July 5, 2009

Which team most needs to solve its QB dilemma?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport.

This week's question: Which team do you think will be most hampered by its quarterback situation this season?

UCLA strikes me as the answer to that question. The Bruins were definitely hampered by poor QB play when they went 4-8 last season. Kevin Craft threw 20 interceptions to just seven touchdown passes last season, and the inconsistent passing game - combined with problems in the offensive line - contributed to the running game's demise. The Bruins offensive line projects to be significantly improved this year, there is some rising talent at running back and the receivers are pretty good. But quarterback issues remain. Craft lost the starting job in the spring to redshirt freshman Kevin Prince, who was also inconsistent and is unproven. The Bruins could make good progress this season, but they'll need an adequate performance at quarterback. If they don't get it, they could struggle to get six victories.


I will be interested to see how USC fares under center. This will be the first time Pete Carroll has had to replace a quarterback in consecutive seasons since taking over USC in 2001. There is no doubt Carroll was peeved to see Mark Sanchez turn pro early (remember those curt and sharp news conference remarks?). Maybe Carroll sensed or knew none of the quarterbacks on his roster were fully ready for prime time. Well, ready or not, sophomore Aaron Corp is the man. He is 2-for-4 for 14 yards in his career. And should he struggle, true freshman Matt Barkley may be the man. I know each is talented, but struggles have to be expected. Good thing the Trojans will feature a good line and outstanding skill-position talent. If all else fails, Mitch Mustain is No. 3 on the depth chart. Unlike Corp or Barkley, Mustain has extensive experience from his days at Arkansas.


All you need to know about the quarterback situation at Michigan is that the Wolverines courted Greg Paulus early in the summer. That was after true freshman Tate Forcier beat out junior Nick Sheridan, part of the lackluster duo at quarterback a year ago. You can see why Sheridan lost his job. The offense's ineptitude rubbed off on the rest of the team last season. Only 10 offenses spent less time on the field; working quickly is fine if a team can score, but Michigan scored only 20.3 points per game. Those numbers contributed to a disappointing defense. At stops as an assistant at Tulane and Clemson and as coach West Virginia, Rich Rodriguez has been a part of staffs that have shown a knack for turning things around in the second season. Continuing that trend will be most important at quarterback. The rest of the team is bowl-worthy. If the quarterback isn't, Rodriguez will be on thin ice as Michigan's coach in year three.


I think there are numerous teams that would be better off with proven players at quarterback, most notably Alabama, California, Georgia, LSU, Michigan State, Nebraska, USC, Utah and West Virginia. But I think those teams remain strong enough to get to a bowl and, in some cases, contend for league titles even with questions at quarterback. But a team that stands out as a squad that may not get to a bowl because of its quarterback is Tennessee. The Vols have a new coach because their offense was pitiful last season and the same quarterbacks are in place this season. Why new coach Lane Kiffin didn't make it a priority to sign a quarterback or three in the 2009 recruiting class remains a mystery. The Vols' defense again will be strong. But that didn't matter last season because the offense was inept. Coaching only takes you so far, and I think new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has what it takes. But he doesn't have a quality quarterback. And Tennessee very well could be sitting at home in the postseason because of that.


Lost in the hoopla surrounding new Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin's ability to attract a top-10 recruiting class on such short notice was that the Volunteers didn't sign a scholarship quarterback. The only quarterback Tennessee added in the offseason was walk-on Mike Rozier, a former minor-league baseball player who originally signed with North Carolina in 2004. That means the Vols again must rely on Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens, who didn't do anything last season to indicate they're ready to lead a team to SEC title contention. Crompton completed 51.5 percent of his passes last season with five interceptions and four touchdowns. Stephens connected on 48.5 percent of his attempts, with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Tennessee has an outstanding defense anchored by strong safety Eric Berry, one of the nation's best players regardless of position. The Vols also should have a solid rushing attack. If they get merely average production from their quarterback, they potentially could be a top 25 team. But the quarterbacks on this roster must improve quite a bit from their 2008 performances before they can be considered average.


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