Ten (or so) things to watch as spring practices get rolling this month ...
|Phil Fulmer's Vols missed a bowl last year for the first time since '88. (Getty Images)|
"I think we assumed too much as to where we were ability-wise," Fulmer told AP.
Phil is running out of excuses. He fired two offensive coaches. Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders quit under pressure. Quarterbacks were yo-yoed in and out of the lineup.
Tennessee was a preseason No. 3, so shame on all of us. That suggests the greatest overvaluation of talent since Vanilla Ice.
Tennessee lost its way, its soul and to Vandy, missing a bowl for the first time since 1988.
To lay it on the players indicts the coaching staff for a) recruiting them and b) not developing the sub-standard talent (Fulmer's summation, not ours).
If this is the way it's going be at Tennessee, the equipment managers better start watching their backs. They're next.
Anyway, spring blooms anew. New/old offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe is back healthy from heart problems that kept him from taking over Notre Dame's offense. (No offense, David, but ND didn't need you.)
Fulmer says he was miserable during the holiday season and can't wait for the start of spring on Thursday. Everyone is watching, Vols, including top quarterback prospect Jimmy Clausen (yes, Rick and Casey's brother) out in California.
Texas hide 'em: The national champs are in the process of picking a Vince Young replacement this month. As for the rest of us, we're on a need-to-know basis.
Mack Brown is closing most of spring practice as redshirt freshman Colt McCoy and true freshman Jevan Snead battle it out.
Does it matter? Kind of. Neither one is close to being V.Y. But the starter will have so many supporting actors that Texas should be favored to win the Big 12 again and will make a run at a second consecutive national title.
Is Alabama all the way back? The age of excuses is over, as is the probation, for Alabama.
The Tide are coming off a 10-win season, Mike Shula just doubled his salary (to a mind-blowing $1.8 million per year) and the near-term future is, well, bleak.
Just when 'Bama is on a roll, graduation hit hard. Only 10 starters return. That's not counting Tyrone Prothro, arguably their best player, who is still recovering from that devastating broken leg.
The current situation beats probation, but the SEC beats you down.
The Best Damn Quarterback Battle Period: LSU's JaMarcus Russell is working his way back from shoulder and wrist injuries.
He will miss the spring while Ryan Perrilloux and Matt Flynn battle for -- at worst -- the backup job. Russell seems vulnerable after Flynn's performance in the Peach Bowl and The Mouth of the South (Perrilloux) promising great things since high school.
If Russell doesn't return 100 percent or struggles again in the fall, we might look back to this month as the birthplace of a new Tigers starter.
No. 1 with a Nerf football, not with a bullet: Every mention of Ohio State excellence comes with a qualifier ...
Yes, we know there are nine starters to replace on defense for CBS SportsLine.com's current preseason No. 1. But right now who is better? Sit down, Texas, Notre Dame and West Virginia.
The laboratory opens at the end of this month. Jim Tressel has a plan for the defense, trust us. Spring is basically about finding a new back seven.
Buck-heads in Columbus should watch the battle at linebacker. Senior Mike D'Andrea is penciled in at middle linebacker. He was a guy who was considered one of the nation's best prep LBs four years ago.
John Kerr was a Big Ten freshman star at Indiana before transferring to Ohio State. Kerr was a special teams guy last year and has a golden opportunity with A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter gone.
Star juco linebacker Larry Grant arrives in the fall. Freshman Ross Homan enrolled early.
Backup corner Malcolm Jenkins and nickel back Brandon Mitchell will be asked to win starting spots in the secondary.
Will they be as good as last year's Hawk-eyes? No, but there's this kid named Troy Smith ...
Next best in the Pac-10: Playing in the shadow of USC, Oregon had a quiet 10-2 season in 2005.
With some luck and a slight downturn by the Trojans, the Ducks might be the new Pac-10 champions. The spring is all about quarterback Dennis Dixon, who gained experience when Kellen Clemens went down. He's basically the guy. Brady Leaf backed up but had an emergency appendectomy last month and, let's face it, his last name is Leaf.
"I do see it being very competitive," coach Mike Bellotti said. "(But) in all honesty, Dennis is a much better athlete."
Part of the spring will be spent patching together a defensive line. The unit was shredded by USC in the game that basically decided the season. Anthony Trucks and Devan Long took 31 tackles for loss with them. All-American Haloti Ngata left early for the NFL. Bellotti likes junior David Faaeteete and redshirt sophomores Cole Linehan and Ra'shon Harris to battle for spots in the spring.
Linehan and Faaeteete took over in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma in the Holiday Bowl when Ngati was injured.
In Coral Gables, the players must meet four new assistant coaches. The coaches must mesh with the players. Head coach Larry Coker must mesh with both.
At the same time, an offensive line that allowed 36 sacks must be shored up. A back must be found to run behind it. Charlie Jones is a possibility. He replaced Tyrone Moss in the Virginia Tech game. Moss is still rehabbing a knee that was injured in that game.
That's assuming that Kyle Wright continues to improve.
And oh yeah, another 9-3 season won't be tolerated.
Michigan fans will have a couple of new coordinators to beat up. Defensive coordinator Jim Hermann departed for the Jets after a short 19-year stay in Ann Arbor. Secondary coach Ron English takes over. Mike DeBord moves from special teams coach to take over the offense. DeBord was OC for the 1997 national champions before moving to Central Michigan as head coach.
As always at Michigan, every single move English and DeBord make will be picked apart with a scalpel by the wolves that follow the Wolves.
Hawk Time: It's never good when you change coaches. Doesn't matter if you're getting Vince Lombardi or Knute Rockne. The upheaval within the program cannot be downplayed.
That's why this year will be a struggle for new Colorado coach Dan Hawkins. He had little time to recruit and the class reflected it. Plus, he is inheriting players he didn't recruit.
While you're never out of it in the Big 12 North, this will be a transition year for Hawkins. The Buffs won a second consecutive division title, but were able to keep it within 68 in the Big 12 title game (losing 70-3) and finished 7-6.
The spring begins a search for a new quarterback and tight end. The offense -- Hawkins' specialty -- was 87th nationally last year. The majority of the defense returns, but let's just say there's room for improvement.
Hawk will succeed, but it will be a rough first season.
Cliff dwellers: These teams are hanging 10 over the brink looking at a long, long fall if they don't turn it around, like, now -- beginning in the spring: Syracuse, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Colorado State, Washington, Mississippi State and New Mexico State.
The new Michael Robinson or the same old Anthony Morelli? Whether Penn State challenges for the Big Ten title again literally depends on Morelli. The former must-get recruit has been slow to progress.
Morelli is entering his third year having thrown 33 career passes. He's not a dual threat like Robinson, who was the unabashed team leader. In short order, Morelli needs savvy, accuracy and the respect of his teammates.
The Jeff Bowden Show: It has been fashionable to rip Florida State's offensive coordinator for, oh, forever.
Assess the offensive line, then assess J. Bowden. O-line injuries and shaky play were the biggest factors to a four-loss season that somehow included an ACC title.
Quarterback Drew Weatherford was OK, at times, not great. Bowden broke in Weatherford behind a line that produced the 10th-worst rushing attack in the country. Not a good combination.
Last year's four-loss season was part of an ACC championship. But if anyone in Tally is thinking this is progress they're kidding themselves.
Right now this is a defense-oriented team that isn't particularly entertaining. Spring is all about offensive line reps.