2010 College Football Predictions:10 Teams That Must Run For Their Lives
The results of the past three seasons have given us the clues to determine the big winner each year.
The last trio of BCS Champions have run the ball well all season long.
In 2009 Alabama averaged 215 yards a game on the ground, In 2008 Florida moved the pigskin an average of 231 an outing, while in 2007 LSU rushed the ball for an average of 214 yards a contest.
You better run for your life if you want to win in 21st century college football.
Going into this season there are teams who had unimpressive rushing statistics last year, and are not a factor in the national scene.
Let's concentrate on 10 schools who may see their fortunes improve if they can unlock the door of ground attack success and improve upon their most recent performances.
No. 10: UCLA Bruins
In 2009 the Bruins rushed for an average of 115 yards a game. And that was the good news. The prior season UCLA averaged 83 per outing.
Last year the PAC-10 was a rushing team's conference. Stanford, with their bone crushing ground attack, and the Oregon Ducks with their smooth operators sailing across the field, led the way with well over 200 yards each contest.
UCLA looked like a fish out of water, or whatever it is when a Bruin is out of his element, during a desultory 7-6 season that was actually applauded in some corners.
With eight returning starters on offense, coach Rick Neuheisel knows the challenge before him will be to get the men of Westwood moving along the ground. That must start by controlling the trenches.
Anything less, and the Bruin faithful may start yearning for the good old days of a 7-6 record.
No. 9: Kansas Jayhawks
For a school that prides itself on such earthshaking alumni as Gale Sayers and John Riggins, the pathetic showing of the Jayhawks' ground attack in 2009 left many wondering if the Orange Bowl season of 2007 was a figment of their imagination.
The men from Lawrence were able to scrabble together a ground attack average of 112 yards a game during last season's 5-7 performance.
Exit head coach Mark Mangino.
Three items will work to help Kansas turn things around in 2010.
First is the arrival of Turner Gill as the new sheriff in town. He is a coach who knows the running game and proved it on the field during his playing days at Nebraska.
Second will be the return of seven starters on offense. The combination of experience and new coaching cannot help but improve the Jayhawks.
Last will be the opportunity to face the monstrous rushing attack of Paul Johnson's Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the second game of the season.
If the Kansans can keep their eyes open, they are bound to learn something from that encounter.
No. 8: Clemson Tigers
How can this be? Clemson is the home of C.J. Spiller, surely they will have another exciting year rushing the ball in 2010.
It is true that Spiller was a dynamo, one of the finest players in the land. But, that was in 2009, and C.J. Spiller has since taken his game to the National Football League.
Last year the Tigers averaged 170 yards a game on the ground but, 91 of those belonged to their now departed star running back.
Two seasons ago Clemson averaged only 112 yards a game on the ground. The members of IPTAY (I Pay Twenty A Year) also known as the Clemson athletic supporters, have pledged themselves to promote young Jamie Harper with the same fervor lavished upon Spiller.
With seven starters returning on offense, including quarterback Kyle Parker, it will be up to the Tiger rushing attack to keep the defensive linemen minding their lanes instead of teeing off on the signal caller for the men in Orange.
How well the Clemson rushing game does its job will determine whether the Tigers finish in the upper half of the highly competitive Atlantic Coast Conference.
No. 7: Texas Tech Red Raiders
Here is a changing of the guard which should make everyone in the Big 12 Conference take notice.
The highly successful leader of the Red Raiders program, Mike Leach, is gone and replaced by Tommy Tuberville.
Tuberville is a fine coach with an excellent track record, including an undefeated squad at Auburn in 2004. He has always believed in the ground attack as the primary weapon of an offense.
Leach's Red Raiders were most successful in 2008 when they averaged the seemingly paltry 118 yards a game on the ground. Believe it or not, that was the high point of the rushing attack in Lubbock for the past several seasons.
The question is not whether Texas Tech will improve their ground attack under Coach Tuberville, they will most certainly meet that challenge.
Everyone dressed in black and red in west Texas is waiting to see whether “Ground Tommy” can be as successful as “Air Leach.”
To draw a quote from Lubbock's most famous citizen, the late Buddy Holly, “That'll Be The Day.”
No. 6: Louisville Cardinals
One of the most shocking events in college football over the past four seasons is the demise of the Louisville Cardinals from one of the strongest programs in the nation to little more than a cellar dweller.
In 2004, the Cardinals averaged 250 yards a game on the ground. In 2009 the figure was 125, or exactly half of what they once churned out.
The men from the Churchill Downs area do have a few advantages going into 2010, namely a new coach in Charlie Strong and the return of eight starters on offense.
Strong, freshly arrived from preparing for daily practice against Florida's full field attack, and before that as an understudy to Lou Holtz's hammer and tong philosophy at South Carolina, could be just what the doctor ordered.
In the always tightly contested Big East, an improved running game and improved self confidence just might be enough to get the Cardinals into one of the many conference affiliated bowl games.
No. 5: Colorado Buffaloes
Coach Dan Hawkins of the Buffaloes can point to one accomplishment during his years in Boulder, he has overseen the demise of what once was a formidable ground attack.
In 2006, the Buffs rushed for an average of 173 yards a game, in '07 the figure was down to 144, and two seasons ago a meager 125 per contest.
Those figures will never have the men from Boulder confused with Knute Rockne's Four Horsemen, but it was only a precursor to what the results of 2009 would deliver—88 yards rushing a game is what Colorado produced last year.
In order to compete in the Big 12, Colorado must be able to run when they need to and pass when the opportunity arises.
Ten starters return on offense for the Buffs, but is that really a good thing?
If Dan Hawkins is to hold on to his job in Boulder, he had best hope so.
No. 4: Arizona State Sun Devils
What does Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson have in common with Urban Meyer, Joe Paterno, and Nick Saban?
They each have won two national championships.
Pretty strong company for the bossman from the desert, but in his heyday, he produced some of the most powerful and intimidating teams ever to walk the college football field, the 1989 to 1994 Miami Hurricanes.
And he had the running game to do it in Coral Gables.
While there has been much speculation as to whether Erickson is still properly inspired to compete at a high level, the followers of his program in Tempe have no doubt about one issue—if he doesn't do it this season he will not be around for another.
With only four starters returning on offense from the paltry 4-8 team of 2009, the Sun Devils have been in a blue funk since losing a bitterly contested game at Georgia last year.
With the third game of the 2010 season at Camp Randall against the powerful Badgers, Arizona State has got to improve and do so quickly.
No. 3: South Carolina Gamecocks
114, 94, 121.
Those numbers represent what the old ball coach has seen his teams average on the ground each game during the past three seasons.
In the SEC, those statistics are a recipe for defeat and mediocrity.
Such results must change this year if everyone wishes to keep their job in Columbia.
With nine returning starters on offense the Gamecocks seem ripe for improvement, but it is the addition of a true freshman running back which can put South Carolina in a New Year's Day Bowl.
Enter Marcus Lattimore, the most highly touted player to arrive at Carolina during the Steve Spurrier regime.
Lattimore is a gifted running back, capable of breaking the Gamecocks out of their typical 7-5 season mold and into a real player in the SEC East.
All that is left is to review the results at season's end, and then the verdict will be delivered.
No. 2: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
There is a thought of a BCS Championship whistling through the mind of new Irish coach Brian Kelly, but only when he lets his guard down.
The reality of only five starters returning on offense is a challenge for Kelly, but he realizes the championship teams in South Bend have always been built around powerful rushing attacks.
At Cincinnati last season, Kelly had his Bearcats rush the ball an average of 28 times a game for a usual return of five yards a pop. That is high octane offense at Notre Dame. The Irish of 2009 ran the ball 33 times a game for an average gain of 3.8 yards a carry.
The men with the Leprechaun on the sideline have not averaged as much as four yards a carry since 2003.
Winning in South Bend is no ordinary challenge, the head man must combine athletic excellence with superior classroom performance.
While it may not have seemed so at the time, the years have proven Lou Holtz is a hard act to follow.
No. 1: Iowa Hawkeyes
How in the world can Iowa be the team most in need of a rushing attack improvement in order to be successful in 2010?
Because the Hawkeyes will measure success in 2010 in only one result, winning the Big 10 championship and being in the hunt for the BCS Title.
This is the big time, and Coach Kirk Ferentz believes his men are up to the job of accomplishing what many considered impossible just three years ago after the Hawkeyes lost to Western Michigan and Iowa State.
In 2008 Iowa improved their ground attack by leaps and bounds to an impressive 189 yards a game. In 2009 the Hawkeye rushing game went backwards so fast it appeared they were on a water slide.
Last year Coach Ferentz had to accept a ground attack that averaged only 114 yards a game while gaining only 3.3 yards per individual carry. And carry they did, 35 times a game.
This is a team whose prospects have excited the community and state. In order to fulfill their dream season, the ground game has to improve.
If it does, we may start calling the Hawkeyes the best team in the country.