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Before the Fall

Think it's too early to make predictions for 2011? Think again. Around the country, it was a telling spring

While plenty of unanswered questions remain for the some of the nation's most prominent teams, two months of spring scrimmages and intrasquad games did clarify a few important matters heading into the fall. For some programs that meant good news; for others, not so much. Here are five sure things to watch for in 2011.

Alabama will rule the SEC Nine starters are back from the nation's third-ranked scoring defense, including All-America candidates Mark Barron at strong safety and Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw at linebacker. Coach Nick Saban said last month that Hightower, a junior who missed most of 2009 with a torn ACL in his left knee, has finally grown comfortable with the play-calling role he inherited last year from former Butkus winner Rolando McClain. Saban still needs to choose a starting QB, but both sophomore A.J. McCarron, a 6'4", 190-pound pocket passer, and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims, a more moblie thrower, performed well in the spring game.

Virginia Tech's new quarterback is scary Just when the Hokies' grip on the ACC seemed tenuous after the departure of starter Tyrod Taylor, coach Frank Beamer unveiled his latest dual-threat QB: 6'6", 245-pound sophomore Logan Thomas. He's built similarly to Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, but Thomas is more a bulldozer than a breakaway rusher. More important, he has an NFL-ready right arm, and his accuracy and decision making have improved.

Boise State has reloaded Quarterback and returning Heisman finalist Kellen Moore is looking for a new primary target after receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young both went in the NFL draft. Pettis's likely successor, 6'4" sophomore Geraldo Hiwat, has game-breaking potential. A native of Amsterdam who moved to Boise in 2008, he played just one year of football at Capital High, where he was also a standout long jumper on the track team. Hiwat lit up the Broncos' spring game with five catches for 97 yards.

Florida and Texas both have a long way to go After subpar seasons (the Gators went 8--5, the Longhorns 5--7) in which their offenses were stagnant (Florida ranked 83rd in yardage in Division I, while Texas was 88th in scoring), both programs underwent staff makeovers. But former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, now the Gators' offensive coordinator, has inherited a line that looked shaky in the spring game. And in Austin, new offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, formerly of Boise State, must pick a starting QB from among four contenders.

Purdue has a secret weapon It remains to be seen whether the Boilermakers can find the end zone enough to reach their first bowl game in four years, but they should have no problem getting three points when they cross midfield. In the spring scrimmage, senior Carson Wiggs drilled a 67-yard field goal, which would have tied the Division I record had it been an official game. Wiggs, who hit a 59-yarder against Toledo in 2009, was good on five of six tries in the scrimmage, all from at least 42 yards out.

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SEASON PASSERS The Hokies are thrilled by the progress of Thomas (3), while Sims (14) is one of two impressive QBs at 'Bama.



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