Missing football? We are! Too much round-ball in your life? It's the off-season and we don't have too much to talk about so I figured it would be a good time to re-start our weekly roundtables.
For the first few weeks we will hit on some national topics and then we will move on and go conference by conference to take a closer peak at the landscape. Come back each Friday to read our roundtable discussions. Feel free to chime in down below in the comments section or you can shoot us an e-mail at collegefootballzealot at gmail.com.
Which first year Head Coach is going to make the biggest positive impact on his team this year?
Jay: Eschewing the obvious answer of Urban Meyer, I'm going to go with Larry Fedora at North Carolina. UNC was a program that seemed ready to take the next step prior to the many scandals that broke in the summer of 2010. The talent to win championships was there, and it still is. And despite the fact that the NCAA's hammer has yet to fall regarding those scandals, I think finally having a new coach and that sense of getting a fresh start is going to reenergize the Tar Heel program. Also, Fedora is a heck of a coach, who I think can have instant success with all that talent on hand in Chapel Hill.
His particular brand of spread offense A) is easily adaptable to the best available talent, whether that's going 4 wide or with 2 tight ends, and B) doesn't require "star" players at any position to be productive. So while it might hurt a bit to lose, say, a go-to receiver like Dwight Jones, it's worth noting that Fedora set records at Southern Miss without having anything resembling a go-to receiver for most of his time there. So he shouldn't need to waste much time overhauling the roster. (Of course, having a star player doesn't hurt, and I think RB Giovani Bernard will become just that in Fedora's system.) I also think the ACC's Coastal division will be wide open with Miami still floundering and Virginia Tech losing a lot of productivity despite returning Logan Thomas. There's opportunity for Fedora to make a big splash in year 1.
Pete: There are a few good options here: Urban Meyer obviously, Mike Leach and Hugh Freeze. I'm interested in what Paul Chryst does in Pittsburgh too, because the Panthers underachieved last year and have the players to win, especially with WVU's departure from the Big East. My "no-brainer" pick however is Akron, where Terry Bowden takes over from Rob Ianello. The Zips were winless in conference and had only only victory in total last year. Jim Tressel is ay Akron too ... which remains a bit of a mystery. The MAC is a conference where ground may be gained quickly. Look for Akron to contend in 2012.
Kevin: I also like Urban Meyer to have a quick return to success with the Ohio State University. But they are on probation so I'm going to look at none other than Rich Rodriguez and the Arizona Wildcats. I wasn't crazy about the hire originally but RichRod has done a nice job building his staff and the Pac-12 South (outside of USC) is ripe for the picking. Couple that with Rodriguez having a real talented QB in Matt Scott and Arizona will be a handful for the Pac-12 to stop. We will find out if RichRod learned from his mistakes he made at Michigan. It sounds like RichRod has the right mind-set, now he's just got to do it on the field. Regardless, the Pac-12 will be one of the most interesting conferences this year with RichRod, Mike Leach, Jim Mora and Todd Graham all taking over new programs.
We recently released our Pre-Spring Top Ten. Which team not listed has the best chance to make a run at the National Championship?
Jay: I realize I'm falling into an obvious trap here, but I'm going to say Clemson. No, I haven't forgotten that they lost 4 of their last 6 games by an average of 24 points. (And shockingly, the 70-33 loss in the Orange Bowl doesn't skew that number as much as you would think.) But last year's Clemson team had two real problems: First, their defense was terrible. Even when they were running out to that 8-0 start, they were winning shootouts like 2010 Auburn. I think history has officially proved that the 2008 Alabama defense was more about Nick Saban & Kirby Smart than Kevin Steele. Dabo made the right call to give Steele the boot and then made a tremendous upgrade when he brought in Brent Venables to call the shots on defense.
The Tigers have been an ultra-talented underachieving unit on that side of the ball for a long time, and this could be the kick in the pants they need. Secondly, their offensive line fell to pieces over the back half of the season, allowing 16 sacks in their 4 losses. They only return 2 starters from that line, so the statistics wouldn't lead you to believe they'll be better in that respect. But if they can cobble together a solid unit this offseason, the schedule works in their favor. Their conference slate is very favorable with all of their most difficult games coming at home, except for a September date with Florida State. And they get to bookend their season with a high-profile opener against an SEC opponent (a rebuilding Auburn) and a big rivalry game against a South Carolina team that should be highly ranked. I think to get to the BCS title game out of the ACC, you need the right mix of favorable scheduling but with enough challenging statement games out of conference to get national respect. And Clemson will have that in 2012.
Pete: One team poised to break into the Top 10, and possibly contend for the title, is Notre Dame. Gunnar Kiel has entered the mix at QB replacing Dayne Crist, and Justin Ferguson is a new recruit at WR to take the place of Michael Floyd. Tyler Eifert returns for his senior season at TE too. Notre Dame has the strength of schedule that will vault them into prominence if it wins. The Irish need to maintain control of the football on offense as a simple first step.
Kevin: In our Top 10 we picked 5 (yes 5!) SEC teams (not implausible as 4 finished in top 10 last year), 2 Big 12 teams, 2 Pac-12 teams and 1 ACC team. Which leagues were left out? The Big East and the Big Ten. If a team runs the table in the Big East they likely won't sniff the National Championship Game. But if it's in the Big Ten? They should get in unless there are multiple undefeated teams. First off, I will say that I really like our Top 10 and I do believe that the National Champion will come from that group. So...I'm going to go against what I believe and I'm going to go with the most likely team not in the Top 10 and that team is Michigan. Yep, you heard that right. Michigan. Let it sink in. Did I mention they open with Alabama? That being said, their schedule isn't that bad (at Notre Dame, home vs Michigan State, at Nebraska and at Ohio State). They have Denard Robinson and a much improved defense. Stranger things have happened.
From our final CFBZ Top 10 of the 2011 season, which team do you think will have the biggest fall in 2012?
Jay: If Andrew Luck really is the once-a-generation talent everyone says he is, then it has to be Stanford, right? Unless they've got another one of him laying around (which would kinda contradict the "once-a-generation" tag, wouldn't it?). Stanford's recruiting has really improved since Jim Harbaugh took over, and it has continued under Shaw. But there's still a dearth of dynamic skill position talent on the Farm, and that's going to finally catch up to them this year. Hey, I love power football and I love tight ends, but you don't win big in modern college football playing with 3 or 4 tight ends on the field and no deep threat, unless you've got a guy like Luck at QB.
Even with Luck, they struggled to keep up with Oregon's athletes the past 2 seasons. And USC was right there with them the last couple of years, so you'd think with Barkley back and the Cardinal minus Luck, that one will tip the Trojans' way. Heck, if Brian Kelly has been doing his job right (debatable), this should be the best Notre Dame team Stanford has seen in some time. I don't think Stanford will suddenly drop back down to pre-Harbaugh levels (the Pac-12 is going to be too weak for that), but I doubt they even sniff a BCS berth. I'm guessing they finish up the regular season 8-4 or 9-3.
Kevin: I think the most likely suspects will be teams that lost their QB. Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Stanford and Boise State. Oklahoma State comes to mind but they've fooled us before back in 2010. I'm going with Boise State on this one. Not because I think they are going to tank from a W-L perspective but because I don't think they are going to be that bully in the school-yard this year as much as they were in the last few years.
I still think they will come out of the season around 10-2 but it's going to be against a much weaker schedule than usual as they are playing a WAC schedule this year before departing to the Big East. I also think they will be in for a lot closer games this season as they break in a lot of new players. They do lose Kellen Moore but I think they will be most hurt by their losses along the lines of scrimmage. BSU only returns six total starters and they lose a ton of senior laden depth along the defensive line. Mark Boise down for at least two losses this year (which is far from bad). This is the year to catch Boise because Petersen will have them right back in the thick of things when they enter the Big East.