This time a year ago, Todd Reesing was an obscure quarterback for a mediocre Kansas program whose main function seemed to be occupying time until basketball season started.
But last season Reesing emerged as a bona-fide star quarterback. He completed almost 62 percent of his passes while throwing for 3,486 yards with 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. In the process, he led Kansas to a 12-1 record and a victory in the Orange Bowl.
Reesing was one of the great success stories of 2007. Who could surface as a great success story in 2008? Some possible candidates are included in this week's mailbag.
QB star watch
One of the best surprise stories in football last year had to be Todd Reesing and Kansas. Looking to this season – to me – guys like Northwestern's C.J. Bacher and Washington's Jake Locker seem like they could make their programs relevant, although they likely won't duplicate the Cinderella run Kansas had. They are talented quarterbacks on teams that could possibly overachieve. What quarterback and team do you think could duplicate the kind of turnaround the breakout season that Kansas had?
— Jesse in Denver -----
What do you mean Reesing came out of nowhere? He came out of Austin, Texas. The biggest question is how he got out of Austin – but that's another matter.
When looking for this season's Reesing, we're looking for someone who rarely started (if he started at all) for a team that did not reach a bowl and is less than 6 feet tall. OK, we'll throw out the height requirement to avoid getting boxed in too much.
Locker made such an impact last season that he's not nearly as obscure as Reesing was. Thus, one of the first players who comes to mind is Tennessee's Jonathan Crompton, who will be replacing Erik Ainge. But the Vols won the SEC East last year, so they're already nationally relevant.
Pittsburgh's Bill Stull could be a good candidate. He suffered a season-ending thumb injury in the first game, which was a big reason the Panthers finished 5-7. Pitt potentially is a team that could go from a losing record to Big East championship contender.
Ole Miss fans have waited a year for Jevan Snead to become eligible. Now that he's playing, the Rebels could be significantly better. Ole Miss managed just three wins last season and failed to score 20 points in five games. Erratic quarterback play was a big reason for that futility. Snead will be an upgrade, but he may not be enough to make the Rebels nationally relevant.
The same goes for Nebraska's Joe Ganz, who was brilliant in three starts at the end of last season. But the Huskers need an overhauled defense more than a productive quarterback to bounce back.
Louisville's Hunter Cantwell could have a Reesing-like season. He spent the past three seasons as Brian Brohm's understudy, but has played well when thrust into duty. Now that he's the starter, he'll be trying to lead the Cardinals back to prominence after last season's 6-6 finish.
Penn State is an established program, but look out for Daryll Clark, an elusive runner who is being counted on to lead the Nittany Lions back to Big Ten superiority.
It's interesting that as dominant as USC has been the past six years, they only play in the national championship game – BCS version – if they go undefeated. They are 5-1 in BCS games, with only the loss to Texas in the Rose Bowl not resulting in a blowout win. They play the toughest non-conference schedule of any elite team year in and year out, and win all those games. Auburn likes to gripe being jobbed out of the title game in their perfect season (2004), but who wanted to see USC beat Auburn for a third year in a row? We get Ohio State (in the championship game) year after year while we know they will lose, and we get SEC teams because ESPN builds up the SEC. But we only get USC, the most dominant team in the country, if they go undefeated.
— Wade in Huntington Beach, Cal. -----
Surely you're not insinuating that USC is a victim of discrimination among BCS voters. Last season, the Trojans didn't get into the national championship game because they had two losses, including one against 4-8 Stanford – at home.
Say what you want about Ohio State, but the Buckeyes had only one regular-season loss and that was to 9-4 Illinois. Yeah, I know Illinois got blasted by USC in the Rose Bowl, but Ohio State also beat Washington, which beat Stanford, which beat … well, you know.
USC would have gone to the championship game in 2006 had it not lost to a UCLA team that finished 7-6 in the regular-season finale. In 2004 and '05, the Trojans played for the championship; in 2002, they had two losses while Ohio State and Miami were undefeated.
I'll agree that denying USC a spot in the 2003 championship game was ridiculous. Taking Oklahoma, which was embarrassed by Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game, over USC was a huge example of the flaws in the BCS system. Still, USC was voted the AP version of the national championship, so it's not like the Trojans were completely dismissed.
Saying USC doesn't get into the BCS title game unless it's undefeated is not a legitimate complaint.
Castille had a solid freshman season with 343 yards, but don't expect much more from him this year unless starting I-back Marlon Lucky gets hurt. And Huskers fans don't want that.
The Huskers do have good depth there with Castille and Roy Helu. But Lucky will be a huge part of the offense and could emerge as a factor in the Heisman race.
Do you think Florida's inexperienced but talented defense can develop into a SEC championship-caliber defense?
— Ben in Floral City, Fla. -----
No doubt about it. Florida's defense wasn't outstanding in '07, but it wasn't terrible, either. The Gators held seven opponents to 24 or fewer points. Although some of those teams clearly were overmatched, the list also included Tennessee, Auburn and Florida State.
Eight starters are returning from that unit. A team with that many returning starters should improve. Besides, end Derrick Harvey was the only starter of significance that was lost (sorry, Tony Joiner), and that position figures to be sound with Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap.
The Gators need better play at defensive tackle, and the cornerback spot opposite Joe Haden is a concern. However, Florida's defense should be better. With all that breakaway talent on offense, the Gators won't have to be dominant defensively to contend for a championship.
I feel like Purdue football has been on the constant downfall since the end of the Drew Brees era. How do you think the Boilermakers can rebound and become a respectable program again? Is Curtis Painter really a solid NFL prospect? What kind of season do you feel the Boilermakers will have this year?
— Pete in West Lafayette, Ind. -----
Gosh, Pete, I think Purdue is respectable now. I mean, back-to-back eight win seasons isn't bad.
But I know what you're saying. When Brees was Purdue's starting quarterback, the Boilermakers finished tied for second in the Big Ten in 1998 and tied for the championship in 2000, when they made only their second Rose Bowl appearance.
Since then, the Boilers tied for second in 2003, but finished between fourth and eighth every other season, including tied for seventh last season.
Maybe Big Ten defensive coaches have gotten better at containing Joe Tiller's offensive system. More likely, the players just haven't been as talented. Though Purdue's version of the spread is entertaining, the Boilermakers need to improve their running game and upgrade the defense.
But they have Painter, and that's a definite plus. Painter improved significantly in 2007, when he increased his touchdown passes by seven (to 29) and reduced his interceptions by eight (to 11) while throwing for more than 3,800 yards.
Though not fast, Painter's size (6 feet 3/230), sufficient arm strength and production will ensure he'll get a shot at making an NFL roster. And as long as he's leading the Purdue offense, the Boilermakers have a chance to win.
Still, I'd project Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Illinois as the top teams in the Big Ten. But this is Tiller's final season as coach, and sometimes an emotional team surprises. Maybe that will be the case for Purdue.
Ducks after Dixon
I was wondering what you think about Oregon's chances of competing for a Pac-10 title.
— Daniel in Sacramento -----
I've got to go with USC in the Pac-10. The Trojans have a ton of big-play threats on offense, and their defense projects as one of the best in the country. Plus, they play Oregon, Arizona State and California in LA.
That said (or written, in this case), the race for second in the Pac-10 should be intriguing. I think Oregon will be in the thick of it.
The Ducks have a good offensive line, and the defense – with All-American candidates at end in Nick Reed and safety in Patrick Chung among seven returning starters – should be good. The question is whether the Ducks can replace the production of tailback Jonathan Stewart and quarterback Dennis Dixon.
Nathan Costa, who had surgery to repair a torn ACL last season, has picked up offensive coordinator Chip Kelly's system, but wasn't included in contact drills this spring. Still, he has a good chance to win the starting job over Justin Roper, who stepped in when Dixon was injured and threw four touchdown passes in the Ducks' Sun Bowl rout of South Florida.
Oregon will be a solid team again and has a good chance to at least equal last season's nine victories.
A move is always possible. So is a change of mind or a transfer. Or maybe one of them will be Michigan's next All-American quarterback. Who knows?
Beaver and Newsome, both four-star rated prospects who have committed to the Wolverines, will come in to compete at quarterback. Beaver has been recruited by some schools as an athlete, so he might be more likely to change positions if that's necessary. The word I hear is that Newsome wants to play quarterback and might not be as open to changing positions.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.