns after an eight-sack season as a sophomore, though Hazel wore down late in the fall.
Two players to keep an eye on are linebacker Desmond Bozeman and rover Johnnie Simon. The coaches consider Bozeman to be the most talented linebacker on the roster. Simon, a heralded recruit as a safety a year ago, will try to replace all-conference selection Jamail Berry at the Broncos’ hybrid linebacker-safety position in the second season of defensive coordinator Dave Cohen’s scheme.
Sophomore Lewis Toler has become a weapon at cornerback. As a redshirt freshman, he led the MAC in passes defended with 14, including five INTs. Opposite Toler, however, there are questions at the other corner, where inconsistency plagued WMU in 2010.
Senior kicker John Potter hit 10-of-12 field goals last season, but he was only allowed to attempt three beyond 40 yards. Senior Ben Armer netted 41.2 yards per punt as a junior, second-best in the MAC.
If it’s possible to reach a point where excitement and uneasiness collide, Western Michigan’s football program may be there. Two impressive performances to close the 2010 season, as well as the return of so many pivotal players, have undoubtedly created a buzz heading into 2011. However, a 6–6 record last fall and a fifth straight loss to rival Central Michigan have also placed serious pressure on Cubit entering his seventh year.
Cubit, who’s 40–33 at WMU with trips to two bowl games, has a team he believes is capable of contending in the difficult MAC West. He’ll know soon enough. The Broncos’ MAC schedule begins with an anxiety-packed Sept. 17 home date against the Chippewas.
HEAD COACH: Larry Blakeney, 161-82-1 (20 years) |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Kenny Edenfield |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Jeremy Rowell
The Trojans needed a boost at quarterback last year, especially when veteran Jamie Hampton went down with an October leg fracture. Corey Robinson more than filled the bill, throwing for 28 touchdowns, a 63.6 completion mark and almost 300 yards per game while taking almost every non-Wildcat-formation snap.
“How he goes is how we go,” says veteran coach Larry Blakeney. “He knows that and we know that. Corey needs to be the total guy who understands the situation at all times.”
There’s no reason to believe the Sun Belt’s Freshman of the Year and New Orleans Bowl MVP won’t be that guy, if the offensive front rounds into shape. And that’s a big “if” since three inexperienced hands will be teaming with senior tackle James Brown and junior guard Kyle Wilborn — the latter joining part-time starter Jacob Creech in coming off shoulder surgeries.
If the line does shape up, an offense that averaged 34.1 points last year should be productive. The top three receivers are gone, including the Sun Belt’s all-time all-purpose yardage leader in Jerrel Jernigan, and Robinson needs some new receivers to emerge, especially with Chip Reeves and Jamel Johnson ruled ineligible after spring practice.
Diminutive Shawn Southward has led all Trojan rushers each of the past two years and is still just a junior. He averaged 5.4 per rush with seven scores last year. Backup Chris Anderson will bounce between running back and H-receiver this year.
On paper, the Trojans feature one of the nation’s most experienced returning defenses, especially in the secondary. But that unit allowed over 30 points per game and 26 rushing scores last year, and improvement up front was a focus in the spring. All-league end Jonathan Massaquoi had 13.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for a loss as a sophomore, but the other slots are question marks, especially at nose tackle with returnee Emmanuel Dudley missing the spring with injuries.
Things are much better in the secondary, where injuries ravaged Troy last year. The result, however, is that Troy has five returnees who have significant starting experience. Bryan Willis, Jimmie Anderson and Chris Pickett have all started at the corners; Barry Valcin returns at free safety after missing all of 2010 with an ankle injury; and strong safety LaDarrius Madden led the secondary in tackles (49). But Madden may not even start with impressive junior college transfer Brynden Trawick available.
Middle linebacker Xavier Lamb led Troy in tackles last year (91) and former walk-on Brannon Bryan was a late-season surprise in the linebacker corps.
The kicking game is solid with seniors Michael Taylor (17-of-22 field goals) and Will Goggans (42.2-yard average on punts), but the Trojans have to find a replacement on returns for the dangerous Jernigan.
Troy has won or shared five straight Sun Belt Conference titles and whipped Ohio 48–21 in the New Orleans Bowl last year. Unless Robinson hits a sophomore jinx or the offensive line fails to jell, ranking in the nation’s top 20 in passing and total offense (11th and 17th last year) won’t be a surprise. But Troy’s defense ranked 89th nationally in 2010, the lowest of any conference champion, and gave up over 45 points per game during a four-game midseason stretch. If the Trojans are going to contend for a sixth title, they may have to win some shootouts along the way.
HEAD COACH: Pete Lembo, First Season |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Rich Skrosky |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Jay Bateman
New Ball State coach Pete Lembo operates a no-huddle attack but emphasizes that it’s not a spread. Lembo likes to mix and match his groupings to fit his personnel and the situation, but he’s partial to the passing game. Elon, Lembo’s previous stop, ranked second among all FCS teams last year with 322.4 passing yards per game.
During spring ball, sophomore Keith Wenning and junior Kelly Page battled to win the right to operate the pass-first offense, and the rangy Wenning is the favorite to build on his streak of 10 consecutive starts.
Ball State retains the top three receivers from last year, including senior slot man Briggs Orsbon (28 catches), but Lembo envisions three true freshmen providing immediate impact. Willie Snead enrolled early and got a jump on the split end spot, while Lembo likes the size that 6'4" Trey Gardner and 6'3" Jacolby Owens provide.
Third-team All-MAC running back Eric Williams (613 yards) decided to transfer in June, leaving Cory Sykes and David Brown to battle for carries. Sykes is the likely starter, but missed a chunk of last season with knee tendinitis.
Ball State returns two full-time starters on the line in guard Kitt O’Brien and tackle Dan Manick, as well as four others who made at least five starts in 2010.
New defensive coordinator Jay Bateman, who made the move from Elon with Lembo, spent the spring teaching the many looks Ball State plans to spring on MAC schools this year.
The Cardinals welcome back five veterans who started every game in 2010 — an accomplished group led by second-team All-MAC safety Sean Baker (school-record 16 career INTs). Junior corner Jason Pinkston earned third-team All-MAC honors with four interceptions last year.
Junior middle linebacker Travis Freeman ranked seventh in the MAC last year with 109 tackles. Bateman moved sophomore Aaron Morris from safety to strong-side linebacker to boost the crew’s athleticism.
Nose tackle Adam Morris anchors the four-man defensive front, but there’s not a proven pass-rusher in the group. Perhaps true freshman Nick Miles, who recorded 17 sacks as a senior in high school, can become that guy.
With second-team All-MAC kicker Ian McGarvey out of eligibility, junior Steven Schott and redshirt freshman Scott Secor are battling to be his successor. Williams will be missed on returns, after averaging 25.5 yards per kickoff return (including a 92-yard TD scamper against Eastern Michigan) last season. Punter Scott Kovanda enjoyed a banner spring.
Lembo inherits a program that won only six games in the last two seasons — and has only two winning seasons in the last 14 — so it’s not like the Cardinals are poised for a rapid turnaround.
On the other hand, there are a few seniors who contributed significantly to the 2008 team that opened 12–0 and rose as high as No. 12 in the BCS standings.
That means a good chunk of the squad knows what’s necessary to win games, but it’s going to take time as the Cardinals digest the new offensive and defensive schemes.
The win total might be similar to last year’s, but Ball State is on the right track. Lembo is a proven winner who should have his program relevant in the tough MAC West in the near future.
HEAD COACH: Kevin Wilson, |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Johns & Rod Smith |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Ekeler & Doug Mallory
Kevin Wilson arrives after nine seasons on the staff at Oklahoma, and his reputation as an offensive innovator will be tested. The Hoosiers lose Ben Chappell (24 TDs and nearly 3,300 yards in ’10) at quarterback, and Wilson didn’t see enough from sophomores Dusty Kiel or Edward Wright-Baker in spring practice to name either the starter. That stirred speculation that incoming freshman Tre Roberson could win the job in fall camp.
Finding a quality passer is job one, because Indiana has a formidable group of receivers. Senior Damarlo Belcher has NFL size and hands, proving it last season with a team-best 78 receptions. Sophomore Duwyce Wilson stretches defenses with his speed. Kofi Hughes looked like the team’s most improved player during the spring. He’ll play in the slot, where he can deliver on running plays. As a converted quarterback, Hughes is also a threat on trick plays. Tight end is covered with a solid blocker (Max Dedmond) and dependable receiver (Ted Bolser).
The running game needs to improve. The Hoosiers were last in the Big Ten last season at 100.3 yards per game, and top halfback Darius Willis is recovering from knee surgery.
The only Big Ten game Indiana won last season was the finale at Purdue, in part because the defense allowed 30 or more points in six league games. Run defense remained an issue as Indiana allowed 171.8 yards per game. The strength of this group should be the line, which will be anchored by experienced players like Darius Johnson, Adam Replogle, Larry Black and Mick Mentzer.
Three of Indiana’s 21 recruits are linebackers, including the only 4-star prospect, Zack Shaw. Wilson has insisted that he would not hesitate to play a true freshman, so Shaw, Kyle Kennedy and Mike Replogle (Adam’s brother) will get extensive looks, although two starters — Jeff Thomas in the middle and Leon Beckum on the weak side — return.
The secondary remains under construction. Indiana finished last in the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense while allowing 238.3 yards per game. Cornerback Lawrence Barnett had the best spring, showing the speed to break up plays. But this is another spot where IU lacks speed, an issue only better recruiting can fix.
If the Hoosiers can keep games close, they could have an edge here. Mitch Ewald showed a strong and dependable right leg as a freshman, making all 33 extra points and 16-of-19 field goals, including three of 40 yards or longer. Chris Hagerup has punted the last three seasons but lost his spot to Adams Pines in the spring. With receiver Tandon Doss gone to the NFL, Wilson will audition guys to return kicks.
Indiana was three plays from an eight-win season last year with one of the best offenses the Hoosiers have had in years. But dropped passes (Iowa), blown coverages (Michigan) and other mistakes (Northwestern) left the Hoosiers with five wins and a coaching change.
This team has a solid collection of receivers and backs (if Willis is healthy), but the king-sized hole at quarterback will test Wilson’s creativity and patience. Roberson could win the job, but the Big Ten can be unkind to a 6'1", 180-pound freshman.
The defense returns five starters but few stars or big-time playmakers. After coaching at Oklahoma, Wilson is conditioned to seeing speed from his defensive unit. The Hoosiers don’t have much of that quality.
HEAD COACH: Mario Cristobal, |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Scott Satterfield |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Todd Orlando
As a growing program looking to raise its profile, Florida International touts every player who has a shot at the pros. In the case of wideout T.Y. Hilton, however, the Panthers will gladly wait. The Sun Belt Player of the Year, who recorded more than 1,100 yards from scrimmage as a junior, returns to provide explosiveness on the outside to an offense that returns a deep backfield. The Panthers will split the carries among four capable runners, paced by Darriet Perry, who relies on his vision and balance and gets stronger near the goal line. Darian Mallary is the speed back.
The offensive line loses two starters but still has Rupert Bryan at right tackle, and better depth than the group that allowed only 20 sacks while FIU rushed for 4.7 yards per carry.
All this talent means that Wesley Carroll should also improve in his second season at quarterback. The Fort Lauderdale native and Mississippi State transfer held his own against high-level competition early and then was accurate down the stretch, completing 80 percent of his passes during the final three regular-season games. That, after he cost FIU a game against Florida Atlantic in October, throwing three interceptions.
Gone is the Panthers’ do-everything linebacker, Toronto Smith. So is the team’s leader in sacks, Jarvis Wilson. And so is the ball-hawking safety Anthony Gaitor. All three were all-conference performers on the Sun Belt’s top defense.
The improvement in 2010 was across the board. FIU allowed 4.6 yards per carry, down from 5.4; it allowed 6.7 yards per pass, down from 8.3; and it had 33 sacks, up from 20. It got opponents off the field, cutting third down conversions from 42 percent to 35 percent.
Even without three of its departed stars, the defense was often dominant against the offense in the spring, largely due to the development of several players on the line. Tourek Williams (six sacks from the end spot) and tackle Josh Forney return and will be counted on to produce.
With Smith gone, FIU will need new leadership at linebacker, but head coach Mario Cristobal has made that a priority in recruiting, and several players (Winston Fraser, Kenny Dillard, Markeith Russell) have had experience.
It’s a good thing the Panthers didn’t punt as much last season, because Duquesne transfer Josh Brisk had a net average of 31.0 yards, with too many returners getting loose. The good news for FIU is that their own returner, Hilton, was even tougher to tackle. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Kicker Jack Griffin is back after a solid season, which included two field goals in the final 3:18 of FIU's 34–32 win over Toledo in the Little Caesars Bowl.
Cristobal inherited a winless team, one saddled with NCAA sanctions. Last season, after dealing with tragedy (running back Kendall Berry was stabbed to death on campus), and then losing four games to BCS conference programs, Cristobal rallied his team to the program’s first winning season — and then, first-ever bowl victory. That success and consistently strong recruiting classes have made the former University of Miami lineman, at age 40, a hot coaching candidate around the country. For now, he has a roster that can contend in the conference again, and the Owls could have a better overall record, with a much less daunting out-of-conference schedule. Much will depend on Carroll’s efficiency, and whether the defensive line can apply consistent pressure.
HEAD COACH: Ron English, 2-22 (2 years) |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Ken Karcher |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Phil Snow
Eastern Michigan hopes to build on its two victories in 2010, and Alex Gillett is the foundation of that hope. The junior quarterback played a key role for the Eagles last year, leading the rushing attack with 766 yards and five touchdowns. What makes the deceptively quick quarterback more dangerous this year is an improved arm, which should help open up an offense that averaged 19.0 points per game. If Gillett can translate better passing skills into a more wide-open attack, the offense should be able to generate more points. But he will need some help from a receiving corps that lacks consistency. Kinsman Thomas and Donald Scott will lead the way but have to become more reliable targets if the Eagles are going to take advantage of Gillett’s improvement.
While Gillett found success on the ground, the Eagles’ overall ground game remains in question. Javonti Greene and Dominique Sherrer — the two leading candidates to take the backfield lead, combined to average just over 36 yards per game. Greene is the more explosive and elusive of the two, but both will have the opportunity to contribute.
The Eagles surrendered 43.9 points per game, a number that ranked 118th in the nation. Since arriving two years ago, Ron English — a former defensive coordinator at Michigan and Louisville — has pushed for more physical play. He finally believes like the Eagles are playing at a level that could help spark improvement. Eastern Michigan will depend on several junior college transfers to provide some immediate assistance for a unit that lost its two leading tacklers to graduation. Justin Cudworth, who registered 47 tackles and 5.5 sacks last year at College of the Canyons (Calif.) anchors a linebacking corps infused by three new junior college faces.
Much-improved defensive end Andy Mulumba should be a force on the defensive line, which also includes veterans Brad Ohrman and Javon Reese.
The defensive backfield will also look for a new leader with the loss of third-leading tackler Ryan Downard. The secondary was among the focal points addressed in recruiting. Returnee Marcell Rose should take a lead role but will need assistance from two transfers, safety Bryan Pali (Orange Coast College) and cornerback Marlon Pollard (UCLA).
The kickoff game and field goal unit both need improvement after both areas lacked consistency last season. Standout punter Jay Karutz is the only special teams player who enters the season with his job security assured.
Eastern Michigan may finally have some pieces to improve after producing a 2–14 league mark the previous two seasons. With the defensive upgrades made through recruiting and a tougher overall approach, the defense may show enough to give the Eagles’ offense a fighting chance. That’s where Gillett taking the next step comes into play.
This season, with more experience on defense and a confidence level English says is at its highest since he arrived, there is a hope for a bump in the win column. “We do have team goals and much higher expectations than we have ever had before here,” he says. “This is the best I’ve felt about the team because of the culture of the team and the attitude of the team.”
While English is convinced he has done enough to raise expectations, the Eagles may struggle to escape the MAC West Division basement.
HEAD COACH: Paul Wulff, 5-32 (3 years) |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Todd Sturdy |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Chris Ball
Jeff Tuel could be one of the top quarterbacks in the Pac-12 this year. The 6'3" junior compares favorably to former Cougar greats Ryan Leaf and Drew Bledsoe. As a sophomore, Tuel completed 60 percent of his passes for 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Tuel’s favorite target is Marquess Wilson, who had more receiving yards than any other freshman in the country last year with 1,006. Wilson leads a group of receivers that is the deepest and most talented position on the team. Senior Jared Karstetter is a sure-handed, move-the-chains receiver, and WSU also has experience returning with senior Isiah Barton and junior Gino Simone.
The Cougs had a miserable rushing attack last year, but that figures to improve with Logwone Mitz, a bruising 230-pound senior, and Rickey Galvin, a 5'8", 162-pound redshirt freshman. Galvin broke his arm and was lost for the season on his first career carry against Oklahoma State last year. He’s an explosive back who will give the Cougs big-play capabilities.
Washington State has solid skill players, but in order for them to be effective, the offensive line needs to be more effective. The Cougs averaged only 91.0 yards rushing per game and allowed 51 sacks.
The Cougars allowed 220.3 rushing yards per game last year, in large part because their defensive line was getting shoved around all too frequently. End Travis Long is the standout of this group. Senior defensive tackle Brandon Rankin is the best run-stuffer inside.
At least there’s considerable help behind them at linebacker, with returning regulars Alex Hoffman-Ellis, C.J. Mizell and Sekope Kaufusi. Mizell gives the Cougars a nastiness it has lacked in the past. Kaufusi’s the Cougars’ version of Troy Polamalu, hair streaming out of the back of his helmet, obscuring his number, 59. Like Polamalu, he plays with an abundance of passion.
The secondary returns three starters — cornerback Nolan Washington and safeties Deone Bucannon and Tyree Toomer. Another returner starter, cornerback Aire Justin, has been suspended for the 2011 season for violating the NCAA’s banned substance policy.
Sophomore Andrew Furney won the kicking job over Nico Grasu last year and returns to handle the duties. Furney has a big leg. Punter Reid Forrest graduated, leaving the job to Dan Wagner, a converted quarterback.
If he were almost anywhere else, Paul Wulff would have been fired by now. Coaches who are 5–32 in three seasons, regardless of the extenuating circumstances, don’t survive.
But Wulff returns for a fourth season at Washington State because athletic director Bill Moos believes that his head coach deserves another year based on progress made by the team last year. Yes, the Cougars went 2–10, and record-wise, that isn’t the definition of progress. But the team showed several signs of life late in the season, smacking Oregon State in Corvallis and nearly taking Washington to overtime before losing in the Apple Cup.
For the most part, the Cougars were competitive last year. Washington State has speed, size and athleticism now. Wulff believes his team should be good enough to go to a bowl game this year. Anything short of that will not be acceptable to Cougar fans.
HEAD COACH: Mike MacIntyre, 1-12 (1 year |
OFF. COORDINATOR: John DeFilippo |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Kent Baer
The Spartans return five of their top six pass-receivers as well as two of their top three rushers and a solid nucleus on the offensive line. But starting quarterback Jordan La Secla, who passed for 2,860 yards and 16 touchdowns, must be replaced.
Second-year coach Mike MacIntyre gave senior Matt Faulkner, sophomore Dasmen Stewart and redshirt freshman Blake Jurich equal reps during spring practice and doesn’t plan to pick a starter until fall camp. That opens the door for highly touted true freshman Joseph Gray, a first-team All-Los Angeles City Section pick at famed Dorsey High School. MacIntyre calls him “a big-time quarterback.”
Versatile senior Brandon Rutley, who has 16 career starts and has played some quarterback in the Wildcat formation, returns to lead a solid group of running backs that includes junior David Freeman and redshirt freshman Ben Thompson.
The offensive line features six players who have started at least 11 games in their career, led by senior tackle Andres Vargas. Big things are also expected from Jon Meyer, a first-team junior college All-American who took part in spring practice and can play either guard or tackle.
Wide receiver figures to be the strength of the offense. Sophomores Noel Grigsby and Chandler Jones both finished in the top 10 in the WAC in receiving as freshmen, with 56 and 54 receptions, respectively; and MacIntyre cites another sophomore, Kyle Nunn, as blossoming over winter workouts. The Spartans also got a big boost when Mike Avila, who missed the entire 2010 season following ACL surgery, was granted a fifth year of eligibility by the NCAA.
San Jose State returns 11 starters on this side of the ball. Considering the Spartans allowed an average of 34.7 points and 463.7 yards per game a year ago, that might not necessarily be a good thing. But MacIntyre believes a productive offseason in the weight room for this young unit will pay big dividends as will the return of two-time first-team All-WAC safety Duke Ihenacho from a foot injury. Ihenacho, one of only four players in school history to earn first team All-WAC honors in back-to-back seasons, injured that foot in the team’s season-opening 48–3 loss at Alabama. He was one of nine Spartan senior starters to suffer season-ending injuries in the first two games of the season. He has 195 tackles and six interceptions in 32 career starts and is considered an NFL prospect.
The strength of the team is at linebacker, where sophomore Keith Smith earned 2010 WAC Freshman of the Year honors after racking up 116 tackles, including 14 for a loss, and four sacks. Another sophomore, Vince Buhagiar, finished ninth in the WAC with 89 takedowns.
The Spartans are in good shape here. Sophomore Harrison Wald was a second team All-WAC pick at punter as a freshman when he averaged 43.8 yards. Wald also handles kickoff and placekicking duties. He connected on 14-of-22 field goal tries, the most by a Spartan since 2002.
San Jose State suffered through an injury-plagued 1–12 season in MacIntyre’s first year as the boss, fielding only 43 healthy scholarship players for the team’s 26–23 season-ending overtime loss at Idaho. But the shorthanded Spartans lost four of those games by a combined 10 points and gave Big Ten heavyweight Wisconsin all it could handle before losing 27–14 in Madison. A deeper, stronger and more experienced San Jose State team is worth keeping an eye on in 2011.