Eight College Football Teams to Watch in 2008
In the 2007 season, there were several teams who showed their potential, but could even better in 2008. Here are eight teams who made a splash last season, but could be primed for much bigger success next season. Be sure to read more in our 2008 NCAA football previews which will be completed by mid-June 2008!
Arizona State Sun Devils
2007 Record: 10-3 (7-2 Pac-10), lost to Texas 52-34 in Holiday Bowl
Notable Number: +205 - Arizona St. was outscored 128-50 by opponents in the first quarter, but in the final three quarters, held a 370-165 advantage on the scoreboard - including a 96-39 edge in the fourth quarter.
What will make them: QB Rudy Carpenter threw for 3,202 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2007, and will enter his senior season with 7,998 yards and 68 touchdowns through the air.
RBs Keegan Herring and Dmitri Nance will make for a productive duo in the backfield, and Carpenter will also have three of his leading receivers back, led by two-sport athlete Mike Jones, who had 10 touchdown catches in 2007.
Safety Troy Nolan, who picked off six passes and returned two for touchdowns, returns for the defense, and so do defensive ends Dexter Davis, who had 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles as a sophomore, and Luis Vasquez, who picked up 11.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
What could break them: The offensive line was one of the most porous in the country, surrendering 55 sacks. Even though the offense still put up good numbers, that’s an area that needs to improve, not only to maximize their potential, but also to keep Carpenter healthy.
Connecticut (UConn) Huskies
2007 Record: 9-4, lost to Wake Forest in Meineke Car Care Bowl
Notable Number: 9 - The number of non-offensive touchdowns the Huskies scored (five interception returns, two kickoffs, two punts).
What will make them: The Huskies return nearly all of their contributors on offense. The backfield duo of Andre Dixon and Donald Brown combined for 1,649 yards in 2007, and QB Tyler Lorenzen, who threw for 2,367 yards and 13 touchdowns in his first season in Storrs, will have all but Larry Taylor returning among his leading pass-catchers from 2007.
As productive as the offense should be next season, the defense stands to be as good or better, with eight starters returning, led by Freshman All-American linebackers Scott Lutrus (107 tackles and four INTs, two returned for scores) and Lawrence Wilson (113 tackles, INT returned for a score), and ends Cody Brown (50 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks) and Julius Williams (35 tackles, 12 TFL, 8.5 sacks).
What could break them: As good as the defense was overall, there was one glaring weakness - the run, as UConn gave up an average of 157.4 yards per game on the ground, and 4.4 yards a pop.
Illinois Fighting Illini
2007 Record: 9-4 (6-2 Big Ten), lost to USC 49-17 in Rose Bowl
Notable Number: 256.8 - The number of rushing yards Illinois averaged per game.
What will make them: RB Rashard Mendenhall decided to cash in early and enter the draft after rushing for 1,681 yards and 17 touchdowns. But, Daniel Dufrene averaged 6.3 yards per carry in 47 carries.
It also helps that QB Isiah ‘Juice’ Williams will be on the run quite often, and that’s not such a bad thing, when he ran for 755 yards and seven touchdowns.
The defense will lose the likes of LBs J Leman and Antonio Steele and DBs Justin Harrison and Kevin Mitchell, the team leader in interceptions with five. But, the team’s three sack leaders return, led by Will Davis (9.5 sacks), and the secondary will be led by Vontae Davis (76 tackles, four INT).
Ron Zook should also bring in another excellent recruiting class, which is set to include some top-notch targets for Williams. We all know his prowess at recruiting, and it’s quickly translating to results in Champaign.
What could break them: Mendenhall’s early departure to the NFL will take a big chunk out of the Illini’s offense, as he was not only the team’s leading rusher, but the #2 receiver as well.
It might mean that Williams will have to throw more next season, and he’s yet to show that he can be consistent week in, week out as a passer (22 TD, 21 INT in two seasons), but four TD passes in the win over Ohio St. is a definite good sign for Illini fans.
2007 Record: 12-1 (7-1 Big 12), beat Virginia Tech 24-21 in Orange Bowl
Notable Number: +21 - Kansas’ turnover margin (35 takeaways, 14 giveaways), which was tops in the nation, one ahead of national champion LSU.
What will make them: All-Americans OT Anthony Collins and corner Aqib Talib elected to enter the draft early, and a few more key players will also be gone, in leading rusher Brandon McAnderson (1,125 yards, 16 touchdowns), receiver Marcus Henry (54 catches, 1,014 yards, 10 touchdowns) will be gone, along with DL James McClinton. But, the Jayhawks should be just fine on both sides of the ball.
QB Todd Reesing, who rewrote the school’s record books in just his first season as a starter (3,486 yards, 33 TD, 7 INT in ‘07) will be a candidate for conference and national honors as a junior, and he’ll have Dexton Fields (63 catches, 834 yards, 6 TD), Dezmon Briscoe (43-496-7), and backup QB-converted WR Kerry Meier (26-274-2) as his main weapons. Jake Sharp, who ran for 821 yards and seven touchdowns behind McAnderson this season, has the talent to become Kansas’ third straight 1,000 yard rusher.
On defense, Talib will be missed, but nine starters will return, including linebackers Joe Mortensen, James Holt, and Mike Rivera, who all recorded at least 96 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss in ‘07.
Even without Talib, the secondary should be strong, with safety Darrell Stuckey (72 tackles, two INT), corner Chris Harris (65 tackles, 2 INT), and safety Justin Thornton, who tied Talib for the team lead with five interceptions, despite making only four starts.
What could break them: Hopefully a year of success won’t go to their heads, because they could get brought back down to earth very quickly.
The Big 12 North, and the conference as a whole, is going to be thoroughly competitive in 2008. Not only will the Jayhawks have to fend off Missouri in their division, Colorado and Kansas St. will be pretty solid, Nebraska should have new life under Bo Pelini, and even Iowa St. should be better. Mark Mangino’s team will also face a daunting trip to Tampa to face South Florida on Sept. 13.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
2007 Record: 8-5 (4-4 SEC), defeated Central Florida 10-3 in Liberty Bowl
Notable Number: Nine - The number of total wins the Bulldogs had in Sylvester Croom’s first three seasons before 2007.
What will make them: MSU returns a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, and after several ugly wins in 2007, could look a lot prettier next season.
With a year under his belt and a chance for his surgically-repaired shoulder to get back to near 100%, QB Wes Carroll could be set for a big sophomore season, but the pressure won’t be on him to win it all on his arm, with power back Anthony Dixon coming off of a 1,066 yard, 14-touchdown sophomore campaign.
On defense, pass-rushing specialist Titus Brown will be gone, but the defense should be strong, led by safety Derek Pegues, who picked off five passes in ‘07 and is also one of the SEC‘s most dangerous kick/punt return men.
What could break them: There will be trips to Baton Rouge, Knoxville, and Tuscaloosa in conference play, and MSU will also go on the road to take on Georgia Tech.
Missouri (Mizzou) Tigers
2007 Record: 12-2 (7-1 Big 12), beat Arkansas 38-7 in Cotton Bowl
Notable Number: 198.3 - The number of all-purpose yards freshman WR/KR/PR Jeremy Maclin averaged per game in 2007 (1055 receiving, 1039 kick return, 375 rushing, 307 punt return - 2,776 yards in 14 games).
What will make them: One of the nation’s best offenses, led by QB Chase Daniel, who smartly decided to return for his senior season after finishing fourth in the Heisman voting.
Speedy and versatile Jeremy Maclin (16 total touchdowns - 9 receiving, 4 rushing, 2 punt returns, 1 kick return) will lead the receiving corps. Chase Coffman, who also decided to return, could be set for a monster senior year, since he won’t have to be sharing catches with Martin Rucker.
The defense will return 10 of its top 11 tacklers, including safety William Moore (117 tackles, eight INT), defensive end Stryker Sulak (60 tackles, six sacks, four forced fumbles), and DT Ziggy Hood (49 tackles, five sacks, three forced fumbles), who also opted against leaving school early. Linebackers Sean Weatherspoon (130 tackles) and Brock Christopher (106 stops) are two of the Big 12’s best.
What could trip them up: The pass defense allowed an average of 256.9 yards per game. In a conference full of talented QBs, that could make them susceptible to getting burned a time or two.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
2007 Record: 9-4 (4-4 Big 12), beat Virginia 31-28 in Gator Bowl
Notable Number: 713 - Graham Harrell’s number of pass attempts in 2007 (512 completions).
What will make them: The fact that the offense will put a lot of points is a mere formality, no matter who lines up at QB and at the skill positions. Harrell threw for 5,705 yards and 48 touchdowns in ‘07, and had a 646-yard performance against Oklahoma State. His favorite target happens to the nation’s top receiver, Michael Crabtree, who caught an astounding 134 passes for 1,962 yards and 22 scores on his way to winning the Biletnikoff Award - as a freshman. Along with Crabtree, Harrell will have Eric Morris, and Edward Britton to throw to, among others.
Shannon Woods, who missed the last few games due to injury, and Aaron Crawford, who filled in for him, will be a dependable duo in the backfield, and give Tech a viable threat on the ground, when they choose to run it.
More importantly, the defense, which has been tended to be a liability for the Red Raiders, should be pretty good, and that might be the missing link between the Gator or Holiday Bowl and a serious challenge for the Big 12 title.
What could break them: It’s Division I football! It’s the Big 12! There won’t be any easy ones on their conference schedule (minus Baylor, knock on wood), including trips to College Station, Norman, and Lawrence.
2007 Record: 9-4 (6-2 ACC), lost to Texas Tech 31-28 in Gator Bowl
Notable Number: 43 - The number of sacks recorded by the Virginia defense.
What will make them: Al Groh’s team came out of nowhere to challenge in the ACC, and should have a chance at another New Year’s Day bowl in ‘08.
Sack machine Chris Long will be one of the first few picks in April’s draft, and there’s a chance that Jeffrey Fitzgerald (73 tackles, 11.5 for loss, seven sacks, 15 QB hurries as a sophomore in ‘07) could follow in his footsteps. Fitzgerald and LBs Jon Copper (109 tackles) and Clint Sintim (77 tackles, nine sacks, 17 QB hurries) will lead a defensive unit that should be strong again after allowing only 19.7 points and 332.5 yards per game this past season.
The offense was by no means prolific, but it was efficient, and returns QB Jameel Sewell (2,176 yards, 12 TD), running back Cedric Peerman (585 yards, 5 TD in only six games because of injury), and RB/WR Mikell Simpson (570 yards, 8 TD, 43 catches, 402 yards, 2 TD), who ran for 170 yards and a 96-yard touchdown in the Gator Bowl.
What could break them: Just like luck could be on your side one year, it could go completely against you the next.
A big reason for Virginia’s success this past season was their ability to come through in the nail-biters. Virginia was 6-2 in games decided by five points or less this season, including one-point wins over Connecticut, Maryland, and Wake Forest.
There might also be a question mark about the passing game, as Sewell’s job might not be secure, with highly-touted Pete Lalich right behind him in the depth chart.
by Eddie Griffin
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