Monday, August 31, 2009

BlogPoll Roundtable No. 1: Sleepers

One of the perks of membership in the BlogPoll group is the chance to take part in roundtables with our wonderful bloggers from around the country.

(By the way, the Blog Poll Top Ten will be on the left side of the page throughout the college football season, so you can keep up to date on how the voters are doing. In addition, I'll be posting a ballot at least once a week for your review and rebuttal.)

The first roundtable of the 2009 season is hosted by Hey Jenny Slater, a Georgia blog. The focus is on those who are sleeping in advance of the season.

1. Without naming names, a few teams seem to have popped up frequently on everyone's "overrated" lists in the preseason, so let's forget about them for the moment and concentrate on a different group: sleepers. Which currently unheralded team are you currently putting at least a few of your chips behind in the hopes that you'll be able to say "totally called that" once they've accomplished big things by the end of the season?

It's hard to say that one bad year qualifies Michigan as a sleeper, but they have a good shot at serious improvement this season. The Wolverines finally have their spread quarterback, and every other starter is back from last year, with one more full offseason in the offense. This should be a good year for the Wolverine faithful. The hire of Greg Robinson as defensive coordinator was a good one. He flopped badly as a head coach, and you could argue that he wasn't that good as an NFL coordinator. However, he's got a lot of experience, and his presence should help Michigan develop more and more speed on that side of the ball.

Another team to watch in the Big Ten is Illinois. Again, it's hard to say that a team who played on New Year's Day just two years ago could be a sleeper, but Illinois should be bowl-bound again. Juice Williams' incremental improvement as a passer should allow him to put up the best numbers of his career this fall. Arrelious Benn is back, and the Illini will be better on defense.

Outside of the Big Ten (most of whom are bound to improve after a rather poor 2008), there are a couple of teams worth a real look.

It's too easy to jump on the Phil Steele bandwagon, but Rutgers needs to be watched. If they get sound quarterback play, the Scarlet Knights are going to be dangerous. Another team to keep an eye on is Southern Mississippi, though they're obviously not a big-time contender. They could bust down the door of a bigger bowl than New Orleans, thanks to Larry Fedora's absolutely insane offense.
2. In a similar vein, pick a sleeper player on your team whom nobody's talking about right now and tell us why we will be talking about them by December.

Wisconsin runs the ball enough that John Clay isn't going to get the job done by himself. Even going back to the magical 1993 season that started it all in Madison, the Badgers leaned on two backs, and not one. This year should be no different.

After a magical freshman season, Zach Brown was lost in the shuffle a bit last year. Part of that was Clay's emergence, combined with the fact that P.J. Hill was still around. Now Hill is gone, and Clay is the feature back. Maybe.

Brown has been impressive in fall camp, and it shouldn't surprise Badger fans if Brown becomes a huge part of the offense.

3. Florida is about as big a consensus favorite as we've seen in recent years, but remember, USC got 62 out of 65 first-place votes in the AP's 2007 preseason poll and still managed to lose to Stanford. Given how difficult it is to go undefeated period these days, where do you think the Gators are most likely to stumble in the regular season?

HJS has already mastered the obvious, mentioning Florida's visit to LSU. Let's think outside the box.

The Gators' coulda-been-crippling loss last year was at home, against Mississippi. This year, there are two home dates worth watching as potential trip-ups for everyone's favorite.

The first is Sept. 19 against Tennessee. Yes, Tennessee. Is it likely? No. But I wouldn't rule it out. Lane Kiffin has been playing mind games with the SEC since he got the Tennessee job. It can't be ruled out that he has something special up his sleeve for the Gators.

The other is Oct. 17, when the Gators host Arkansas. It's not so much about the coach, but Bobby Petrino has enough experience that he will have his troops ready. It's more about the players. The Razorbacks return a ton of talented players, and Ryan Mallett looks like a potentially great triggerman for this offense. This is one team that Florida will want no part of a shootout with.

4. Which regular-season game not involving your team or conference are you most looking forward to this year?

There are more than a few. Oregon-Boise State should be fun, and that's just in a few days.

Another one worth watching is coming up Saturday. If Joe Cox can step in Matthew Stafford's shoes, Georgia should be able to field a very strong offense. Their challenge, however, is going to be finding a way to slow down this crazy offense of Oklahoma State. In Stillwater. SEC versus Big 12 in the opener. Get your popcorn ready.

5. In honor of Georgia's opening-weekend opponent and their most prolific booster, let's say you somehow come into T. Boone Pickens money and can buy anything you want for your program -- facilities upgrades, an airplane for recruiting, buy out the contract of that coach you hate, you name it. Where does your first check go?

Honestly, I think I'd reinforce Camp Randall Stadium. Whenever the students do the "Jump Around" after the third quarter, the whole thing rocks. Just looks scary. Make the stands a little stronger, and people wouldn't watch and think the thing is going to fall apart. Oh, and let's ramp up capacity to around 100,000 while we're at it.

(This is a stretch. My opinion is that facilities aren't a major issue at Wisconsin, and it's just not time to buy out Bret Bielema yet.)

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