Banking on a hot team’s momentum
Does finishing strong at the end of one college football season or having a chip on your shoulder mean a team is ready for 2009?
Of course not, as so many factors come into play, including injuries, coaching changes and graduating players. However, many times teams finish the season on a hot string and are under the radar the following September.
Here are a few teams that finished 2008 strong and may be a bit undervalued for the beginning of 2009.
California: The Bear finished fourth in the Pac 10 and didn’t gather a lot of headlines. However, this is a well coached team under Jeff Tedford, one that finished strong, going 3-0, including a 24-17 victory in the Emerald Bowl over Miami. They were 9-4 SU/ATS. The offense has seven starters returning, the defense eight, including quarterback Kevin Riley and star running back Jahvid Best.
Cal averaged 33 points, 187 yards rushing and 195 yards passing last year. Junior QB Kevin Riley threw for 1,360 yards, 14 TDs, 6 INTs and doesn’t have to share time with Nate Longshore. In his career he is 7-2 as a starter. Junior tailback Jahvid Best (1,580 yards, 8.1 ypc) is a Heisman contender. In the final three games alone of his sophomore year, he ripped off 698 yards and eight TDs. The 1st-team All-Pac-10 Best and sophomore RB Shane Vereen (715 yards, 5.0 ypc) give Cal the best backfield duo in the country.
North Carolina State: If momentum is huge, NC State should be fired up for 2009, ending last season on a 4-1 SU, 5-0 ATS run. In fact, they have covered eight straight games. The Wolfpack (6-7 SU, 10-2 ATS) caught fire under second-year coach Tom O’Brien, after finishing last in the ACC Atlantic in 2007. Five starters return on offense, seven on defense.
The key is the play of sophomore QB Russell Wilson, who was sensational with 17 TDs and only one interception! The top pass catcher returns in 6-foot-3 junior wide receiver Owen Spencer (609 yards, 5 TDs), along with 6-foot-4 junior WR Jarvis Williams (432 yards). The defense is a concern, giving up 26 ppg, last in the ACC last year in pass defense with too many breakdowns in coverage. Does that mean more high scoring games? The Wolfpack is 7-4 and 6-5 over the total the last two years. (Follow Jim on Twitter, https://twitter.com/JimFeistSports.)
Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles were only 4-4 in Conference USA, but no one wanted to play them down the stretch, as they ended 2008 on a 5-0 SU, 4-1 ATS run. That included a New Orleans Bowl upset win over Troy. All that happened under new coach Larry Fedora, who brought in a different style, a wide-open spread offense he helped run at Oklahoma State.
The Golden Eagles have a strong offense (30.7 ppg), led by sophomore QB Austin Davis (23 TDs, 8 picks, 3,134 yards), plus he ran for 508 yards. They averaged 196 yards rushing and 238 passing. A guy to watch is sophomore WR DeAndre Brown, a former top recruit who spurned several SEC schools to play for the Golden Eagles. He was their top wideout as a freshman with 67 catches for 1,117 yards and 12 TDs. The defense took a hit losing junior LB Gerald McRath to the NFL a year early. They will score points, but will they stop good offenses?
Oklahoma State: It’s hard to believe the electrifying Cowboys (9-4 SU, 8-4 ATS) finished fourth in the Big 12 South. They have a chance to redeem themselves with eight starters back on an offense that dazzled with 41 points, 256 yards rushing and 233 passing per game! Oklahoma State finished sixth in the nation in total offense, ninth in scoring and eighth in rushing offense.
Senior QB Zac Robinson is off a strong junior season with 3,064 yards, 65% completions, 25 TDs and 10 picks. He is surrounded by talent with 5-foot-8 senior RB Kendall Hunter (1,555 yards, 6.5 ypc), speedy senior WR Dez Bryant (1,480 yards, 19 TDs), while 6-foot-5 junior WR Damian Davis (414) averaged 21 yards per catch. They scored 72 points on Oklahoma and Oregon but lost, plus dropped another close one to Texas, 28-24.
Oregon: The Ducks lost out to USC in the Pac 10 race, aiding the Trojans by knocking off Oregon State in the finale. The Ducks won their last four games, including a bowl win. Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti stepped down after his 14th season, taking over for Pat Kilkenny as athletic director. Former offensive coordinator Chip Kelly is the new head man, running an offense that averaged 42 points, 277 yards rushing and 200 passing!
Junior QB Jeremiah Masoli is the starter after solidifying the position with 13 TDs and 5 picks, 1,744 yards in 2008. He’s an outstanding runner, rushing for 718 yards, 5.7 yards per carry. RB LeGarrette Blount returns for his senior season after pounding out 1,002 yards, 17 TDs and averaging 7.3 ypc. Oregon carries a 4-2 run over the total into the new season.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Jim Fiest