2010: A look ahead

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With the corpse of the 2009 season not yet even cold, what better time to look at the 2010 season than at the present?

Sure, it’s kinda like taking a date to your wife’s funeral, but, just like the deceased spouse, I’m sure ’09 would want us to be happy and move on quickly to next season, right?

With that in mind, we’ll take a quick glance at what may happen in 2010…

FIVE COMPELLING STORY LINES

1. Meyer: For or Against Urban Renewal?

C’mon, is there any story that’s even close to whether or not Urban Meyer will be back as Florida’s coach by the time the regular season rolls around?  This will be the dominant story over the next six months, and how it plays out before the season starts will shape how UF’s regular season will go.

2. Big Ten: Earnest Growth or One-Time Blip?

The most beleaguered and vilified conference in the country finished the 2009 bowl season with a 4-3 record, the first winning record for the league since 2002. And it’s not like they compiled that mark with a handful of Emerald Bowl-type wins; no, their wins came in BcS games over the Pac-10 and ACC champions (Ohio State over Oregon and Iowa over Georgia Tech, respectively), with the other two coming over No. 13 LSU (Penn State) and No. 14 Miami of Florida (Wisconsin).  It was a statement postseason for the beleaguered conference, but only time will tell if the performance was a shifting trend upward or simply false hope.

3. Mountain West: Finally the Time For Some Respect

The loss by TCU to fellow non-automatic qualifier left a bad taste in the conference’s mouth, but the MWC still exited the bowl season with a 4-1 mark and a healthy dose of national respect.  With their play this year, they have finally confirmed to most of the masses that they deserve an automatic BcS bid.  Carrying that momentum through 2010 will be key for the automatic bid to become a reality.  The conference is on a perilous slope perception-wise, and simply can’t afford to take a step back.

4. The BCmesS: Time to Grab the Congressional Pitchforks?

At no time in its controversial history has the BcS been under more fire than it is right now.  They were the subject of congressional hearings throughout 2009, and the only question remains when, not if, the government becomes more deeply involved.  Based on the tea leaves, one thing is certain: there will be some type of change to the system in the coming years, whether by force or by the threat of force.  Will it lead to a full-blown playoff system that most of the country, including the First Fan, wants?  2010 should go a long way toward answering that question

5. Replacing Legends: Adios, Tim & Colt; Hola, John & Garrett

Entering the past three seasons, there were no question marks at the quarterback position for both Florida and Texas.  With the departures of Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy due to expired eligibility, John Brantley of the Gators and Garrett Gilbert of the Longhorns have the unenviable tasks of replacing arguably the greatest QBs in their respective school’s history.  How they perform will go a long way in determining whether or not the two programs can remain at the top of the national scene.

WAY-TOO-EARLY HEISMAN ROLL CALL

1. Mark Ingram, Alabama — To be the man, you gotta beat the man.  Winning the Heisman as a sophomore will keep the running back in the trophy talk for the next two seasons.  Provided he stays in Tuscaloosa after his junior year, of course.

2. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State — Was the Rose Bowl performance a sign of things to come?  If it is, you can bet the Buckeyes quarterback will be in any and all Heisman talk.

3. Kellen Moore, Boise State — One of the best quarterbacks in the country that nobody talks about, the early-season match-up with Virginia Tech will go a long way toward determining Moore’s place in the Heisman discussion.  Speaking of that showdown with the Hokies…

4. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech — 1,655 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns as a freshman?  Yeah, that’ll get you into the mix.  The Moore-Williams September head-to-head will jump-start the race for the stiff-armed trophy.  And, no, we’re not completely finished with Six Degrees of Kellen Moore

5a. Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State — With 1,440 yards rushing, 21 touchdowns and, for good measure, 78 receptions out of the backfield, this Beaver back is one of the best running backs in the country that nobody talks about.  Oh, did I mention that Rogers’ Beavers will take on Moore’s Broncos in September?  Early-season Heisman intrigue, indeed.

5b. Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh — It’s hard to believe a freshman had a more productive season than Williams, but Lewis did just that.  1,799 yards just screams Heisman contender for many years to come.  Unless, of course, head coach Dave Wannstedt rides him into an early RB grave.

COACHING HOT SEAT

1.Rich Rodriguez, Michigan

The throne entering the 2010 season is RichRod’s alone, and no one else is really close.  An 8-16 overall mark in two years at Michigan is bad enough; a 3-13 record in Big Ten play is wholly unacceptable in Ann Arbor.  Add in an NCAA investigation and two losses to archrival Ohio State by a combined 46 points, and you have a coach facing an absolute must-win season.

2. Ron Zook, Illinois

Really, is there any explanation needed?  With the exception of a head-scratching 9-4 season in 2007, The Zookster has compiled a 12-35 record in his five seasons with the Illini.  The school has recruited better than that record indicates, which is a tribute to Zook’s innate ability to coach his players down.

3. Paul Wulff, Washington State

You don’t go 3-22 in two seasons and not have your butt planted on something with at least a little bit of warmth to it.

4. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

T. Boone Pickens did not donate approximately $300 kajillion (U.S.) to watch his beloved Cowboys go 9-4, not play in the Big 12 title game and lose bowl games.  T. Boone wants more bang for his buck, and what T. Boone wants T. Boone gets.

5. Pete Carroll, Southern Cal

This one might be stretch.  In fact, it’s so much of a stretch that I might’ve torn a muscle typing it.  However, with the looming specter of an NCAA investigation coming to a conclusion at some point this year, coupled with an utterly disappointing 2009 season, Carroll could be feeling the heat more so than he has at any point in his USC career.

FIVE RISERSFive teams outside the final Top Ten who could surprise

1. Nebraska

Sure, they have to replace a Beast Named Suh, but there is plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball returning for Bo Pelini & Company.  If the ‘Huskers could just get some type of consistency on the other side of the ball — yeah, I’m looking at you Zac Lee — this team should be the class of Big 12 North and might be able to challenge Texas for conference supremacy.

2. Miami of Florida

The Hurricanes showed in the early part of the 2009 season that the talent is there.  Look for The U to put it together throughout the entire 2010 season and make a serious bid for both an ACC title and top-ten ranking.

3. Pittsburgh

With Dion Lewis and that defense, the immediate future is looking very bright for Dave Wannstedt & Company.

4. Oklahoma

Simply put, Bob Stoops is too good of a coach, and there’s too much talent in that program, for the Sooners to spend another season outside of the Top 25.  Call this one a hunch.

5a. Stanford

Yes, the likely loss of Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart to the NFL leaves a void, but, as long as
Jim Harbaugh
doesn’t bol
t for the NFL and quarterback Andrew Luck stays healthy for the entire season, the Cardinal is poised to challenge Oregon for Pac-10 supremacy in 2010.

5b. Tennessee

Lane Kiffin made most of his news in 2009 for what he said and did off the field.  Behind all that brashness, however, he and his staff were quietly rebuilding a storied football program on the field.  They might be a year away, but it would be no surprise at all to see the Volunteers challenge for a BcS berth as early as this year.

FIVE TUMBLERSFive teams inside the final Top 25 who could struggle

1. Florida

Uncertainty surrounding Urban Meyer.  The loss of Tim Tebow.  A pair of talented juniors — Joe Haden and Aaron Hernandez — have already left early; up to five more, including two-fifths of the starting offensive line, could follow suit.  Charlie Strong left for the head coaching job at Louisville, and his presence will be missed.  If he does indeed return as expected, it will take the best coaching job of Meyer’s coaching career to keep the Gators on top of their lofty national perch.

2. Cincinnati

Butch Jones is a tremendous football coach, but make no mistake — losing Brian Kelly to Notre Dame will hurt this program.  This won’t be a free-fall — Kelly left too solid a foundation for that to happen — but Jones could struggle in his first year at a BcS school.

3. Penn State

Losing quarterback Daryll Clark to graduation and Navorro Bowman to the draft are huge blows to the Nittany Lions.  Evan Royster, get your rest.  The offense will be on your shoulders.

4. Texas

Losing Colt McCoy will have an effect on the Longhorns, although Garrett Gilbert showed in the BcS title game after being suddenly thrust into the spotlight that he has a bright future.  In 2011.  UT will dip a little bit in ’10 — not bottom out, mind you — but look out for a reloaded group in ’11.

5. LSU

In the first three years of Les Miles‘ tenure, the Tigers did not win less than 11 games in any season.  In the past two seasons, the Bayou Bengals have gone a very pedestrian 17-9, including an even 8-8 mark in SEC play.  The concerning part for LSU faithful, though, is that there is not much hope that a turnaround is in the offing at any point in the near future.  And, if Miles doesn’t turn it around in 2009, he could very well find himself on the coaching hot seat.  Especially if he continues to boggle the mind with mind-numbing clock management at the end of games.

EARLY-BIRD TOP FIVE

1. Alabama: They were the best team in the country throughout the 2009 season — regardless of what the polls said.  They return most of the key performers from their national title team.  No way you can keep this team out of the top spot entering the season.

2. Ohio State: (And let the whining and bitching commence…)  This is all predicated on the Terrelle Pryor that seemed to mature in one sixty-minute Rose Bowl game being the real deal.  And the fact that the five-time defending Big Ten champs lose almost no one of consequence.

3. Boise State: Why?  One, because I can, and two, because they convincingly beat the team — TCU — I felt should’ve been playing in the national title game.  And that same team returns 23 of 24 starters in 2010.  If a non-automatic qualifier is ever going to make a run at the BcS title game, next year’s Broncos have the best shot at it.

4. Texas: As the BcS runner-up, they will start roughly in this area if not higher.  It’s deserved, given their finish, but it’ll be too high come the end of the year.

5. Iowa: The only two games the Hawkeyes lost in 2009 were games where quarterback Ricky Stanzi was unavailable for either all or part of the games due to injury.  A healthy Stanzi and a dominating defense helped Iowa roll Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, setting the tone for what Hawkeye Nation hopes will be a run at the Big Ten crown.  If not more.

Greg Ward Jr., to Heisman voters: ‘Psssttt, I’m still here, don’t forget’

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs past Connecticut defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi, left, en route to a 30-yard touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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Deservedly so, most of the Heisman focus these first four-plus weeks of the 2016 season has been squarely on Lamar Jackson and the stunningly phenomenal season the Louisville quarterback is putting together. There are others, though, who merit mention.

Case in point? Greg Ward Jr.

In No. 6 Houston’s Thursday night 42-14 romp over UConn, the quarterback completed just over 84 percent of his passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 65 yards and two scores for good measure. The win was the Cougars’ eighth in a row, with the last loss coming Nov. 21 of last year to… these very same Huskies.

On at least one occasion in avenging the loss, though, Ward Jr.’s sterling completion percentage got a little help from one of his receiving friends.

The latest virtuoso performance, which included his third 300-yard passing game of the season, pushed Ward Jr. to 1,503 yards of offense (1,325 passing, 178 rushing) and 13 total touchdowns (eight passing, five rushing) in four games while also battling a lingering shoulder issue. For comparison’s sake, and you know we’re not alone in doing so, Jackson will enter Week 5 with a statistical ledger that’s straight from a teenager’s video game: 1,856 yards of total offense and a ridiculous 25 total touchdowns in his four games.

While it’s still quite a ways down the road, Ward’s Cougars and Jackson’s Cardinals will square off in what’s shaping up to be a monumental mid-November Thursday night game that could go a long way in determining not only the Heisman race, but helping to shape the playoff picture as well.  In between, voters, don’t forget about the kid from Houston.

Report: Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel undergoes surgery, out as long as a month

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 30:  Sojourn Shelton #8 of the Wisconsin Badgers, Vince Biegel #47 of the Wisconsin Badgers, T.J. Edwards #53 of the Wisconsin Badgers react to a interception during the second half of a game against the USC Trojans in the National University Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on December 30, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Just in time for their toughest stretch of the season, No. 8 Wisconsin may be without one of the team’s most important defensive players.

Badgers linebacker Vince Biegel is set to miss the next several weeks after undergoing surgery to insert a screw in his cracked foot.

“He’s been playing on it for the last couple weeks, and it was bothering him a little bit,” Biegel’s father Rocky told ESPN. “He had X-rays last night and confirmed it was cracked. He either plays on it, and then if he breaks it, then he’s going to be out for eight weeks. Either way, he’s got to have surgery on it. So he can keep playing until it breaks or try to go through the season with it and try to fix it. At any time, he could break it all the way through. It was just a crack and they’re just putting a screw in it. It’s a very, very minor crack.”

No matter how minor it is, losing Biegel for as long as a month is a huge blow to a defense that has been among the best in the country this season. Wisconsin does have a bye week after traveling to No. 4 Michigan on Saturday but also have to play No. 2 Ohio State and division rivals Iowa and Nebraska to close out October.

Biegel has nine tackles on the year and a sack but is among the most experienced players on the team having played in 46 games at Wisconsin, including 32 starts. Redshirt freshman Zack Baun is expected to take his place.

If there is one bright spot for head coach Paul Chryst and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox however, it’s that the Badgers’ linebacking corp is one of the best in the country. Still, as good as Jack Cichy, T.J. Edwards and T.J. Watt have been this year, they’ll have to step up their games with an imposing schedule coming up.

Houston missing four starters for AAC matchup against UConn

SAN MARCOS, TX - SEPTEMBER 24: Duke Catalon #2 of the Houston Cougars runs against Brandon McDowell #6 of the Texas State Bobcats at Bobcat Stadium on September 24, 2016 in San Marcos, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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Houston is looking to avenge their only loss of the 2015 season on Thursday night against Connecticut but the Cougars will have to do so a little short-handed.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the team is down a whopping four starters and a key backup against the Huskies: starting linebackers Tyus Bowser (head injury) and Matthew Adams (coaches’ decision), running back Duke Catalon (head injury), cornerback Brandon Wilson (lower leg) plus backup tight end Alex Leslie (ankle injury).

Catalon has already missed a game this season and is arguably the biggest loss for the team as that will force them to rely on quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (who missed last year’s game) even more against UConn. The transfer from Texas is averaging 4.7 yards a carry on the year and had a big game against Oklahoma in the opener.

Coach Tom Herman and the sixth-ranked Cougars still should be able handle their business at home against a conference foe but the mounting injuries this early in the season are starting to get a little concerning if you’re a Houston fan.

Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett officially withdraws from school

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05:  Blake Barnett #6 of the Alabama Crimson Tide throws before the Advocare Classic against the Wisconsin Badgers at AT&T Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Despite the wishes of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide depth chart officially became a little thinner on Thursday.

After nearly a day of speculation, Alabama announced that quarterback Blake Barnett is no longer a part of the Crimson Tide football team.

“We received word this afternoon that Blake Barnett has officially withdrawn from school and is no longer with our program,” Saban said in a statement. “The quarterback position is a very unique position where only one player can play. We are very disappointed any time a player leaves the program who feels he can compete for a starting position elsewhere, rather than here at Alabama. We wish Blake the very best of luck in the future.”

Barnett started the opener against USC and has thrown for 219 yards and two touchdowns on the year. However the redshirt freshman lost the starting job to true freshman Jalen Hurts and has only played sparingly in the first month of the season.

Saban recently said he wanted Barnett to remain with the program but it seems pretty obvious that playing time would be limited as the team’s backup signal-caller and a transfer would be forthcoming. Now it appears the only question is where to for the former five-star recruit, who is a Southern California native and was recruited by nearly everybody coming out of high school.