Will BYU be able to replace four offensive line starters? While the departure of wide receiver Austin Collie leaves the Cougar's without their biggest offensive weapon from a season ago, BYU is by no means short on skill position talent. Veteran quarterback Max Hall returns along with All-Mountain West tight end Dennis Pitta, while the Cougars also get back speedster wide receiver McKay Jacobson after a two year Mormon mission. And the backfield? Still loaded with 250 pounds of thunder and lightning as Harvey Unga returns for his junior year. The biggest question mark for Bronco Mendenhall's team will be whether or not the Cougars can find a working offensive line this spring, as the unit must replace four full time starters from a year ago. With eight coming back on a defense that has nowhere to go but up, successfully retooling the offensive line could mean the difference between just another winning season and the ever elusive BCS bowl berth.
Which perennial doormat is on its way up? The faces are different but the names (not to mention the losses) have stayed the same. Programs like Eastern Michigan, Utah State, San Diego State, Army, and New Mexico State have had a torrid history of losing seasons in recent years, and all look to rebuild (or is that just build?) after coaching changes during the offseason. And while the process of putting a program together after multiple seasons of 2, 3, or maybe 4 wins is a difficult task to do within the course of only a year, there is precedence for non-BCS teams to find success right away. My pick for the team that could surprise? Watch out for the Utah State Aggies, as former Utah defensive coordinator Gary Anderson steps into a fairly wide-open WAC conference with 16 starters back from last year's team.
Will Notre Dame find a running game? Notre Dame's running woes over the past two seasons have been well documented, as even a stable of former four star recruits hasn't helped the Irish offense move the ball consistently on the ground during the program's recent decline. Notre Dame was 100th in rushing yards per game in the country last season, but there may be reason to expect improvement in 2009. A revamped coaching staff that includes Frank Verducci and Tony Alford should improve the Irish offensive line play, which in turn should help the Irish establish a more physical mentality in the running game. Coach Weis will still need a back to step up and assert himself for the job however, with Armando Allen, Robert Hughes, and Jonas Gray likely to fight over the job this spring. Allen looked to have the most promise a season ago, but if none of Notre Dame's running backs can provide the answer Weis is looking for expect the field to widen over the summer, when much-heralded true freshmen Cierre Woods arrives in South Bend.
Is Ball State rebuilding, or reloading? As if finishing the year without a MAC Title and losing head coach Brady Hoke wasn't enough, the Cardinals also have to replace the MAC's top quarterback in Nate Davis along with six other offensive starters from last year's double-digit win team. Offensive coordinator Stan Parrish takes over the reigns of the team, which should be solid on defense with seven coming back from a year ago. Yet despite a plethora of talent to include running back Miquale Lewis and wide receiver Briggs Orsbon on offense, Parrish will have to find a quarterback and retool the offensive line for the Cardinals to stay atop the MAC. That means it is sink or swim for highly regarded sophomore Kelly Page, who could be pushed by true freshmen and early enrollee Aaron Mershman for the starting job.
Who will be Navy's fullback? Going back to 2003 the Midshipmen have had a string of NFL caliber talent at the "B" back position in the triple option offense, with last year's star Eric Kettani proving to be no exception. But Kettani, who accounted for 88% of carries by a Navy fullback a season ago, moves on this spring, leaving head coach Ken Niumatalolo without a steady heir-apparent. While it's too early to tell who will step in for Kettani or how successful they will be, keep an eye out for the battle between sophomore Alex Teich and senior Kevin Campbell. Campbell gives the Mids the safer option at fullback, but the explosive Teich gives Navy a home-threat with his speed, quickness, and vision at the second level. For a complete list of spring game dates for non-BCS conference teams, as well as spring game dates for all 120 FBS programs, click here.