>For the next month or so, I will be previewing every D 1-A college football team. They will be in alphabetical order. Crazy? Yes, I know, but I figure why not? And who is first???
Air Force – The Falcons are coming off of an 8-5 season, which saw them upset No. 25 Houston 47-20 in the Armed Forces Bowl. The bowl game was the third in a row for the Falcons, a first since 1990-1992 and the first time it had gone to the same bowl in three consecutive years. Third-year coach Troy Calhoun, who brings a 25-14 record into the 2010 season, became the first coach in school history to take the Falcons to bowl games in his first three years at the helm.
Offense - The Falcons’ skill positions are full of experienced, talented players. Air Force returns 100 percent of its rushing, passing, kickoff return, punt return and total offense yards from 2009, along with 90.4 percent of its receiving yards. The team also returns 100 percent of its scoring and 98.3 percent of its all-purpose yards from a year ago.
The Falcons bring back five starters from last year’s squad, led by senior fullback Jared Tew. Tew led the team with 970 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Both of his backfield teammates, quarterback Tim Jefferson and running back Asher Clark, return as well.
Jefferson will be overcoming off-season knee surgery after a season that saw him pass for 848 yards and five touchdowns and rushing for 254 yards and four touchdowns. He will be pushed by fellow junior Connor Dietz. Dietz brings some experience as well, as he played until he broke his hand with five games left in the season, therefore knocking him out for the season. His 369 rushing yards were fourth most on the team last year.
As has been the Falcons’ forte, the passing game comes a distant second in the offense. Despite that, Air Force brings back their top two receivers, Kevin Fogler and Jonathan Warzeka. Fogler returns after 25 balls for 567 yards and five touchdowns. The team’s second-leading wideout, Warzeka, returns after catching 18 passes for 246 yards and one touchdown.
One area of concern will be the offensive line, as they graduated all of their starters from the 2009 season. Only A.J. Wallerstein returns with starting experience, after starting the first game last season against Nicholls State.
Defense - The secondary will be the defense’s strength. Senior cornerback Reggie Rembert, along with junior corner Anthony Wright, Jr., and safety Jon Davis return to lead the group. Rembert was a first-team all-conference performer last season. He had 43 total tackles, three interceptions, forced two fumbles and had two fumble recoveries. He also became the school’s all-time leader in kickoff returns and kickoff return yards.
Wright recorded the third-most interceptions in a single season in school history with seven, including a school-record-tying three vs. Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl. Wright also scored
two touchdowns on interceptions returns and another on a punt return while earning second-team all-conference honors. Davis added 56 tackles, three interceptions, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble. Davis also scored a touchdown on an interception return.
The linebacker and defensive line corps, however, will be a major question mark for the Falcons. The defensive line will be bolstered by the lone returning starter, senior Rick Ricketts, who finished fourth on the team in tackles with 57. He also was third in tackles for loss with 6.5 for 39 yards and second in sacks with 4 for 28 yards.
The linebacker corps returns Andre Morris, Jr., at outside linebacker. Morris was third on the
team in tackles with 65 and had 6.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. He’ll be joined by sophomore Wale Lawal, Jr., who played 11 games as a rookie last year. Seniors Patrick Hennessey and Ken Lamendola had their junior years shortened by injury and missed all of spring practice. If they’re able to return, the Falcons will have an experienced group. Lamendola had a 100-plus tackle sophomore season and Hennessey was in a starting role before injuries.
Schedule - The Falcons start out with four of their first five opponents coming off of bowl appearances. The non-conference schedule is highlighted by a visit to Oklahoma to take on an Oklahoma squad going through some major personnel shuffling. The team closes with four of its last six on the road and has to face TCU and Utah back to back at the end of October.
Akron – Rob Ianello takes over for J.D. Brookhart, who was relieved of his duties after a 3-9 season. The Zips have not had a winning record since 2005. Ianello comes over from Notre Dame, where he was the wide receivers coach since 2005. In January of 2009, he was named the Assistant Head Coach for the Offense, as well as retaining his duties as the wide receivers coach. Under his guidance, six of the nine best individual receiving seasons in Notre Dame history have occurred. In the past five seasons, four Irish receivers have caught more than 60 passes in a season, while five players have eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards.
Offense - Patrick Nicely returns after starting the last seven games for the Zips, as does his backup Matt Rodgers, who started three games. Despite his 54.1% completion percentage, if the Zips are going to be successful, Nicely is going to have to improve on his touchdown:interception ratio, which was 1:1 after he threw six touchdowns and six interceptions.
Akron returns four of their five top rushers from last year. Those four combined for 826 of the team’s 1,726 rushing yards during the 2009 season. Rodgers is the returning leader as he rushed for 226 yards on 40 carries. Broderick Alexander and Alex Allen also return after rushing for 217 and 216 yards, respectively. Allen led the five with five rushing touchdowns.
To ease the pressure on the quarterbacks and running backs, the Zips return three starters on the offensive line from last year. Corey Woods, Mike Ward and Jake Anderson each return after starting all 12 games last year at LT, LG and RT, respectively.
Despite all of the experience coming back in the offensive backfield, only one major contributor returns in the wide receiving core. Luckily for the Zips, that contributor is last year’s top receiver, Jeremy LaFrance. The junior college transfer made quite an impression in his debut season at the D-1 level after grabbing 43 passes for 520 yards and two touchdowns. In fact La France is the only returning player who caught a touchdown last season.
Defense - If one was to say that Brain Wagner was the star on the defensive side of the ball, there would surely be no one to argue that fact. Wagner, a middle linebacker, had such a huge impact as a freshman last year that The Sporting News named him a First-Team Freshman All-American. What led him to earn such a great honor? 132 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two interceptions, one sack, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. His 132 tackles were almost double of the next Zip, Mike Thomas, who had 71 tackles.
Luckily for Akron, it seems as if Wagner and Thomas make up only half of what is probably the strongest position on the defensive side of the ball, the linebackers. Along with Wagner and Thomas, Sean Fobbs also returns at the RUSH LB spot, also starting all 12 games, as the aforementioned two did as well. Akron also returns two players, Will Fleming and DeAngelo Williams, who started a combined seven games at the strongside linebacker position.
The defensive line will be bolstered by the return of DT Almondo Sewell, DT Dan Marcoux, DT James Harvey and DE Hasan Hazime. Sewell started all 12 games at DT and led all linemen with 53 tackles. Hazime started the last eight games at defensive end and was tied for the team lead with three sacks, as well as figuring in on 49 tackles and forcing one fumble. Harvey started 10 games, the first four at defensive end and the next six at nose tackle. In 11 total games, he was involved in 23 tackles and four tackles for loss. Marcoux started six games and chipped in with 15 tackles.
The Akron secondary won’t be as tough as the rest of the defense, however, as they only return three players that started any games last season. Manny Waller started 11 games at one CB spot, finishing with three interceptions, six pass break-ups and 47 tackles. Kevin Davis and Marvese Byrd are the other two, but each started only one game last year. The secondary will rely on younger players, including four redshirt freshmen and five sophomores.
Recruiting - The Zips brought in 23 signees in the Class of 2010, including Parade All-American RB Erick Howard. Howard, Scout.com’s 24th best running back, ran for over 6,000 yards in his career and scored 79 touchdowns. For good measure, the Ohio two-time Offensive Player of the Year also tallied 208 tackles as a linebacker. He is one of at least four running backs brought in to push the already successful stable of young runners.
Schedule - The Zips host six games, highlighted by a season-opening visit from Syracuse. After the first two games of the year, both at home, Akron plays four of its next five on the road, including games at Indiana and Kentucky. The team does end the season with two home games against Miami (OH) and Buffalo.
Alabama - To say last year was a success would be quite the understatement. Going 14-0, winning a national championship and having the Heisman Trophy winner was quite an achievement for Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide. What’s scary is that they bring most of their offensive stars back for more.
Offense - Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram returns for his junior season after rushing for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns. With more experience, the scary part is he can only get better. His backup, Trent Richardson, also returns. Richardson would be an All-Conference player if he played on any team, but he is “stuck” playing behind the Heisman Trophy winner. Despite this, he still managed to rush for 751 yards and eight touchdowns.
Quarterback Greg McElroy returns for his senior year after completing 61 percent of his passes. He threw for 2,508 yards and 17 touchdowns, while only throwing four interceptions.
To McElroy’s disposal, he will have five of last year’s top six receivers back for more. Last year eight ‘Bama receivers caught 10 or more passes, with four catching more than 25. Last year’s top receiver, Julio Jones, returns to build on a legacy that has seen him become one of the better wideouts in recent Alabama memory. His 43 catches, 596 yards and four touchdowns were all team highs.
Defense - The ‘Bama defense will have quite a different look this year, as only one, Mark Barron, of their top seven tacklers returns. In his first year as a starter, Barron led the team with seven interceptions for 125 yards and a touchdown, while also being a part of 76 tackles.
DE Marcell Dareus led the team with 6.5 sacks despite starting in only four of the 14 games he played in. The team will also look to linebacker Dont’a Hightower to provide some pressure on the quarterback and he showed that in the spring as he registered 11 tackles and three sacks in two scrimmages.
Recruiting - The Tide brings in an impressive recruiting class of 29, which was ranked as the fourth-best by scout.com and fifth-best by rivals.com. The class included six defensive backs, four offensive linemen, defensive linemen and linebackers each, three wide receivers, two running backs and tights ends apiece, and one quarterback, athlete, kicker and punter.
One recruit happened to be the one of the top two quarterbacks, according to scout.com, Phillip Sims. You may recognize him by name, but he is not the son of Hall of Fame and former Giant quarterback Phil Simms. Sims threw for 10,725 yards and 119 touchdowns, both of which are Virginia career records.
Schedule - Alabama opens up with two home games, vs. San Jose State and Penn State, in early September. After starting with the two home games, the Tide plays five of their next seven games on the road, including potential tough road games against Tennessee and LSU back-to-back. The two home games in that stretch are against Florida, which will finally be without Tim Tebow and Mississippi. The team closes out the regular season against Mississippi State, Georgia State and Auburn, all at home.
Arizona - The Wildcats are coming off of their second consecutive bowl appearance under Mike Stoops, who is entering his seventh year as Head Coach at Arizona. The team ended the season at 8-5 after a Holiday Bowl loss to Nebraska. Their 6-3 Pac-10 record tied them for second in the conference.
Offense - The Wildcat offense looks to be dynamic yet again, after averaging just over 27 points per game last year. The 2010 squad returns all but two of their spread formation starters. The team returns four players that started at receiver, three who started at running back and four offensive line starters, amongst others. One big loss for the ‘Cats will be Delashaum Dean, who was the team’s fourth-leading receiver.
Nick Foles, the team’s starting quarterback returns for his junior season. Foles returns after a sophomore campaign which saw him complete 63 percent of his passes for nearly 2,500 yards and 19 touchdowns.
The team’s top two rushers, Keola Antonin and Nic Grisby, return for their junior and senior campaigns after sharing the load rushing-wise for the ‘Cats last season. Antolin rushed for a team-high 637 yards and added four touchdowns, while Grisby rushed for 567 yards and a team-leading five touchdowns. As a team, Arizona rushed for over 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Outside of Dean, the Wildcats return receivers in Juron Criner, David Douglas and David Roberts. Criner led the team with 582 yards and nine touchdowns last year. Roberts ended up with 410 yards and one touchdown, while Douglas added 320 yards and one TD grab as well.
Defense - The Wildcat defense has always been considered the team’s strength under Stoops’ direction. If they are to continue that success this year, they will need to do so using two new linemen, three linebackers and two players in the secondary. The team will have to look for many of their junior college transfers and incoming freshmen to help them out.
Senior defensive ends Brooks Reed and Reid Elmore return to lead the defensive line. Elmore was second in the league last year with 10.5, while Reed will be looking to stay healthy and build on a sophomore campaign where he put up similar numbers to Elmore’s last year.
Cornerback Trevin Wade returns as the team’s leading tackler after bringing down 71 opponents and adding a team-leading five interceptions, one of which he brought back for a touchdown.
Sophomores Jake Fischer and R.J. Young, senior C.J.Parish, and redshirt freshmen
Trevor Erno and Cordarius Golston come back to lead the linebackers. The only problem is that the three that have seen playing time combined for only 16 tackles last year.
Recruiting - Altho it may seem that defense would be more of a need in the recruiting class, the 24-man class is pretty even, as 13 are defensive players and 11 offensive. The class consists of six defensive linemen, five receivers, five offensive linemen, four defensive backs, three linebackers and a quarterback. The two who might play the biggest roles are safety Marquis Flowers and wide receiver Dexter Ransom, a junior college transfer. Flowers picked Arizona over UCLA, USC and ASU, amongst others, after recording 46 tackles, two INT’s, rushing for 1,247 yards and 16 TD. Ransom missed the last four games of the 2009 season after tearing an ACL, but figures to be at full strength upon arrival to UA. He caught 19 passes for 412 yards and seven touchdowns in limited duty.
Schedule - After starting the season with a road game at Toledo, the ‘Cats spend the next four games in the confines of Arizona Stadium, including a stretch of Iowa, Cal and Oregon State in three consecutive weeks. The Cats also get Washington, USC and ASU at home, while having to travel to Stanford, UCLA, Oregon and Washington State. How strong Arizona is should be determined for sure at the end of the season as their last six games are vs. Washington, at UCLA, at Stanford, vs. USC, at Oregon and vs. ASU.