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July 16, 2008

Many key positions will feature newcomers

Inexperience doesn't necessarily equate to ineffectiveness.

A player who has been biding his time as a reserve may excel once he gets in the starting lineup. Every All-America was a freshman at one time.

Still, new starters in the lineup usually cause a certain amount of apprehension. Sometimes players with great promise are just average and unreliable, and unproven players may struggle.

That fear of the unknown will be more prevalent in some stadiums than others this fall. Here's a list of teams that may have extra anxiety at various offensive positions this season.

QUARTERBACK

LSU: Repeated violations of team rules forced LSU coach Les Miles's hand and led him to dismiss Ryan Perrilloux. The move showed integrity, but left the Tigers woefully unproven at quarterback. The Tigers' starter figures to be either redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee or sophomore Andrew Hatch. Hatch, who played on the Harvard junior varsity in 2005, has thrown two passes in his college career and has had shoulder and knee surgery in the past two years. LSU has tremendous talent surrounding the quarterback, so that will help. But that's still akin to giving the keys to a Ferrari to a teen-ager with a learner's permit.

Michigan: Chad Henne is in the NFL. Ryan Mallett has transferred to Arkansas. Therefore, the first Wolverines quarterback under coach Rich Rodriguez figures to be either sophomore Nick Sheridan, who has yet to throw a college pass, redshirt freshman Steven Threet or true freshman Justin Feagin.

Miami: Redshirt freshman Robert Marve obviously has never thrown a college pass, yet is the most experienced quarterback on the roster. He and true freshmen Jacory Harris and Cannon Smith will battle for the starting job.

RUNNING BACKS

Boston College: The Eagles top returning rusher is fullback James McCluskey, who rushed for 14 yards in '07. True freshman Josh Haden, a four-star prospect, enrolled early and is first on the depth chart at running back. The other running backs on the roster are Dan Mulrooney, formerly a safety; walk-on John Sirvano; and Jeff Smith, who has had concussion issues. Whether Smith will be available this season is uncertain.

Arkansas: Out go Heisman Trophy runner-up Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, both NFL first-round picks. The new starter is junior Michael Smith, who rushed for 319 yards a year ago. Smith is 5 feet 7 and 173 pounds, so can he hold up to the weekly pounding in the SEC? Incoming freshman De'Anthony Curtis, a four-star prospect, could provide a boost.

Illinois: Rashard Mendenhall is gone. In fact, Walter Mendenhall is gone, too. Replacing Walter is no problem. Replacing Rashard is. Rashard rushed for more than 1,600 yards and was the Big Ten offensive player of the year. That's a lot to replace. Daniel Dufrene rushed for 294 yards last season, including 80 on one carry, and is the likely successor. But he couldn't firmly establish himself in that role this spring. Troy Pollard, another candidate, is coming off a knee injury that ended his season prematurely. And one or two true freshmen will get a shot, too.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Louisville: As if losing last year's starting receivers, Harry Douglas and Mario Urrutia, wasn't bad enough, the Cardinals dismissed JaJuan Spillman and Trent Guy was injured in a shooting. Scott Long, who had 27 catches last season, is the most productive returning receiver. Chris Vaughn is next; he had two catches last season. Oh, yeah: The Cardinals also lost their top two tight ends.

California: Last season's trio of Lavelle Hawkins, Robert Jordan and DeSean Jackson combined for 184 receptions. They're all gone. They likely will be replaced by Michael Calvin, Jeremy Ross and Nyan Boateng a trio that has a combined four receptions. There's also LaReylle Cunningham, who had four catches last season.

Texas A&M: Senior Pierre Brown had 19 receptions last season and is the Aggies' most productive returning receiver. No other receiver on the roster has more than 13 career catches. There are big hopes for four-star prospect Jeff Fuller, but that's putting a lot on a true freshman.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Florida State: The Seminoles' two-deep depth chart on the line is made up of three sophomores and seven true and redshirt freshmen. FSU took a big hit when junior tackle Daron Rose was declared academically ineligible. The Seminoles took another big hit when sophomore guard Evan Bellamy was lost for the season with a blood clot. Seminoles quarterbacks might be taking big hits next.

UCLA: Projected starting sophomore tackle Sean Sheller was lost for the season with a knee injury. Sophomore guard Darius Savage hasn't played and senior guard Scott Glicksberg is a converted tight end. Other than that, UCLA is in great shape on the line.

Michigan: Sophomore tackle Stephen Schilling is back. So much for the good news. The Wolverines had three senior starters last season. Then, during the spring, projected starter Justin Boren transferred to of all places Ohio State.

TRIVIA QUESTION

Texas Tech has won just one outright conference football championship in its history. What was the conference? (Hint: It's not the Big 12 or the Southwest Conference.) (Answer at the end of the column.)

OLD SCHOOL

Name the college attended by these Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterbacks. (Answers at the end of the column.)

1. Sammy Baugh

2. George Blanda

3. Terry Bradshaw

4. Otto Graham

5. Sonny Jurgensen

6. Sid Luckman

7. Fran Tarkenton

8. Y.A. Tittle

9. Norm Van Brocklin

10. Bob Waterfield

ON SUNDAY THEY REST

Never on Sunday. Or Monday, for that matter.

But Ball State will play on every other day of the week this season, with half its games scheduled on days other than Saturday.

The Cardinals will play once on Thursday (vs. Northeastern on Aug. 28), once on Friday (vs. Navy on Sept. 5), twice on Wednesday (vs. Northern Illinois on Nov. 5 and Central Michigan on Nov. 19) and twice on Tuesday (vs. Miami of Ohio on Nov. 11 and Western Michigan on Nov. 25).

The reason for the various game dates? TV exposure, of course.

"I think television came after us more than we pursued them," Ball State athletic director Tom Collins said. "Obviously, we were open to those opportunities."

Collins said Ball State traditionally tries to open the season on the Thursday before Labor Day. Then, ESPN approached him about playing Navy the second week of the season.

The Mid-American Conference plays mid-week games in November, and Ball State was an attractive choice. Last season, the Cardinals finished 7-6 and averaged more than 30 points and 433 yards last season. With quarterback Nate Davis and receiver Dante Love returning this season, that makes the Cardinals an attractive mid-major program.

"We happened to be one of the teams selected for mid-week games," Collins said. "Part of that is a compliment to coach Brady Hoke, his staff and the team he has coming back. All the sudden, the stars lined up this year."

QUICK HITTERS

Penn State is close to a complete sellout for the upcoming season. Tickets for games against Oregon State, Illinois and Michigan are gone, and games against Indiana and Michigan State are close to being sold out. A limited number of tickets reportedly remain for the season-opener against Coastal Carolina and a non-conference game against Temple. Ninety-nine percent of season-ticket holders renewed seats.

Linebacker Aaron Nagel has transferred to Northwestern from Notre Dame. Nagel, who was redshirted last season, will be eligible in 2009.

Alabama sold 8,400 single-game tickets in less than an hour Monday. The public sale offered tickets to games against Western Kentucky, Tulane, Ole Miss, Kentucky, Arkansas and Mississippi State.

OLD SCHOOL ANSWERS

1. TCU

2. Kentucky

3. Louisiana Tech

4. Northwestern

5. Duke

6. Columbia

7. Georgia

8. LSU

9. Oregon

10. UCLA

TRIVIA ANSWER

The Red Raiders won the Border Conference championship in 1955. That conference also consisted of Arizona, Arizona State, Hardin-Simmons, New Mexico State, Texas Western and West Texas State.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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