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July 19, 2008
At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for their opinion about a current topic.
THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: Which player will benefit the most from a head-coaching change this season?
Critics have questioned Texas A&M quarterback Stephen McGee's throwing ability. McGee was a prolific passer in high school, but his passing abilities may have been compromised in former coach Dennis Franchione's offense. The Aggies rarely threw to wide receivers, and McGee had a sore shoulder from taking hits while running the option. McGee was the Aggies' leading rusher in '07.
In new coach Mike Sherman's offense, McGee will have more opportunity to prove himself as a passer and he should take far fewer hits.
Look no further than Baylor's quarterback, whether it's incumbent starter Blake Szymanski, Miami transfer Kirby Freeman or true freshman Robert Griffin. Coach Art Briles has proven he is a quarterback's best friend with his spread-'em-out offense that produced wild success at Houston and a 3,000-yard passer in all but one of his five seasons with the Cougars.
At Houston, Briles' passing attack consistently ranked among the best in the nation, and he turned quarterback Kevin Kolb into a second-round NFL draft pick in 2007. Briles' work with his last Houston offense may have been his best job yet, as the Cougars averaged 501 yards and become the first program to produce a 300-yard receiver and 200-yard rusher in the same game. And he did it all while using two quarterbacks, which could be the situation he faces this fall in Waco.
And that's good news for Baylor's quarterbacks and offense, which got a taste of the spread offense under Guy Morriss.
Duke is a sad, sad place before Midnight Madness, but David Cutcliffe should bring the tiniest amount of optimism to Durham as the Dookies count the days until basketball season. A big reason is because Cutcliffe inherited quarterback Thaddeus Lewis. He's entering his third season as the starter, and made a huge leap from his freshman to sophomore year. He improved his touchdown-to-interception ratio from 11-to-16 to 20-to-10 and passed for nearly 300 more yards in 20 more attempts. Expect the results to be even better under a quarterback guru such as Cutcliffe.
Cutcliffe, who was hired away from his job as Tennessee's offensive coordinator, coached both Mannings, Tee Martin and Heath Shuler. In his return to the college game after sitting out 2005, Cutcliffe revived the career of Erik Ainge. Lewis doesn't need to be revived. He just needs to be refined. He already has a go-to receiver in Eron Riley, who has averaged 20.5 yards per catch over the past two seasons. In the ACC this season, mere competence will make a quarterback one of the top six in the league. Lewis will crack that and perhaps more. The win-loss results will be meager. After all, this is Duke. But the development of Lewis could lead to the Blue Devils' first ACC win since 2004.
There are numerous players who have produced big numbers in the past who will produce even bigger numbers this season with new coaches, including Washington State wide receiver Brandon Gibson, SMU quarterback Justin Willis and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, Northern Illinois tailback Justin Anderson and Southern Miss tailback Damion Fletcher.
In terms of units that will have jumps in productivity, I'd be especially happy if I were a UCLA wide receiver, a Texas A&M wide receiver, a Georgia Tech running back, a Nebraska defensive lineman, an SMU wide receiver, an Ole Miss running back and an Arkansas wide receiver.
But in terms of a player who is going to see a marked increase in his productivity and what he means to his team, I think Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick and Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis stand out. Lewis has thrown 32 TD passes and has 10 200-yard games in two seasons; Dick has thrown 34 TD passes and has just two 200-yard games in three seasons. Dick will make the biggest jump this season, so we'll go with him.
Dick has been at the controls of a run-based attack, but that changes with Bobby Petrino as coach. Dick had five games last season in which he attempted 18 passes or fewer; heck, that could be a half for him this season. Say what you want about Petrino, but the man knows offense and has a knack for play-calling. Look for Dick, assuming he stays healthy, to set personal single-season records in every passing category by about Game 7 or 8.
One obvious choice is SMU quarterback Justin Willis, who ought to benefit from operating June Jones' run-and-shoot offense. Hawaii quarterbacks Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan enjoyed record-setting careers while playing for Jones. After throwing for 2,944 yards and 25 touchdowns last season, Willis has the ability to deliver similar results. Then again, Willis already has been suspended once since Jones' arrival. Although he was reinstated after missing spring practice, I would have liked to see Willis make a better first impression.
That's why I instead will select SMU wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who established himself as Willis' favorite target last season and should thrive in Jones' pass-happy system. Hawaii's offense last season featured three receivers who caught at least 92 passes for 1,174 yards and 12 touchdowns. And at least one Hawaii player ranked among the nation's top 20 receivers in yards per game in each of Jones' nine seasons at the school. Sanders caught 74 passes for 889 yards and nine touchdowns in '07 to rank seventh in Conference USA in receiving. Don't be surprised if he ranks among the top 10 players in the nation in receiving yards per game this season.