NCF Nation: 2010 prepared teams

Fully loaded in the ACC

June, 8, 2010
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Florida State fans can rest assured their quarterback situation is in good hands. After all, how many other teams could lose their starter and have the backup earn MVP honors in a Gator Bowl win?

Darren Evans/Ryan Williams
US PresswireVirginia Tech has the luxury of two 1,000-yard rushers in the same backfield.
E.J. Manuel proved Christian Ponder isn’t irreplaceable last season, and that’s a good thing for a program vying to win the Atlantic Division title in the first season under Jimbo Fisher. When it comes to the offense, there isn’t much Florida State is missing, but the Seminoles are just one of several teams in the ACC prepared to replace key players if need be.

The deepest position throughout the ACC appears to be at running back, where numerous programs have to figure out how to divvy up the carries this fall. Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech are all at least two deep at the position -- at least. The Hokies are fortunate enough to have two former backups turned 1,000-yard rushers in Darren Evans and Ryan Williams, both of whom got their opportunities at the expense of an injured teammate.

At Florida State, running back Chris Thompson passed Jermaine Thomas on the unofficial post-spring depth chart, but there’s also Lonnie Pryor, Tavares Pressley, Ty Jones and junior-college transfer Debrale Smiley, who is a fullback/tailback like Pryor. Both Florida State and Boston College return at least four starters each on their offensive lines, which immediately helps the depth there.

Miami has four returning receivers who had at least 200 yards receiving a year ago, and Duke had so much depth at receiver that it was able to move one of its top four pass-catchers -- Johnny Williams -- to cornerback this past spring.

Miami is also stocked on the defensive line, where the defensive ends go about three-deep on each side. The same can be said at Clemson, which returns three starters on the defensive line, and can also depend upon DE Andre Branch (38 tackles, 7.5 for loss) and DE Malliciah Goodman (26 tackles, 6.0 for loss).

Maryland returns all three of its starting linebackers and their backups. At Boston College, defensive coordinator Bill McGovern’s scheme utilizes a lot of players, which helps continue the strong defensive tradition there because the players are always prepared. Reserves from 2009 such as CB Donnie Fletcher (51 tackles), DE Brad Newman (45 tackles), LB Dominick LeGrande (36 tackles), LB Anthony DiSanzo (28 tackles) and CB Isaac Johnson (27 tackles) all saw significant playing time.

No team in the ACC, though, is as loaded on defense as North Carolina, which returns nine starters. They have combined for 234career starts -- the most of any team in the ACC, with S Deunta Williams and CB Kendric Burney making 38 starts each. The challenge for Butch Davis this fall will be getting the backups some playing time in preparation for 2011.

The goal of course for all coaches is to use their backups when they want to -- not when they have to.

Who's fully stocked in the Pac-10?

June, 4, 2010
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While reviewing depth charts trying to guess who the Pac-10's most "irreplaceable" players were, I got stuck on Oregon. There are plenty of players the Ducks wouldn't want to replace but there aren't many they couldn't.

Heck, they already lost a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Jeremiah Masoli and they are still a Pac-10 favorite and likely will be highly ranked in the preseason polls.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireChip Kelly has depth at all positions on his defense.
Oregon has three question mark positions: receiver, tight end and kicker. The latter might be more pressing because the Ducks looked promising at receiver and tight end this spring.

On defense, the Ducks have capable backups who will see plenty of action this fall on all three levels. Things are particularly good at linebacker and in the secondary. On offense, the line isn't deep but there are six or seven guys whom coaches would be comfortable playing. If running back LaMichael James went down, there's always Kenjon Barner. Even at quarterback, where senior Nate Costa and Darron Thomas are locked in a tight competition, the Ducks wouldn't be crushed to go with either-or.

Who else in the Pac-10 is deep? You'd naturally next look at USC. There are certainly plenty of former prep All-Americans on the roster. And the Trojans look good at quarterback, running back and on the defensive line. But the offensive line struggled during the spring, things are clearly thin at linebacker and the secondary already lacks experience.

If "returning starters" indicates depth, then Washington and Washington State should be OK. That's far more true for the Huskies, who look good at receiver and running back and have competition in the secondary. Still, both the Huskies and Cougars are questionable at many positions if the projected starter goes down. And, obviously, the Cougars' returning starters didn't exactly distinguish themselves last year.

Arizona and Arizona State are opposites (what a shock). The Wildcats look good on offense. They have two quarterbacks who can play and good depth at running back and receiver. Yet the defense can't afford too many hits, particularly at linebacker. The Sun Devils look good on defense, despite losing seven starters, but are questionable on offense, particularly on the line.

California and UCLA both have areas of uncertainty, where there's some experience and potential but things are far from sure. Cal's offensive and defensive lines could be pretty darn good, but it's harder to be confident with the receivers, linebackers and secondary. UCLA can trot out some good players on both sides of the ball, but there's a clear lack of depth on the offensive and defensive lines and at linebacker.

Stanford and Oregon State both look like that can roll out a starting 22 who could play with anyone -- 24 if you include specialists. But neither looks like it could maintain an elite level of play with more than a couple of injuries to starters.

So the verdict here is Oregon is the Pac-10's deepest team.
If Dion Lewis were to go down, Pitt could still run the ball well with Ray Graham, Chris Burns and Jason Douglas, plus battering ram fullback Henry Hynoski.

But the Panthers aren't the only team in the Big East that's prepared for injuries and other scenarios at key spots.

There are few players as dynamic as Noel Devine, but West Virginia believes it may have the next divine runner in Tavon Austin. Jock Sanders has also ably filled in at tailback for Devine over the years, and Ryan Clarke is physical, bruising ball carrier.

Cincinnati and Connecticut are blessed with rare quarterback depth. While Zach Collaros should be a star, his backup -- Chazz Anderson -- has already won important games. Same goes with UConn, which will start Zach Frazer but feels comfortable with Cody Endres leading the team. And both teams have third-stringers who can play.

The Bearcats are loaded at wide receiver with Armon Binns, D.J. Woods and Vidal Hazelton. Take one out, and it would hurt but not cripple the offense, as Marcus Barnett and two players who excelled in junior college -- Jamar Howard and Kenbrell Thompkins -- could pick up some slack.

UConn has the league's deepest cast at offensive line, which showed this spring when Adam Masters and Kevin Friend stepped in to compensate for injuries and excelled. The Huskies seem to just plug in and play on their O-line with little dropoff.

Rutgers might have its deepest defensive line ever under Greg Schiano, so deep that the Scarlet Knights didn't mind moving former top-rated recruit Antwan Lowery over to offense. South Florida lost George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul off its defensive line but could still go 8-to-10 deep there if youngsters develop as expected.

Depth isn't a word thrown around Syracuse much lately, but the Orange enter 2010 with a full stable of defensive backs, including five players who started a year ago and several others who earned valuable experience in 2009.

Overall, I'd say UConn, Pittsburgh and West Virginia are the deepest teams in the Big East. But depending on the position, some teams are better off than others.
Wisconsin running back John Clay might be the Big Ten's best hope for the Heisman Trophy this season, which will make you scratch your head after reading this next statement.

The Badgers can survive without him.

Not to diminish Clay's size and power, which Wisconsin would miss if he goes down, but the Badgers aren't exactly starved for running backs. Montee Ball showed flashes as a true freshman the past season, and Zach Brown boasts more experience (36 games played) than any other Big Ten backup back.

And whomever carries the ball for Wisconsin will benefit from working behind one of the nation's top offensive lines. Left tackle Gabe Carimi and guard John Moffitt get most of the buzz, but Wisconsin returns all five starters up front, as well as others like Bill Nagy who boast game experience.

The Badgers are one of several Big Ten teams who can survive the loss of a key player or two, as long as it isn't quarterback Scott Tolzien.

The reason why Ohio State has won or shared the past five Big Ten championships: their depth chart. Take the linebacker position, for example. The Buckeyes have two of the Big Ten's best in Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, but they also can turn to a guy like Etienne Sabino, or younger backers Storm Klein, Dorian Bell and Andrew Sweat. Tyler Moeller also should return to the field this fall, although he'll likely see more time at safety.

Indiana's Tandon Doss and Purdue's Keith Smith were the media's picks for the first-team All-Big Ten squad in 2009, and both players are primed for big seasons this fall. While both also would be big losses, their teams have other options. Indiana can turn to Damarlo Belcher and Terrance Turner, or younger players like Duwyce Wilson. Purdue always boasts depth at receiver and has options like Cortez Smith, Antavian Edison and Gary Bush behind Smith. And don't forget about incoming freshman O.J. Ross or Justin Siller, the reinstated former starting quarterback.

Speaking of the offensive skill positions, Michigan State and Iowa boast similar depth. Both teams have potential All-Big Ten players -- Keshawn Martin, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Marvin McNutt, Keith Nichol -- but can truly lean on their strength in numbers. Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins is a very lucky man, as he'll have four capable wideouts, three capable tight ends and at least two capable running backs at his disposal. Iowa's Ricky Stanzi also has weapons at wideout with Johnson-Koulianos and McNutt, as well as three solid options in the backfield with Jewel Hampton, Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher.

Michigan has several areas of concern entering 2010, but offensive line shouldn't be one of them. The Wolverines return five linemen who started part or all of the past season, led by veteran guard Stephen Schilling. Michigan has five offensive linemen who have three years of experience under their belts, not to mention promising young prospects like Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield.

Flipping to the other side of the line, look at Penn State. Sure, the Nittany Lions lose Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick, but there's no reason to doubt defensive line coach Larry Johnson and his personnel. Penn State will have depth up front yet again with guys like Jack Crawford, Ollie Ogbu, Devon Still, Eric Latimore and Kevion Latham.
It’s not every day that a team has a Heisman Trophy winner returning, and some in and around the program are wondering if his backup might be even better.

Running back Mark Ingram became the first Alabama player in history last season to win the Heisman Trophy. He rushed for 1,658 yards and scored 20 touchdowns.

Is it too farfetched to think that Trent Richardson might be the second from Alabama to take home college football’s most prestigious individual award somewhere down the road?

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Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesD.J. Williams is part of a very deep Arkansas receiving corps.
It makes for good conversation, and at the same time, underscores how well stocked the Crimson Tide will be at running back in 2010. Don’t forget about redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy, either.

While Alabama’s at the head of the class in the SEC when it comes to being the most prepared to replace a key player, the Crimson Tide’s hardly the only team with quality depth in key spots.

One of the best examples is Georgia’s offensive line, specifically senior left tackle Clint Boling. The Bulldogs have eight lettermen returning up front, and while Boling has played both guard and tackle during his career, offensive line coach Stacy Searels could have some flexibility if Trinton Sturdivant and Tanner Strickland both come back healthy in the fall.

Sturdivant was Georgia’s starting left tackle for 13 games as a true freshman. The Bulldogs’ coaches felt like he was their best offensive lineman at the time, but he’s missed each of the past two seasons after tearing up his left knee. Strickland could also be a factor at guard after missing last season with a shoulder injury.

The Arkansas receiving corps is another position that’s among the deepest in the league.

Greg Childs, Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Cobi Hamilton are all big-time players in their own right. And when you throw in tight end D.J. Williams, it’s a collection of pass-catchers that any quarterback would love to have.

Losing one of those guys would hurt the Hogs’ passing game, but it certainly wouldn’t devastate it.

Ole Miss’ depth at defensive tackle is equally staggering. Jerrell Powe is one of the top two or three interior defensive linemen in the SEC. But the Rebels will be able to run tackles in and out of the game next season with the likes of Ted Laurent, Lawon Scott, LaMark Armour and Justin Smith.

LSU would have several options in its secondary if something were to happen to one of the starters.

Junior cornerback Patrick Peterson is the backbone of the unit, but the Tigers made some changes this spring and essentially went with four cornerbacks as the four starters. Jai Eugene moved from cornerback to safety, while safety Brandon Mitchell has also played a lot of cornerback during his career.

Sophomore cornerback Morris Claiborne looks like he’s going to follow in Peterson’s footsteps as one of the SEC's best, while junior cornerback Ron Brooks has also played a lot of quality snaps for the Tigers. If redshirt freshman safety Craig Loston comes around next season, that would give the Tigers’ even more flexibility in an already deep and talented secondary.

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