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Monday, March 22, 2010
Rebuilding projects underway among the non-AQs this week

By Graham Watson

A lot of rebuilding projects get underway this week as another round of teams begin spring football. New coaches such as Ruffin McNeill and Rob Ianello will get their first glimpses of their teams on the field, while other coaches such as Todd Dodge, Bob Toledo and Mike Locksley try to put their teams on track.

Here’s a look at this week’s spring starts and the biggest issues each teams faces:

East Carolina, March 22

Biggest issue: With several senior lettermen gone, new head coach Ruffin McNeill is basically starting from scratch, but he does have a good foundation upon which to build. The Pirates will spend the spring transitioning from a pro-style offense to a spread under the direction of new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.

Tulane, March 22

Biggest issue: There are several issues Tulane has to deal with the spring, but the biggest will be replacing the production of running back Andre Anderson. Anderson accounted for 80 percent of the team’s rushing yards and scored eight of the team’s 10 rushing touchdowns.

Idaho, March 23

Biggest issue: The Idaho offense was quite good last season, but the defense cost it some games. The defense allowed 433.23 yards per game and 36 points per game. It returns 11 players with starting experience, which should help. The Vandals also have to replace four starters on the offensive line.

New Mexico, March 23

Biggest issue: With three-year starter Donovan Porterie gone, sophomore B.R. Holbrook and juniors Tate Smith and Brad Gruner will compete for the starting quarterback spot. However, the winner of that competition will have to fend off top recruits Tarean Austin and Stump Godfrey in the fall.

Northern Illinois, March 23

Biggest issue: Starting quarterback Chandler Harnish will miss spring football, which opens up the quarterback position. A.J. Hill, DeMarcus Grady, Jordan Lynch will be vying for time, but a lot will be expected from junior college transfer Casey Weston in the fall.

North Texas, March 23

Biggest issue: This is a pivotal season for Dodge and his staff, and the key to turning the Mean Green’s fortunes around is getting the defense to play better. North Texas allowed 412.33 yards and 35.58 points per game last season, and also averaged just one sack per game.

Utah State, March 23

Biggest issue: With running back Robert Turbin sidelined with a knee injury, the Aggies will have to find a running back to fill his shoes. Turbin accounted for almost 60 percent of the team’s rushing yardage.

Akron, March 24

Biggest issue: Ianello enters his first spring, and the top priority will be to find playmakers on offense. Akron, which hasn’t had a winning season since 2005, averaged just 19.25 points per game last season.

Ball State, March 24

Biggest issue: The Cardinals will look to replicate the type of offense they had during their 12-win season in 2008. Last season the run game was OK, but the passing game struggled. All of the quarterbacks are healthy this spring and running back MiQuale Lewis returns for a sixth season.

TCU, March 24

Biggest issue: The Horned Frogs didn’t lose much from last season’s 12-win team, but they did lose their top defensive performers in defensive end Jerry Hughes and linebacker Daryl Washington. Replacing those players, as well as adding depth in the secondary, will be the focus this spring.

UAB, March 24

Biggest issue: David Isabelle has the unenviable task of replacing do-it-all quarterback Joe Webb, who was essentially all of the Blazers' offense for the past two seasons. Isabelle does bring a strong arm as well as rushing ability to the quarterbacking position, which might help other players get involved in the offense.

Colorado State, March 25

Biggest issue: The Rams will once again look for a new starting quarterback this spring, and all eyes will be on early enrollee Pete Thomas, who is the favorite to win the job. Senior Jon Eastman, junior T.J. Borcky and redshirt freshman Nico Ranieri also will compete for the starting role.

UTEP, March 25

Biggest issue: Former UNLV defensive line coach Andre Patterson takes over as the defensive coordinator, and he’ll do away with the 3-3-5 defense installed by Osia Lewis. The Miners have consistently been bad on defense, which has stopped them from competing for the C-USA West title. But if Patterson can get the defense moving in the right direction, the Miners become a dangerous team.

Houston, March 27

Biggest issue: New defensive coordinator Brian Stewart inherits a young group with a lot of talent and will need to show some sort of defensive turnaround this spring. The defense was part of the reason the Cougars didn’t cap the perfect season they started.