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. Agree, disagree or want to chime in to the conversation then let us know in the comments. If you want to pose a question for us to answer then e-mail it to us at collegefootballzealot at gmail.com or just drop it in the comments section. Joining us this week on our panel of College Football Enthusiasts is Todd Kaufmann. Todd is one of the hardest working writers out there so make sure you check out his stuff at Sports Page Dallas and also at National Football Authority (where he is the College Football Editor-In-Chief). You can also follow him on Twitter @T_Kaufmann. Now onto this weeks questions and opinions...
You are an NFL GM and your owner has tasked you to take the best available talent on the board. Who do you take?
Todd Kaufmann: You take the best player available to you. Since I'm in Dallas, I'll play the role of Jerry Jones. The Cowboys have the ninth pick in the draft and if Cam Newton is available there's no question in my mind that I'm drafting him. He has incredible talent and has the ability to become a star. While most fans would tell you the Cowboys have more needs than a quarterback, I'm not sure I'd trust Stephen McGee to be a serviceable backup to Tony Romo if Romo ends up going down again.Brandon: This will probably shock you seeing as how I am a Nebraska fan, but I think that the most talented player on the board is Patrick Peterson. A shutdown cornerback who doubles as a threat on the return game. If I was a GM I want someone who can step up and make plays and that is all that Patrick Peterson does, as much as I like Prince Amukamara he is a bit of a question in the fact that no one threw at him on a constant basis.
J Martin: Prior to the Combine, I would have said Von Miller out of Texas A&M. Today, and I'm sure I'll get killed as a homer on this, I'm going to say Marcell Dareus out of Alabama. I haven't done a lot of research on this, so somebody feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm guessing there aren't a lot of 319-pounders who run 4.91 in the 40 with a 1.66 10-yard split. The man is a freak of nature with explosive athleticism, the versatility to play in any scheme and without any of the signs of potential character issues that surround a guy like Nick Fairley.
Kevin: I need a guy who is going to get after the QB. I'm still ashamed for thinking the Atlanta Falcons should have taken Glenn Dorsey over Matt Ryan so I'm going DE instead of DT. The best DE I see on the board is Da''Quan Bowers of Clemson. If you flip this question and say that for some reason Arthur Blank has replaced Thomas Dimetroff with me and I'm suddenly picking at #27 then my thought process really doesn't change much. The Falcons really need someone to compliment John Abraham (and Kroy Biermann) and get after the QB. At #27 I hope for Adrian Clayborn, Cameron Heyward or Ryan Kerrigan to fall to me but ultimately I probably take OLB/DE Justin Houston just like our draft expert KrisZ has projected in his last mock.
Ross: From a pure talent standpoint, it would be hard to say no to Cam Newton. He's huge, fast, and strong and has a cannon arm... but we all know that doesn't guarantee anything in the NFL. I think I'd go Marcell Dareus. He's huge and quick and can play inside or outside on the defensive line. I think he can make an immediate impact for about any team.
Which second year coach will make the biggest jump with his team this year?
Todd Kaufmann: As much as I want to say Turner Gil at Kansas I think I'm going to go with Brian Kelly at Notre Dame. It seems like he's starting to bring in the kind of team he wants and I think they're going to be solid in 2011. They showed flashes of greatness last year and Kelly is the kind of coach to bring that out in this team.Brandon: I will hopefully break the trend by not mentioning Jimbo Fischer, Lane Kiffin, Brian Kelly or Derek Dooley. My pick for biggest jump in year two will be Louisville Coach Charlie Strong. Coming off a bowl win and returning 11 of his starters from a year ago to go along with Rivals’ 29th ranked recruiting class I think that he can help continue the upward trend moving from the Kragthorpe Era. He also coaches in a very week Big East Conference and with defending champion Connecticut being down we could conceivably see Louisville as a potential BCS school.
J Martin: I'll go with a safe answer: Turner Gill at Kansas. If for no other reason than he can't do much worse than 3-9. There is truly nowhere to go but up from there. He walked into a tough situation last year. Mangino had left the cupboard bare, and what talent was left was expectedly divided and malcontent over the coaching change. I expect the Jayhawks to be a much more competitive team now that they've had a year to adjust to Gill. They'll still struggle to make .500 and a bowl, but I think they'll better resemble a BCS-conference team than the one that was on the field in 2010.
Kevin: I'm going Butch Jones and Cincinnati. The main reasons are that they were 4-8 last year and play in the wide-open Big East. I wouldn't be surprised to see them flip that record and go 8-4. They have the 3rd most players in the conference on our Pre-Spring All-Big East Team (Blatant Self-Promotion!). Maybe most importantly is that they are going to put up points with the trifecta of Zach Collaros, Isaiah Pead and D.J. Woods.
Ross: Charlie Strong, Louisville. Strong got them playing well last year but they didn't quite have enough talent. Now he's adding a solid recruiting class to the mix, has a group of players who are well-versed in his systems... and, oh yeah, he still plays in the Big East, which looks just as wide open as it did a year ago. Two of the best teams from a year ago (UConn and Pitt) are breaking in new coaches and new systems, while the other top team (West Virginia) could be going through its own ugly coaching transition. The top of the Big East is ripe for the plucking and an improved Louisville could easily sneak in there.
Give me a non-BCS Conference team, not named Boise State or TCU, that has the best chance to be a "fly in the ointment" and get to a BCS bowl game.
Todd Kaufmann: San Diego State showed that they could be a team to watch last year after what should have been an upset of Missouri on the road. Even though they have a new head coach, Rocky Long, they have Ryan Lindley coming back as well as a star in the making, running back Ronnie Hillman, so they could definitely make some noise in 2011.
Brandon: Since this a “best chance” question, I think that the team with the best chance to break through to the BCS is Central Florida. Led by an electric Quarterback in Jeff Godfrey along with a good coach and a weak conference they could potentially make it up the Top 25 rankings and get close to the discussion for a BCS Bid. Do I think they could make it that far? I really don’t think so. However, with all the chaos that happened this past year at the top of the polls you can’t really rule it out.
J Martin: I'm going to dream big here and say the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. Since arriving at USM, Larry Fedora has delivered on his reputation as a great offensive mind, lighting up the scoreboard with reckless abandon. The problem over the past 3 years has been opponents doing the same. After a 2010 season in which 5 opponents managed to score 40 points or more (and 2 of those scored 50+), Fedora finally made a switch at defensive coordinator this offseason. Aside from the season-opening shellacking at South Carolina, USM's other 4 losses came by a total of 9 points. If the new co-coordinators on defense can simply improve the Golden Eagle defense by 3 measly points per game, an undefeated CUSA schedule is not out of the question. Out of conference, USM's two challenges are at Virginia and at Navy. Both of those games will be tricky in their own ways, but they are far from unwinnable. A 12-0 CUSA team isn't going to get a sniff of the BCS title game but could sneak into the non-BCS automatic qualifier spot if the likes of Boise or TCU should stumble.
Ross: There are a few C-USA picks that are trendy mid-major picks to make some noise this year, like Tulsa and SMU but their schedules will probably do them in. Tulsa is playing Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, AND Boise State -- and they're breaking in a new coach. SMU returns a lot of talent but has to deal with road games at TCU and Texas A&M. Houston is interesting since they return all-everything QB Case Keenum and only one decent BCS conference foe (UCLA), but I'm still skeptical -- no C-USA team has ever separated from the pack and challenged for a BCS spot. No, my pick is a team who's done it before -- Hawaii. They return quite a bit of talent and their only challenging non-conference games are against rebuilding Colorado and Washington squads. And they get to play in a Boise-free WAC. Of all the non-Boise and TCU teams, they look like the one with the best shot to go undefeated.
Kevin: I really like the thought process that Ross has but I just don't think that an undefeated team from the WAC would be sexy enough to get into the BCS this year. You know what is sexy? A Heisman Candidate. A QB with a name who has thrown for over 5,600 yards in a single season. He's had TWO 44 TD seasons. He's Case Keenum and he's back to lead the Houston Cougars to the promise land. Beat UCLA in week one and they are off to the races. They don't even have to play Southern Miss or Central Florida during their regular season C-USA schedule. I think we just made a case for 3 teams from C-USA to be a darkhorse pick go undefeated so C-USA could just be pretty interesting this year.
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