May 16, 2010

Which players will lead the nation this season?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask members of the coverage staff for their opinions about a topic in the sport. This weekend, we have two roundtables - one Saturday and one today. Here is today's question:

TODAY'S QUESTION: Who are your picks to lead the nation in passing yards, rushing yards and receiving yards this fall?

Remember when you could always put down a Texas Tech quarterback to lead the nation in passing? That may no longer be the case with Tommy Tuberville replacing Mike Leach in Lubbock. But the answer for the top passer is obvious - and resides within the state of Texas. Houston's Case Keenum passed for 5,671 yards - more than 1,400 yards better than anyone else - to lead the nation last season. He'll do it again. Choosing one of his teammates as the leading receiver might seem obvious, but he spreads the ball around and has several receivers returning. I'll take Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles, who had 1,120 receiving yards a year ago despite missing considerable action because of injury. He's so fast and elusive that he can make a dump off pass look like an 80-yard bomb in the box score. Last season, he was working with Landry Jones, who was thrust into the lineup because of Sam Bradford's injury. Jones should be better with a year of experience. The top rusher? My pick is Oregon's LaMichael James even though he's suspended for the season opener. James hardly played in the first two games last season and still rushed for 1,546 yards. He had fewer than 20 carries in five games. Like Broyles, James has great speed. He's also running behind a good line that returns intact.


Without a doubt, I believe Houston's Case Keenum will lead the nation in passing yards. He threw for 5,671 yards last season, and we may witness a 6,000-yard season from Keenum this season. Given Pitt's still-developing situation at quarterback, I expect the Panthers to rely heavily on Dion Lewis, who ranked third in the nation last fall with 1,799 yards rushing. Don't be shocked if Lewis challenges the 2,000-yard mark in 2010. I think Purdue may go to the air often with an iffy running back situation. And new quarterback Robert Marve will need a safety blanket. That guy will be Keith Smith, who led the Big Ten with 91 catches for 1,100 yards last season. Look for those numbers to swell.


If Houston's Case Keenum doesn't lead the nation in passing yards again, I will be shocked. He is a quarterback who plays in a pass-happy system in a conference that doesn't play much defense. Keenum completed 492 passes last season. That's more passes than 107 teams even attempted. As for the nation's rushing leader, I'm a little worried about Pittsburgh's offensive line, but I still think Dion Lewis can put up some gaudy numbers. He was third in the nation in rushing as a freshman. Pittsburgh's supporting cast and Dave Wannstedt's tendency to give a ton of carries to one running back could hand Lewis the rushing title. Speaking of supporting casts, Oklahoma's supporting cast is a reason Ryan Broyles could lead the nation in receiving. He caught 89 passes for 1,120 yards last season despite missing a game. The maturation of Landry Jones should boost Jones' numbers.


Houston's Case Keenum will lead the nation in passing unless he gets hurt. He threw for 5,671 yards last season, and I truly think he could flirt with the 6,000-yard mark this season. To throw for 6,000 yards would require averaging 429 yards per game for 14 games. If Houston wins C-USA West, it will play 14 games. I will go with Hawaii's Greg Salas as the leading receiver. He was third last season with 1,590 yards, and that was with Hawaii using three starting quarterbacks. The leading rusher is a tough one; if Temple's Bernard Pierce stays healthy, he's my pick. He ran for 1,361 yards last season, and in almost half his games (six of 13) he carried the ball 12 or fewer times. In fact, Pierce carried it seven or fewer times in four games. Temple's passing attack is pitiful, which means coach Al Golden is going to ride his horse. If he's healthy, expect huge numbers from Pierce.


Houston's Case Keenum ended his 2009 season with 5,671 passing yards - more than 1,400 better than anyone else - so I'm not exactly going out on a limb by picking him to emerge as the nation's most prolific passer once again. We know Keenum's receivers are going to get plenty of opportunities to catch the ball, so we may as well pick his favorite target to lead the nation in receiving. Houston's James Cleveland caught 104 passes for 1,214 yards last season and ranked eighth in the nation with 101.2 receiving yards per game. Of the seven guys who finished ahead of him, Hawaii's Greg Salas is the only one who is back this season. We may as well make this a clean sweep for Conference USA, a league in which defense often is little more than a rumor. UTEP's Donald Buckram ran for 1,594 yards last year and ranked fourth in the nation at 132.8 yards per game. Buckram should have another big season in 2010 while running behind a line with three returning starters. The only active college player who rushed for more yards per game last season was Pitt's Dion Lewis, but the Panthers' line is breaking in new starters at center and at both guard positions. Lewis also had 325 carries last year to rank second in the nation to Stanford's Toby Gerhart. Even if Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt is willing to use Lewis that often again, I wonder if Lewis is durable enough to handle that kind of huge workload in back-to-back seasons.

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