Tag:D.J. Woods
Posted on: December 29, 2011 10:40 pm
 

Liberty Bowl Key Matchup



Posted by Chip Patterson


A look at the key matchup that could determine the Liberty Bowl

Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt vs. Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati

Running back Zach Stacy has been the most consistent piece of the Vanderbilt offensive attack all season. Stacy has put together five different 100-yard performances thus far, and will be counted on to stabilize the offense against a stout Cincinnati rushing defense. But the junior running back enters the bowl game with a heightened sense for the goal line, scoring seven of his 13 touchdowns in the final three contests of the regular season.

Lining up opposite of Stacy on the defensive line will be Cincinnati's dominant tackle Derek Wolfe. Wolfe led the Big East with 19.5 tackles for loss and added 9.5 sacks to lead the top ranked defensive unit. With mobile quarterback Jordan Rodgers also in the Vanderbilt backfield, Wolfe and the rest of the Bearcats defensive line will need to get penetration through the offensive line to disrupt the rushing game.

The Commodores have taken after their first-year head coach with a hard-nosed attitude and their success this season has come thanks to a strong rushing attack and much-improved defense. The best way for Cincinnati to make life easy for Zach Collaros, making his first appearance since breaking his ankle on Nov. 14, is to shut down Vanderbilt's rushing attack early and give the senior quarterback plenty of early snaps to find his groove. In order to make that happen, they'll need a big-time performance from Derek Wolfe.

Keep up with all the latest on Vanderbilt and Cincinnati at the Liberty Bowl Pregame

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Posted on: December 29, 2011 10:35 pm
Edited on: December 29, 2011 10:37 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Liberty Bowl

Posted by Chip Patterson

VANDERBILT WILL WIN IF: Zac Stacy and Jordan Rodgers can find success on the ground. One way or another, the Commodores need pick up yards on the ground against a stout Cincinnati defense. The Bearcats rank in the Top 10 nationally in rushing defense, giving up just 92.67 yards per game. But they did not have to face many rushers as strong as Vanderbilt's Zac Stacy, the SEC's third-leading rusher with 1,136 yards this season. Stacy has been reliable all season, and quarterback Jordan Rodgers has shown an impressive ability to make plays with his feet since taking over as the starter midseason. Both Stacy and Rodgers need to get comfortable and produce early, or else the Bearcats will be able to key in on their attack with hopes of holding another opponent under 100 yards rushing.

CINCINNATI WILL WIN IF: They take care of the ball on offense. One of Vanderbilt's strengths has been their ability to create turnovers at opportune times. Improving the turnover margin has been one of the biggest differences between the four-win 2010 squad and the Co-Big East champions this year. The Bearcats' best chance offensively is to stay multiple and stay productive, constantly keeping that Commodores defense on their heels. The unit needs to hit a rhythm and get quarterback Zach Collaros rolling in his first game back since breaking his ankle on Nov. 12. The fastest way to disrupt that rhythm is to end a drive by giving the ball away.

X-FACTOR: Zach Collaros' health. The biggest story heading into this year's Liberty Bowl is also the biggest unknown. Collaros clearly wants to play his final game in a Bearcat uniform, and the Cincinnati staff appears to believe he can give that injured ankle a run. The all-conference senior will likely be able to throw from the pocket, but one of Collaros' greatest strengths is his mobility. How his ankle is able to handle rolling out of the pocket, and possibly scrambling downfield will play a huge role in how aggressively the Vanderbilt defense can bring pressure. If Collaros is a sitting duck in the pocket, it will be a green light for an opportunistic defense to try and create a big play.

Keep up with all the latest on Vanderbilt and Cincinnati at the Liberty Bowl Pregame

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Posted on: May 31, 2011 1:08 pm
Edited on: June 3, 2011 4:14 pm
 

CBSSports.com College Football 100: 70-61

By the Eye on College Football bloggers

To celebrate the (now fewer than) 100 days remaining until the first Saturday of the new college football season, this is the CBSSports.com College Football 100: our countdown of the 2011 season's 100 most influential players, coaches, administrators, venues, or any other related
things in college football. It's like that other "most influential" list, but, you know, more important. Also: it's supposed to be fun. Enjoy.

70. AGENT X, compliance disaster in-waiting, Potentially Everywhere. He's out there right now. Lurking. Ready to provide student-athletes with extra benefits at a moment's notice. "He" is Agent X, the person keeping compliance officers and athletic directors up at night. 2010 saw Agent X burst on the scene as infractions cases at USC, North Carolina and Auburn dominated the headlines. X could be a number of people, from a runner looking to steer kids to a school to an agent hoping to sign players when they eventually head to the NFL to an uncle looking to make a quick buck of the football talents of a kid.

From high school 7-on-7 tournaments to college campuses, the NCAA has taken notice of Agent X as well. They were out in the spring trying to learn more about runners' methods and a few of the major players. Compliance seminars have talked about ways to spot the tell-tale signs. USC, who was impacted by shady third parties as much as any school, hosted a summit designed to come up with way to combat the problem. Agent X is still out there though--and highly liable to pop up in a headline or two sometime, somewhere over the next few months. -- BF

69. DABO SWINNEY. head coach, Clemson.
One of the reasons Swinney was promoted to head coach after Tommy Bowden's mid-season exit in 2008 was his reputation as a stellar recruiter. We saw those skills in action this past February, as the Tigers brought in multiple huge late commitments on Signing Day--enough to bring their class rank all the way up into the Top 10. It always takes a few seasons for a new coach to make the program his own, and this upcoming season could be a pivotal one for Swinney. After 2010's 6-7 record, Swinney swiftly made changes on the coaching staff, most notably bringing in Tulsa offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Morris' fast-paced productive offense hopefully will alter last season's offensive struggles, but much of that will also depend on first-year starting quarterback Tajh Boyd.

The greatest challenge for Swinney in the upcoming season (or two) will be the personnel decisions with so much highly-rated talent coming into Death Valley. With so many players from the ACC being selected in the NFL Draft, the conference has come under fire in recent years for not being able to make the most of their talent while in school. Fans have drooled over Swinney's last two classes, and there will not be an acceptable excuse for another losing season. Swinney was fast to act after 2010 finished, now his decisions will either pay off or crash and burn. At 41, Swinney has a long career ahead of him in college football, but his length of time at Clemson could depend on how the next two to three seasons play out. -- CP

68. JARED CRICK, defensive tackle, Nebraska. It's pretty much impossible to win in a physical conference like the Big Ten without superior line play, so Jared Crick's decision to come back to Nebraska for his senior season bodes very well for the Huskers ... and very poorly for their opponents. Crick, a 6'6", 285-pound beast from Cozad, NE, was second in the Big 12 in sacks and fifth in tackles for loss--both ridiculous numbers for a defensive tackle. He's going to be drawing constant double-teams this season as a result, so look for his teammates up front to have even more opportunities to make plays than usual.

Of course, it's impossible to be a standout defensive tackle at Nebraska and not invite comparisons to Ndamukong Suh, Crick's former teammate. Both are terrifyingly powerful and athletic, and while Crick's production hasn't met Suh's level yet, Suh's junior stats (19 TFL, 7.5 sacks) are only marginally better than Crick's (14.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks). Crick may not meet Suh's senior-year level of performance this season, but that's really only another way of saying he probably won't be a Heisman finalist. Probably. He's a mortal lock for preseason first-team All-Big Ten, at least, and where he goes from there is up to him. -- AJ

67. CASEY PACHALL, quarterback, TCU. There was supposed to be a long, drawn-out battle to replace TCU's departiing quarterback and leader, Andy Dalton. After a few weeks of spring ball however, it was clear that the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Pachall would be the Horned Frogs signal-caller this season. With a strong arm and the ability to move around the pocket, the redshirt sophomore has more physical tools than Dalton did when he became the starter.

The redshirt year is important as it allowed Pachall to learn for a year behind Dalton and then receive some game action as the backup last season. Pachall has just nine career pass attempts -- which has to give you pause if you're a TCU fan -- but head coach Gary Patterson has raved about his performance as much as the typically understated coach can. It will be tough to fill Dalton's shoes after he won 42 games, but TCU believes Pachall will be able to fill them admirably as the school transitions from the Mountain West to the Big East. -- BF

66. 10-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF 9/11,  day of remembrance. The second Saturday of the 2011 season won't be just another college football Saturday. It will be the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Every generation has that one moment in their history they remember for the rest of their lives -- the Kennedy assassination, John Lennon's death, the Challenger explosion -- and while the players on the field this fall were anywhere between the ages of 8 and 13 on that day, they no doubt remember exactly where they were when they first found out about the World Trade Center or the Pentagon.

Much like in 2001, when sports like football and baseball helped restore a sense of normalcy to life in this country, this day's college football will help show how the United States has healed. Obviously much has changed since then, but on this particular Saturday, when we take the time to remember that tragic day and mourn all the lives that were lost, we'll also be able to turn on our televisions and watch a game -- together -- that was played long before 9/11 and will be played for a long time after. -- TF

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65. BRYCE BROWN, running back, Kansas State. Bryce Brown is a name that has been known to college football fans for a few years now, even if he hasn't spent much time on the football field. The nation's No. 1 prospect out of high school in 2009, Brown spent a season in Tennessee before asking to leave and eventually making his way home to Kansas State, where he sat out the 2010 season. Now Brown will find himself in a feature role in Manhattan and will likely be a deciding factor in whether or not Kansas State returns to a bowl game in 2010.

While Daniel Thomas left some big shoes to fill, the Wildcats offense is one that should suit Brown. Bill Snyder loves to run the football and Brown will get plenty of chances to show the Big 12 why he was such a highly rated recruit out of high school. If he can live up to the stars that were attached to his name, Brown could be the difference between another seven-win season in Manhattan or a New Year's Day bowl. -- TF

64. ZACH COLLAROS, quarterback, Cincinnati. When Collaros was the backup quarterback behind Tony Pike, Bearcats fans got to see glimpses of a talented gun-slinger who they believed could continue the success they had experienced under Brian Kelly. And when Collaros finally got the starting job for himself in 2010 under first-year coach Butch Jones, he put together a 2,902-yard, 26-touchdown campaign--good enough to lead the Big East in both categories. Unfortunately for Collaros and Jones, those numbers will not be what is remembered from last season. Instead, Bearcats fans are still on edge from the 4-8 campaign that led to the program's first bowlless season since 2005.

But Collaros shoulders just as much of the blame for last season's struggles as anyone else on the roster. In addition to leading the conference in touchdowns, he also led the conference in interceptions. There was a lot of attention on the struggles of the Bearcats' defense (which allowed 28 points per game), but as the senior starting quarterback of this team the responsibility for Cincinnati's return to the top of the conference will fall on Collaros. He'll have the talent around him to put up big numbers once again (top receiver D.J. Woods returns, and former Tennessee commit Kenbrell Thompkins is now eligible), but a restless fan base will only care about the numbers in the win column in 2011. -- CP

63. STEVE KRAGTHORPE, offensive coordinator, LSU. The mind still boggles: in 2009, just two years removed from a national title and with an attack featuring multiple blue-chip recruits and future draft picks, the Bayou Bengal offense finished dead last in the SEC in total offense. Last. 12th. Sub-Vanderbilt. With his job (quite understandably) on the line, now ex-LSU coordinator Gary Crowton led a revival last year that took the team's total offense ranking in-conference all the way up to ... 11th.

Exit Crowton. And enter Kragthorpe, who arrives on the job with as tricky -- and as pressure-packed -- an assignment as any new assistant in the country. He must streamline Crowton's overstuffed playbook. He must finally produce some consistency out of quarterback Jordan Jefferson, or make the highly-combustible transition to JUCO transfer Zach Mettenberger. He must overhaul a two-minute offense that in recent years has given Chinese fire drills a bad name. In short, he must make the LSU offense something much, much closer to what the LSU offense ought to be ... and if he does, the Tigers' terrifyingly athletic defense should be capable of doing the rest on the road to Atlanta. -- JH

62. BYU'S TELEVISION CONTRACT, independence-driving document, BYU. Why did the Cougars make the unprecedented decision to go football-independent in the era of the superconference? Because whether it's in Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine, there's one thing you'll be able to do in both cities next year: watch BYU. That's the promise of the school's new-found independence and a Mountain West-free media contract that allows unprecedented access to BYU sports across the country. Nearly 140 events will air in high definition on ESPN or the school's own channel BYUtv. The rest will be available online as well as iPads, Xboxes and cellphones.

It's a new era for the school that is one of the few with a true national following. Every football game will be televised and the Cougars will see more exposure than they ever had in the MWC There's still work to be done as school officials responsible look to expand the reach of BYUtv but the promise of Cougar fans being able to finally watch their team without hunting around TV Guide is near. You might have heard about "TV everywhere," but be prepared for BYU everywhere with the new contract. -- BF

61. DENARD ROBINSON, quarterback, Michigan. Denard Robinson hardly needs an introduction. The man known by millions of fans as "Shoelace" set college football afire last year, leading the Big Ten in rushing yardage and rolling up a ridiculous 4,272 yards of total offense--good enough for second in the nation (only Bryant Moniz of pass-wacky Hawaii outpaced him). Robinson's one-man show was a delight to watch, but therein lies the problem: football is not a sport for one-man shows, especially when that man is just 193 pounds. Robinson got dinged up multiple times last season, enough to take him out of some games early, and that hammering's not going to stop any time soon.

Enter, then, incoming head coach Brady Hoke, who quickly named Robinson his starting quarterback but now must find a way to keep Robinson healthy for the span of the season. A tandem with Tate Forcier worked well at times last year, but Forcier has transferred after academic and personal issues. Devin Gardner is still around, but is he good enough to reliably spell Robinson for a few series every week? If not, Robinson's likely going to spend a lot more time in the pocket, and Atlanta Falcons fans who remember Jim Mora Jr.'s experiments in turning Michael Vick into a pocket passer probably have hair standing up on the back of their necks at the thought. No, nobody likes to see the fastest man on the field get the football only to stand still. But nobody likes to see the fastest man on the field get rocked 20 times a game and struggle to get back up, either, and that's the quandary Michigan faces in 2011. -- AJ

The 100 will return here to Eye on CFB tomorrow. Until then, check out Nos. 100-91, 90-81, and 80-71. You can also keep up with the 100 by following us on Twitter.



Posted on: May 5, 2011 4:46 pm
Edited on: May 5, 2011 5:01 pm
 

What I learned this spring: Big East

Posted by Chip Patterson

With all eight teams completed with their spring games, we wrap up spring practice in the
Big East.

CINCINNATI:
For Cincinnati, the goal this spring was to improve defensively. To be more accurate, improving defensively is not just the "goal" but really an "only option for improvement." Second-year head coach Butch Jones needs to prove that 2010's 4-8 campaign was a fluke, or else the Bearcats' fans will begin to wonder whether or not hiring the coach from Central Michigan was the best move. Cincinnati returns all 11 starters from last year's defense that ranked dead last in the Big East in scoring defense and next to last in total defense. But there have been reasons to believe that the same unit can turn around their performance in 2011.

For the first time since most of the active roster arrived on campus, there is no turnover on the defensive staff. For the last three years, the defense has had to spend their spring learning a new system. Instead the defense has been able to spend the spring focusing on fundamentals, while simply reviewing last year's scheme. In theory, this should lead to more development for a unit that struggled to prevent big plays and close out games in the fourth quarter. Offensively, quarterback Zach Collaros has continued to grow more comfortable and looks ready to try and sign his name in the Cincinnati record books. Collaros led the Big East in passing yards and touchdowns last season, and has spent spring focusing on his accuracy (also threw a league-high 14 interceptions). Highly-touted transfer wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins did not get to showcase his full arsenal due to a nagging hamstring this spring, but should make an impact lining up opposite returning starter D.J. Woods. Many of the Bearcats' spring workouts and spring game were based much more on situational drills, which tend to reveal very little about the team as a whole, but the pieces seem to be aligning for a bounce back season for Cincinnati.

CONNECTICUT: New head coach Paul Pasqualoni has quite a challenge ahead trying follow up the most successful season in program history. Unfortunately Pasqualoni, a veteran of the Big East and Connecticut native, has to try and repeat the success with two new coordinators and without the 2010 Big East Offensive MVP Jordan Todman. Wrapping up the spring, it is evident that expectations for repeating as Big East champs should be tempered. However, the Huskies do have the pieces in place to return to the postseason for the fifth straight year.

The Huskies' biggest question marks still exist in the offensive backfield, where a true starting quarterback has yet to be named and USC-transfer D.J. Shoemate is still settling in to a Todman-less rotation. Connecticut finished dead last in passing offense last season, and it will be difficult to improve that aspect of their game without a starter. Michael Box, Scott McCummings, Michael Nebrich, and Johnny McEntee(of YouTube trick-shot fame), are all competing for a premiere spot in the quarterback rotation. The hope is that behind a talented offensive line Shoemate will be able to get the running game going against a weak early season schedule, allowing whoever wins the job some time to get comfortable.

Defensively, Connecticut should be fine heading into the fall. They are under the direction of new defensive coordinator Don Brown, who's defensive unit at Maryland forced 29 turnovers last season -- good for third in the ACC. The Huskies return their entire defensive line and secondary, and that experience could anchor a unit that could end up being one of the better defenses in the conference.

LOUISVILLE: It was very difficult to learn anything about Louisville this spring due to a roster that was decimated by injury. By the end of spring practice, head coach Charlie Strong was left with only 38 healthy scholarship players on the roster. Fourteen of the injured players took no part in spring drills, the rest were injured during workouts. For a team that is looking to replace 13 departed starters on the offensive and defensive units, it was a frustrating spring of indecision.

Most of the starting jobs are wide open in the Louisville depth chart, but junior Will Stein was able to use the spring to create some separation in the quarterback competition. Stein has already gotten a vote of confidence from Strong, and the high school state champion has waited patiently behind Justin Burke and Adam Froman for his opportunity to start under center. Cardinals fans entered spring salivating over early enrollee Teddy Bridgewater, but practice showed that the top-rated dual threat quarterback in the nation still has some learning to do before getting the keys to the offense. Stein completed 10 of 17 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the spring "game," but Strong was most pleased that there were zero interceptions. The starting quarterback's primary responsibility is to manage the game, as the Cardinals offense will once again rely on their running game in 2011.

But with Bilal Powell gone, the responsibility will fall on Jeremy Wright and Victor Anderson to replicate the best rushing offense in the Big East last year. Wright demonstrated his explosive potential in his freshman season, and Anderson was a 1,000 yard rusher in 2008 before shoulder injuries kept him limited in 2009 and 2010. Wright missed spring workouts with a knee injury, but Anderson enjoyed one of his best springs of his career. If the duo can be healthy at the same time, they could form one of the most dangerous rushing tandems in the conference.

PITTSBURGH: Another team entering the 2011 season with a new coach, the Panthers are not afraid to promote their new brand of "high-octane" football under head coach Todd Graham. Just a quick click over to the newly redesigned GoPittFootball.com should give just a taste of the kind of what Pittsburgh fans are hoping for out of the program's newest era. Graham comes to the Panthers fresh off a productive year at Tulsa, where his offense ranked 5th nationally in total offense with 505.6 yards per game. Dave Wannstedt had an awkward exit with his firing/forced resignation, particularly when he obviously still had the support of the team. But the squad seems to have embraced the new staff, and Graham believes that Pitt can be back in Big East title contention in 2011.

Learning the new offense has been the most important task for returning quarterback Tino Suneri. The junior signal-caller was inconsistent throughout 2010, finishing the season with 16 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. The son of Sal Sunseri, currently a linebackers coach at Alabama, Sunseri quickly acclimated himself with the new scheme and has finished the spring as the undisputed starting quarterback. In Pittsburgh's Blue-Gold game, Sunseri lit the rainy skies on fire tossing the ball 55 times (37 completions) for 416 yards and a pair of touchdowns. While the Sunseri will likely put up big numbers this fall in the new spread scheme, the offense has no plans of abandoning the run. Ray Graham returns from a strong sophomore campaign, picking up 922 yards and 8 touchdowns while sharing snaps with Dion Lewis. This year he'll be joined by Desmond Brown in the backfield, who was the leading rusher in the spring game with 64 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. Defensively, Pittsburgh has also been adapting to changes with defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. Patterson has been a longtime Graham assistant, and knows that the offense will dominate the headlines. But with spring practice in the bag, Patterson seems pleased with what he has seen out of the unit - particularly the defensive line.

"That front group has a chance to do some special things," Patterson said. "I feel really good about all those guys and what they are capable of. I think in our shceme they are going to be able to make a lot of plays against both the run and the pass."

Pittsburgh's defense will feature three down lineman, with a fourth "Panther linebacker" on the line of scrimmage upright on most downs. The Panthers have several athletic defenders who could fill this position, one early guess is Brandon Lindsey - who led the team with 17.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 2010. If the defense can force some turnovers to give the offense good field position, one of the Panthers' strengths could be putting teams away early. In the Big East, which is short on big-name, gun-slinging quarterbacks, that could be a huge advantage.

RUTGERS: Of all the teams looking to bounce back in 2011, Rutgers probably has the farthest climb to return to the prominence that led to five straight postseason appearances from 2005-2009. The Scarlet Knights return 17 starters from last year's 4-8 squad, and they are still one of the youngest teams in the league. Head coach Greg Schiano has some of the exact same concerns heading into the new season, though he has stressed that he feels like this squad has grown this spring.

"Fundamentally we made significant improvement, and I think we grew a little with our confidence," Schiano explained following the Scarlet-White spring game. "This summer is going to be critical as it is every summer, but probably more so than any summer we've had here.

"The youngsters have to get tougher, they have to get more disciplined, they have to get more consistent. And again, this summer will be huge."

One of the biggest concerns is on the offensive line. Last season the Scarlet Knights were dead last in Division I in sacks allowed, letting the quarterback drop a whopping 61 times. Sophomore quarterback Chas Dodd has grown more comfortable in the pro-style scheme of new coordinator Frank Cignetti. But Dodd's supposed comfort and improvement in spring could all change when the non-contact jersey comes off in September. If the offensive line shows an about-face in 2011, the Scarlet Knights have talented (but young) skill position players who could help take Rutgers back to the postseason.

All spring the reports from Piscataway have been praising the work of redshirt freshman Brandon Coleman. The 6-6 wide receiver entered Rutgers with high expectations, but any doubters have been silenced since he took the field this spring. Coleman put on a show for the 21,120 in attendance for the spring game with a 78 yard, two touchdown performance. Maybe he was setting the standard for another touted underclassmen who was watching from the sidelines, incoming freshman running back Savon Huggins. The No. 1 recruit in the state of New Jersey, Huggins was a signing day steal that invigorated the Rutgers fan base. He has not even received his high school diploma, but he already carries expectations from a fan base that pines for the next Ray Rice. But again, Huggins will have virtually no chance to showcase his talents without some help from the offensive line. If the Scarlet Knights are going to get back to the postseason, they still have some growing to do before September.

SOUTH FLORIDA: South Florida was the first team in the Big East to wrap up spring practice, holding their final scrimmage almost a month ago. It was an awkward spring schedule, getting started early and having to dance around conflicts for Raymond-James Stadium, but at the conclusion the Bulls appear to be about in the same position as they were a year ago. The Bulls averaged a 7-point margin of defeat and 4-point margin of victory in league play last season, making their season this close to magical and that close to disastrous. Still, head coach Skip Holtz was able to get USF back to the postseason and pull down a bowl victory - the Bulls' third in a row.

South Florida's time in the Big East could be categorized as "good-but-not-great." They have made a bowl every year (4-2 record), but never finished higher than tied for third in the league standings. At the end of spring practice the Bulls look good, but still have some work to do to reach greatness. Starting quarterback B.J. Daniels returns for junior season behind an inexperienced offensive line with a set of receivers that have been less than impressive. But similar to 2010, the playmaking ability of the offensive backfield will make South Florida a threat against most defenses in the league. Demetris Murray returns at running back after picking up 533 yards and four touchdowns as a backup to Moise Plancher a year ago. He will be joined by a pair of transfers, Darrell Scott (Colorado) and Dontae Aycock (Auburn). Both backs are larger than the 5-10, 206 pound Murray, and should compliment his style well. Scott finished the spring listed as the No. 2 running back, despite being setback by a nagging hamstring injury. Defensively the Bulls return six starters from a unit that, in typical Bulls fashion, stacks up right in the middle of the conference. They lose some run-stoppers on the defensive line, but the coaching staff has been pleased with the unit as a whole - particularly the linebackers. If the Bulls are going to go from good to great in 2011, they will need to focus on developing their wide receivers more this summer. Otherwise it might be another vanilla bowl game season for South Florida.

SYRACUSE: Coming into the spring, my one question for Syracuse was how head coach Doug Marrone planned to repeat the success of 2010 with so many playmakers missing from that Pinstripe Bowl-winning squad. But with spring practice in the books, it seems like the Orange are prepared to prove that last season was not a fluke - but the beginning of a new chapter in Syracuse football. The Orange jumped out to strong start last season with solid defense and running the ball. With all-Big East linebackers Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith gone, the responsibility has fallen on sophomore Marquis Spruill to anchor that corps as he makes the move to middle linebacker. Marrone believes that the strengths in the defense this season will be with the defensive ends and safeties. Seniors Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich will begin as starters, but expect to see a good amount of junior Brandon Sharpe as well after a strong spring. In the defensive backfield Phillip Thomas and Shamarko Thomas return as starting safeties while corners Keon Lyn and Ri'Shard Anderson both earned high praise for their efforts during the spring.

Offensively the number one question is how to replace Delone Carter. The 1,233 yard rusher from 2010 carried the Orange on his back when Ryan Nassib and the passing game sputtered, carrying the ball at least 18 times in eight different games. Antwon Bailey was exceptional as Carter's backup, but some people wonder whether the 5-7 running back can be an "every-down back." Bailey will be backed up by another speedster, the 5-9 Prince-Tyson Gulley. Orange fans are hoping that an improved passing game will help alleviate that pressure, and that responsibility falls on Nassib. Luckily, the offensive line returns 4 of 5 starters from last year and redshirt senior tight end Nick Provo showed his ability as a big, reliable target for when Nassib gets in trouble. The players claim that last year's success has changed the attitude this spring, and now they have a new belief in themselves. Talk is great in March and April, but we'll check back in on these guys in August.

WEST VIRGINIA:
The Mountaineers fell one game short of returning to a BCS bowl game in 2010, after an inability to score led to two early season conference losses. The Mountaineers offense eventually got going, finishing the regular season with at least 35 points in 3 of 4 straight victories. So in the interest of preparing for the future, and ensuring offensive stability, athletic director Oliver Luck arranged for the arrival of Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen. His impact has been obvious and immediate on the West Virginia offense, with quarterback Geno Smith falling comfortably into Holgorsen's spread system from day one. Smith finished the spring by throwing for 388 yards and four touchdowns in the spring game. Even against a talented Mountaineer defense, Smith was able to connect with his wide receivers for 44, 67, and a 38 yard touchdown pass. Holgorsen plans on supplying Smith with a deep rotation of running backs and receivers, pushing the ball horizontally and vertically. If Smith continues to improve on his already hot start in the new system, the Mountaineers should have no problem scoring the ball against the Big East defenses.

Defensively it is hard to make judgements based on performance against their own offense, but West Virginia does still have some work to do in the secondary. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has admitted he is already anxious to get back to camp, particularly after seeing how the unit performed in the spring game. The unit only returns four starters from last year, with defensive line likely being the Mountaineers strength. In Casteel's 3-3-5 scheme, the pressure is on the secondary to be everywhere on the field at once. Despite a wealth of athleticism at that position, there is still plenty of gelling left for the unit. But if the offense is putting up 30+ points per game (which they may), it should give the defense some time to come together before conference play begins.

Posted on: April 14, 2011 3:42 pm
Edited on: April 14, 2011 3:47 pm
 

Big East Spring Game Watch (April 15-16)

Posted by Chip Patterson

This weekend, five of the eight Big East teams will wrap up their spring practice with an annual spring game. Some teams will engage in game-like scenarios in front of thousands of onlookers, while other teams will engage in a more “drill-centric” display for their eager fans. Regardless of the setup, there are always pertinent questions to be answered whenever a team takes the field competitively. Here are your things to watch in the Big East spring games April 15-16.

Cincinnati - 5:30 p.m. Nippert Stadium
The Cincinnati Bearcats have claimed to be “all in” with head coach Butch Jones heading into his second season, and Saturday will be a chance to prove it to the public in “Bearcat Bowl V.” There won't be many new faces on the field for the Bearcats, with 18 starters returning from 2010's squad. One aspect worth keeping an eye on will be the performance of Cincinnati's secondary against the first-team offense. Quarterback Zach Collaros , a unanimous All-Big East first-team selection, not only gets D.J. Woods back at receiver but also junior college transfer Kenbrell Thompkins . Thompkins was a high-profile recruit committed to Tennessee before Lane Kiffin's departure. The Bearcats were burned through the air often last season, and some of the best competition around will be wearing the same jersey.

Connecticut - 5:00 p.m. Rentschler Field
Veteran coach Paul Pasqualoni has taken a more laid back approach to spring practice than some of his colleagues, but he believes it will pay off. As opposed to keeping things out of the spotlight, Pasqualoni has made the Huskies spring workouts as open as possible. The result has been a host of high school coaches at nearly every practice. The new coaching staff seems comfortable with the personnel, and the players have responded positively as well. Pasqualoni plans to showcase all aspects of the team, so more than anything it will be a glimpse of the Connecticut future. Even in the Fiesta Bowl the Huskies’ roster was filled with names unknown to the average college football fan, let’s see if any stand out on Saturday.

Louisville - 7 p.m. Friday, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium
A little bit of everything. Head coach Charlie Strong has kept spring practice closed to media and the public, making Friday night’s scrimmage both a first and last look at the Cardinals until fall practice. Unfortunately, even Friday’s look won’t be anywhere close to the lineup that Strong hopes to have on the field in September. As of Thursday morning, 22 different Cardinals were sitting out of workouts because of injury or rehabilitation. The situation has gotten so bad that they were forced to hold practice at 5:30 a.m. in order to accommodate the class schedules of the few healthy offensive linemen. The injuries also will restrict the activity in Friday night’s Spring Game, which will be exclusively be an offense/defense scrimmage-type format.

Pittsburgh - 2 p.m. Heinz Field
New coach Todd Graham has elected to run more of a “true football game” than the offense-defense structure of past spring games. Graham plans to kickoff at least twice, and run at least 60 offensive plays for the Blue and Gold teams. The thought is that the competitive environment will be the best test for players who are still getting used to a new systems and schemes. Not to mention, the 11-man scrimmage should provide for much more entertainment than some of the slow-paced situational scrimmages elsewhere. Even running back Ray Graham said that the Panthers have been treating this like a “game week” and look forward to showing their stuff to the coaches and fans on Saturday.

Syracuse - 11 a.m. Carrier Dome
Similar to Pittsburgh, Syracuse will be mixing up their spring game format this year. For the first time in 20 years the Orange will divide into two teams and conduct a game-like scrimmage, only with limited special teams. The scrimmage will be made of up four, 12-minute quarters with regular officials. The format should give fans a good opportunity to see who the next crop of defensive playmakers will be, as the Orange look to replace Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith. Spring practice has had some extra enthusiasm coming off the 8-5 season, we’ll see how much of that energy is present in a mostly-empty Carrier Dome at 11 in the morning.


Posted on: April 7, 2011 5:15 pm
Edited on: April 7, 2011 5:27 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Cincinnati

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Cincinnati , who started spring practice last Tuesday.


Can Butch Jones and Cincinnati prove that 2010 was just a fluke, and get back on track in 2011

When Brian Kelly left Cincinnati, he had the Bearcats sitting high and mighty. Coming off three-straight 10+ win seasons and back-to-back Big East titles, the thought was that new head coach Butch Jones was walking into to a dream setup. Jones, a promising young coach from Central Michigan, had succeeded Kelly at his previous job as well. He took the Chippewas to three straight postseason appearances and finished 2009 ranked 25th in the final AP Poll.

But Jones did not enter the season without doubters. With only three years of head coaching experience, Bearcats fans were worried that Jones might not be ready for a job of this magnitude yet. From a program standpoint, finishing 2010 4-8 after Kelly's success is either a fluke or disaster. Jones' job beginning in spring practice will be to prove that last season was the former rather than the latter.

Cincinnati returns all eleven defensive starters from 2010's squad. Normally, that would be an immediate sign of good things to come. But with the Bearcats' defensive performance in 2010, it only serves as a starting point for improvement this spring. Cincinnati ranked dead last in scoring defense (28.0 points per game), and next to last in total defense (369.4 yards per game). But the defense will not magically improve just by being a year older, they need to begin improving as a unit this spring.

One thing working in their advantage is another year with the same staff and scheme. Co-coordinators Tim Banks and John Jancek are back, and it will be the first time in three seasons the defense has not had to adjust to a new defensive coordinator. The front line should be strong, as evidence by Cincinnati's (relative) success against the run last season. But the secondary still is a point of major concern for Jones. In 2010 the secondary gave up 234 yards per game through the air, ranking dead last in the Big East. Keep an eye on junior college transfer Malcom Murray, who will get to see some time at safety this spring with Wes Richardson sitting out with an injury. Jones also is hoping that an open competition among a handful of corners will breed development that should benefit the position heading into fall practice.

Offensively the Bearcats aren't as stacked with returning starters, but there are enough key pieces returning and new additions to expect little drop-off from last year's production. Cincinnati did lead the conference last season with 417.3 yards per game of total offense. Much of that success can be credited to senior quarterback Zach Collaros. Collaros led the Big East in passing yardage and touchdowns last season, and was unanimously selected to all-Big East first team. On paper, not a bad finish for Collaros' first full season as a starter, except for 14 interceptions and that 4-8 record. As a senior Collaros must not only improve his own turnover count, but become a leader for this offense and this team. Leadership is one of the things that many have felt the Bearcats lacked in 2010, and that can not be changed alone by a second-year coach. Collaros was on the roster for the peak of Cincinnati football, and he knows what it will take to get back into Big East title contention.

Collaros loses one of his primary weapons from a season ago, but gains a few new pieces that have turned some heads so far this spring. Gone is Armon Binns, the first-team all-conference wide receiver who was the only 1,000 yard wideout in the Big East. But back is D.J. Woods, the big-play threat who finished second in the conference right behind Binns with 898 yards on the season. But the receiver who has been making a strong impression so far this spring is Kenbrell Thompkins. Thompkins was a JUCO transfer originally signed with Lane Kiffin at Tennessee. When Kiffin left, so did Thompkins. Now after sitting out last year it is time for him to live up to the hype. Most observations from practice thus far make it sound like he is doing just that.

The Bearcats offense also gets Isaiah Pead returning at running back. Pead saw an increase in his workload in 2010, and responded with his first 2010 season. Like Collaros, he was on the roster for both Big East titles and will be a crucial extension of the coaching staff in the locker room. But one of the biggest stories this spring on offense is the return of (now) tight end Travis Kelce from his one suspension.

Formerly a defensive end, Kelce has been turning heads since making the move to tight end in the offseason. Kelce, a 6-foot-6, 252 pound junior, was recruited to Cincinnati as a quarterback to join his older brother Jason -- the Bearcats' starting center in 2010. Kelce ran the Wildcat occasionally in 2009, but was suspended for a year just before the Sugar Bowl for an off-field issue. Kelce spent the entire 2010 regular season as a member of the scout team, awaiting his return to the Bearcats.

 “He came to work every day,” Jones said of Kelce's efforts while suspended. “It’s hard for an individual when they know that they’re not going to be playing and it seems like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. A lot of times they’ll pace themselves and go through the motions. He was one of the individuals that brought it every day on the scout team. He was extremely competitive and I thought he made the most of his situation.”

Kelce has been described by his teammates as a "freak." He is physical, fast, and the coaching staff has been complimenting his ability to block and use his hands. He has honed skills all over the field, playing that defensive end position while on the scout team last season. Now making the move to tight end, Kelce has the possibility to be a nightmare for opposing defenses. Even scarier? Coach Jones has not ruled out the possibility of using Kelce on the defensive end.

"Travis can be a weapon," Jones said. "He can do so many things. When we feel comfortable with him, we may cross train him to be a third-down specialist at the defensive end position."

Attention will be paid on all aspects of the Cincinnati team this spring. Normally falling from 12-1 to 4-8 would be grounds for a coaching change, and Jones knows that. Many of the players have admitted that they didn't quite buy into the new coaching staff last year, but after watching the disastrous results they have no choice. The players must buy into the toughness and attention to detail being preached in spring practice. With so many returning starters there is little learning curve necessary, and Cincinnati should be able to improve quickly. However, it also means there is less room for excuses should the win column not improve as well.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com