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June 22, 2009
Monday with Mike: These guys must step up
Here's a look at five players, listed alphabetically, who need to play better for their teams to reach their potential this season.
These aren't necessarily the best players on their teams, but they are guys who need to show more than they did last season.
Georgia DE Roderick Battle: Battle was a big-time star in high school in Atlanta, but he has just been "a guy" – and a disappointment – with the Bulldogs. He has three sacks in the past two seasons combined. Part of the reason was that he was banged up last season, and part is that he never really has developed any "go-to" pass-rushing move (he had just 2.5 sacks as a full-time starter in 2007). Georgia had only 24 sacks last season, with six of those coming in the Capital One Bowl victory over Michigan State. Battle missed the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery. He and the rest of Georgia's ends need to get on the stick this season and get the sack total into the 30s. If the Bulldogs have to resort to the blitz to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, that bodes ill for a retooled secondary.
Illinois WR Arrelious Benn: Benn is a supremely talented player and is one of the best wide receivers in the nation. But last season, he – and the entire Illini offense – underachieved. Benn had 67 catches for 1,055 yards – a solid 15.7 yards-per-catch average. But he scored just three times, which should be embarrassing to Benn and the Illini's offensive coaches. Illinois is at its best offensively when it can control the ball on the ground, which lessens the pressure on QB Juice Williams. The rushing attack sputtered at times last season and the passing game couldn't take up the slack. Illinois has a new offensive coordinator, Mike Schultz, who came from TCU. He needs to make sure Benn gets 70-plus catches and also needs to make sure Benn is more of a threat in the red zone. If Benn again has just three TD catches, Illinois again will be home for the holidays.
California QB Kevin Riley: With USC replacing eight starters on defense, breaking in a new quarterback and playing a tough schedule, the Pac-10 race looks more open than it has been in a while. If Riley plays well, Cal could be the team that walks away with the crown. Coach Jeff Tedford thinks highly of Riley's skill set, but Riley struggled mightily last season, throwing for 1,360 yards and completing just 50.7 percent of his passes. True, Cal isn't exactly loaded at wide receiver, but that completion percentage is pitiful for a player of Riley's talents, and he lost his starting job. Nate Longshore, the guy who replaced Riley in the starting lineup, is gone now, so perhaps Riley plays on a more even keel without the threat of someone taking his job. Regardless, he needs to throw for 2,000 or so yards and increase his completion percentage by eight to 10 points if Cal is to be a legit contender in the Pac-10 race. RB Jahvid Best will be the focal point of most opposing defenses, so all Riley has to do is be a complementary performer. Can he handle it?
USF DE George Selvie: Selvie had a breakout season as a sophomore in 2007, racking up 14.5 sacks and 31.5 tackles for loss while generally wreaking havoc against any offensive lineman he went up against. He was a first-team All-American on numerous lists and went into last season as a preseason first-teamer on most lists. But he slumped, finishing with 5.5 sacks and 8.0 tackles for loss. He saw a lot more double-teams last season, for sure, but big-time ends find a way to still make big plays. Last season, senior Jarrett Buie was the other end; this season, the opposite end won't be decided until fall camp. It's extremely unlikely the other end will require double-teams, so that means Selvie better get used to being banged around again. Still, he has too much speed and skill to be bottled up as he was last season. Expect a double-digit sack total.
Clemson RB C.J. Spiller: Spiller has had a solid career, but he certainly hasn't been the marquee player most thought he would be out of high school. He has big-time speed, good hands and return ability. So why hasn't he truly broken out? First, he has had to share time with James Davis, who's now in the NFL. Second, it doesn't appear the old Clemson coaching staff truly knew how to use Spiller. Then again, maybe Spiller is one of those guys who forever will tease you with his potential but never produce to that level. New coach Dabo Swinney talked Spiller into returning for his senior season – he would've been a first-day pick in the NFL draft – and perhaps now Spiller will shine. Spiller has the talent to be a 1,200-yard rusher and a 35-catch receiver; it's up to the new staff to get the ball into his hands often. If Spiller doesn't reach those numbers this season, you wonder how effective Clemson's offense will be.
What's interesting is that the ACC and Big 12 games will be played at the same time, at 8 p.m., with the Big 12 game televised by ABC and the ACC game televised by ESPN. (Yes, ABC and ESPN are owned by the same parent company, and they obviously believe the Big 12 trumps the ACC.)
The SEC title game will be televised by CBS at 4 p.m.
Money changes everything
What it also means is that Georgia – like Ohio State (which recently signed a $110 million media-rights deal) and Florida ($100 million) – is going to be swimming in even more money. The rich get richer, as it were.
When I read about Georgia's contract, I couldn't help but think back to the BCS hearings called in early May, the one where Texas Rep. Joe Barton likened the BCS system to communism. I also thought of Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson, who at that same hearing said "the current BCS system ensures a permanent underclass."
Actually, despite what Barton, Thompson and others would have you believe, the lack of a playoff doesn't ensure a permanent underclass. As Georgia's deal shows once again, college football is all about free-market capitalism.
Former Michigan State coach George Perles, 74, is running for governor of Michigan. Perles is a member of the Michigan State Board of Trustees and CEO of the Motor City Bowl. While Perles' teams were built old-school style – strong rushing attacks and stout defenses – he is running as a Democrat. Meanwhile, former Michigan and Buffalo Bills tight end Jay Riemersma is running for a U.S. House seat in Michigan; he is running as a Republican.
UCLA lost a projected starting wide receiver last week when junior Dominique Johnson left for Cal Poly, where he will be eligible immediately. Johnson (6-3/216) is big and fast, but his production never has matched his potential. Meanwhile, running back Raymond Carter – who announced he was leaving after spring practice – will transfer to Colorado State and sit out this season; he would've been in the tailback mix for the Bruins.
Kentucky has lost projected starting wide receiver E.J. Adams, who has left school and plans to enter July's NFL supplemental draft. Adams started nine games and had 14 catches last season.
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