Posted on: September 7, 2011 5:02 pm
Edited on: September 7, 2011 5:05 pm
Posted by Chip Patterson
For the first time since the conference's formation in 1991, every Big East team won on the opening weekend of the college football season. A lot of teams in FBS AQ conferences choose the opening to schedule an FCS or inferior team to ease into the schedule, but rarely can a conference kick off the season undefeated.
A majority of the Big East slate was similar to that formula, but the conference's undefeated record occurred as a result of thrilling victories over an ACC opponent (Wake Forest)and a ranked Notre Dame squad. The conference has been defending themselves against national criticism all offseason after finishing 2010 with no teams ranked in the Top 25. Now heading into Week 2 the Big East's 8-0 conference record will be tested against a much more difficult slate. If Week 1 was a celebration of the Big East's promising future, Week 2 might be more of a reality check.
There are four games on the Big East schedule which will threaten/end the league's undefeated streak:
1) Cincinnati at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m. Saturday - After an embarrassing 4-8 campaign in Butch Jones' first season, the Bearcats put on a show jumping out to a 41-0 halftime lead against Austin Peay. By the time the damage was done Cincinnati had more points than any FBS team, defeating their Ohio Valley Conference opponent 72-10. Traveling to Neyland Stadium to face the Vols will present a very different challenge, and possibly a different outcome for the Bearcats. Cincinnati's secondary was one of the worst in the nation a year ago, and they will quickly get one of their most difficult challenges on the schedule with Tyler Bray and the receiving duo of Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. Don't be surprised to see a shootout in Knoxville here, but unless the Bearcats defense steps up and creates some turnovers I'd guess the Vols emerge victorious.
2) Rutgers at North Carolina, 12:30 p.m. Saturday - Last season the Scarlet Knights had a 10-0 lead over the winless Tar Heels before the Tar Heels battled back and eventually escaped New Jersey with a 17-13 win. But without Tom Savage under center to throw a late game interception, Scarlet Knights fans are hoping that Chas Dodd can exact revenge against their annual non-conference opponent. North Carolina also has a new quarterback this year in sophomore Bryn Renner. Renner set an ACC record in the Tar Heels' opener by completing 22 of his 23 passes, with an interception as his only incompletion. The Tar Heels offensive line kept Renner's jersey clean, and getting into the backfield will be a key for the Rutgers front line. The Scarlet Knights are not favored in this matchup, and a victory would be huge for another team trying to make up for an uncharacteristic 2010 season.
3) Florida International at Louisville, 7:00 p.m. Friday - FIU has been slowly climbing up the ranks of the Sun Belt Conference, and last season joined the perennially dominant Troy at the top of the final standings. All-purpose threat T.Y. Hilton will be a challenge to contain, especially after seeing Louisville give up 143 yards on the ground against Murray State. The Panthers will be hungry for the upset on the national stage Friday night, and the onus will be on the Louisville defense to match that speed and intensity for four quarters. On offense the Cardinals will have an advantage over the Panthers defense, but they cannot afford to turn the ball over four times like they did in the opener. This should be a very competitive game, and I would not be shocked if the Panthers pulled the upset.
4) Connecticut at Vanderbilt, 7:30 p.m. Saturday - The Huskies still haven't decided on a starting quarterback, or even a two-quarterback rotation. Running back Lyle McCombs looked strong in the absence of projected starter DJ Shoemate, rushing for 141 yards and four touchdowns in the opener against Fordham. But Vanderbilt presents a very different caliber of opposition. That matchup will pit Commodores head coach James Franklin (former Maryland offensive coordinator) against his 2010 Maryland counterpart Don Brown, now the defensive coordinator at Connecticut. Franklin has stated that he's willing to take risks on offense, and Brown has been known for his aggressive blitzing schemes. While it certainly won't be a marquee matchup to steal headlines, this SEC-Big East showdown should at least be interesting for those involved. This game will probably come down until the fourth quarter, but I'm giving Vanderbilt the advantage due to Connecticut's uncertain personnel.
Tags: Austin Peay, Big East, Bryn Renner, Charlie Strong, Chas Dodd, Chip Patterson, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Da'Rick Rogers, DJ Shoemate, Don Brown, FIU, James Franklin, Justin Hunter, Lyle McCombs, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Rutgers, South Florida, Syracuse, T.Y. Hilton, Tennessee, Tyler Bray, Wake Forest
Posted on: August 8, 2011 2:29 pm
Edited on: August 8, 2011 3:39 pm
Posted by Chip Patterson
UPDATE: Robbi Pickeral, who authored the initial News and Observer report, says that UNC has received the information request from the lawyers of the football boosters. School still has no official comment.
Things got even crazier on Monday in the ongoing drama that has become the North Carolina football program. According to a local report, a group of North Carolina football boosters who agreed to help fund a recent Kenan Stadium expansion are exploring possible legal action against chancellor Holden Thorp.
The identities of the boosters involved has not been made public, but one of the attorneys representing the group told the Raleigh News and Observer he plans to file a public information request asking for all correspondence between the Chancellor and other school officials.
Don Brown, of Charlotte, N.C., is one of five lawyers (all UNC graduates) that have taken the case pro bono. For the first time in the stadium's 84 year history, both end zones are now bowled in thanks to the construction of the "Carolina Student-Athlete Center for Excellence." The new service building for the athletic department also brought 2,980 new seats, a club level, and suites that can be priced at $50,000 per year. There have been reports that donors have asked for refunds since Butch Davis' dismissal, which were denied.
"I can tell you, everybody that we represent is furious about the timing of Butch Davis' firing," Brown told the News and Observer in a phone interview. "They feel like their investment was based on Butch Davis being the head coach…and the public reassurances over the past year that he would remain the coach…They want answers."
A UNC spokesman said that as of 11:30 a.m. on Monday the school had received no FOIA request, and there is no official comment on the issue.
The group of enraged boosters is said to be of different contribution levels, and it is not clear exactly what they hope to gain from pursuing legal action. Brown emphasized in his interview with the News and Observer that they are only "seeking information" right now. One recent precedent was Connecticut booster Robert Burtonwho asked for his $3 million back from the school and requested to have his name taken off the Burton Family Football Complex. After causing quite a public stir, Burton and the school were eventually back on good terms and no drastic action was taken. The legalities of donations (particularly ones earmarked for a project like the Blue Zone) could get particularly hairy and difficult to reclaim in a court of law. It could be argued that this is a case of upset boosters, who simply do not know another way to fire back at an administration which they feel has wronged them.
Posted on: May 5, 2011 4:46 pm
Edited on: May 5, 2011 5:01 pm
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.
Tags: Antwon Bailey, B.J. Daniels, Big East, Bill Stewart, Butch Jones, Charlie Strong, Chas Dodd, Cincinnati, Connecticut, D.J. Woods, Dana Holgorsen, Darrell Scott, Delone Carter, Demetrius Murray, Desmond Brown, Don Brown, Doug Marrone, Frank Cignetti, Geno Smith, Greg Schiano, Kenbrell Thompkins, Louisville, Marcus Sales, Oliver Luck, Paul Pasqualoni, Pittsburgh, Ray Graham, Rutgers, Ryan Nassib, Skip Holtz, South Florida, Syracuse, Tino Sunseri, Todd Graham, Victor Anderson, What I Learned, What I Learned This Spring, Will Stein, Zach Collaros
Posted on: May 2, 2011 6:13 pm
Edited on: May 2, 2011 6:19 pm
Posted by Chip Patterson
With all six spring games completed, we wrap up spring practice in the ACC Atlantic Division.
BOSTON COLLEGE: One of the things that became increasingly evident this spring was how much the Eagles have riding on running back Montel Harris going into the 2011 season. Harris tore his lateral meniscus in Boston College's ACC finale against Virginia and missed the rest of the season after undergoing surgery. Even missing the last game, Harris finished second in the ACC with 1,242 yards. After one carry in Boston College's spring game (which really is more of an offense-defense scrimmage), Harris was taken out for "precautionary measures."
All spring, the Eagles' foremost concern has been the health of their prized running back, as it should be. Boston College's muddled quarterback situation does not provide a whole lot of confidence in the passing game. Chase Rettig has likely emerged spring as the starter, taking significantly more reps near the end of the practice than Dave Shinskie, and Mike Marscovetra. Rettig emerged as a freshman in 2010 and finished the season as the starter. But his 6 touchdowns to 9 interceptions on the season hardly secured him the gig for 2011. But after completing 20-of-29 passes for 182 yards in the spring game, popular belief is that Rettig will be the starter in the fall. Boston College's greatest asset still is their defense, which will be highlighted once again by Kevin Pierre Louis and Luke Kuechly, who was recently got named to the Lott Trophy Watch list.
CLEMSON: With Kyle Parker off with the Colorado Rockies for good, this spring was the time for former backup Tajh Boyd to take command of this team. The obstacle he faced heading into practice was doing it with a brand new offensive coordinator. Since taking over under Todd Morris' new system Boyd has been consistent in his effort and leadership, just inconsistent on performance. In the Tigers' spring game Boyd looked out of rhythm with his receivers, completing only 8 of 24 passes for 114 yards. Head coach Dabo Swinney hopes that Boyd will be pushed by backup quarterback Cole Stoudt, but Boyd has been the man in charge of Morris' new offense - which is reportedly only about 60% installed.
The new up-tempo offense could benefit the Tigers in the ACC, particularly with the athletes they have at the skill positions. If the spring game was any measure, Clemson should see a significant increase in their play count per game. The scheme has proven to put up big numbers, but it relies about as evenly on the run game as the passing game. Luckily the Tigers are well equipped at running back. Andre Ellington returns after collecting 686 yards and 10 touchdowns in just eight games of action before suffering a season-ending toe injury. Sitting out of spring drills, Clemson fans got a good look at his backups and - what should be - a very deep running back position. Demont Buice (18 carries, 102 yards), Roderick McDowell (12 carries, 100 yards), and D.J. Howard (11 carries, 97 yards) all had strong showings in the spring game and should make for an interesting competition once camp opens in the fall. Defensively one big surprise was the emergence of Corey Crawford. The 6-5, 275-pound early enrollee has raised eyebrows all spring, and figures to already be a part of the defensive end rotation in the fall. Wearing Da'Quan Bowers' No. 93, Crawford appears to be taking the responsibility of upholding the legacy of Bowers and the late Gaines Adams.
FLORIDA STATE: Without a doubt, the Seminoles exit the spring as a favorite to repeat as Atlantic Division Champions in 2011. With the talent returning from last year's squad and the rise of junior quarterback E.J. Manuel, head coach Jimbo Fisher has Tallahassee buzzing once again about brining the ACC title home to where it started. Florida State won in the inaugural ACC title game in 2005, and the closest they have come since then was last year's 44-33 defeat to Virginia Tech.
The hype set the bar high, but spring practice posed a different set of challenges for Fisher and his staff. The Seminoles had seven starters miss practice due to injury, so the coaches used much of the spring to sort out depth issues. The offensive line is a bit of a concern for Fisher, as they have had to do some shuffling in order to fill out the line and establish some depth. The coaches were pleased with Manuel's spring as a whole, but the junior quarterback struggled in Florida State's well-attended spring game. Fisher has said that he is mostly concerned with Manuel's development as a leader at this point, and did not seem to think much of his spring game outing.
"He was frustrated but I got more out of him today because we struggled and he didn't have a good day," Fisher said following the game. "At the end of the day we had a chance to make plays and we made a few plays."
Many of the injuries were on the defensive end, but with all of those players getting back to 100% before training camp it should not play a major factor in the Seminoles' readiness for the season. If there is any "red-flag" from spring practice it would be a fear of complacency. There were several early practices that led Fisher to criticize his team's speed and toughness. Florida State cannot afford to be slow-starting in 2011 if they truly plan on competing for a National Championship. With Oklahoma visiting Tallahassee on Sept. 13, the Seminoles need to be competing in midseason form from the first day of camp. If Florida State is "going through the motions" at the beginning of the season, the Sooners will be a rude wake-up call after Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern.
MARYLAND: There will be no surprises this year with sophomore quarterback Danny O'Brien. After being named the 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year, O'Brien's development has not been slowed due to the coaching changes at Maryland. In fact, the new system installed by former LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton has the players feeling like there could be even more passing in 2011. O'Brien took advantage of the vanilla scrimmage coverages in the spring game, completing 16 of 23 passes for 199 yards and a pair of touchdowns. New head coach Randy Edsall is very excited about the rotation of wide receivers taking shape, with Ronnie Tyler, Kevin Dorsey, and Quintin McCree all having strong springs.
With defensive coordinator Don Brown leaving to take the position at Connecticut, Maryland's defense has spent most of the spring trying to learn a new system. Edsall promoted assistant coach Todd Bradford to the position in mid-February, and the newness of the change seems to still be setting in for the players. Brown's system carried lots of blitzing packages and multiple looks, the players say Bradford's relies more on coverage responsibility. Maryland's defense is experienced, but they are still a little slow getting on the same page at this point.
NC STATE: What I learned this spring is that head coach Tom O'Brien's word at N.C. State is firm and unwavering. O'Brien told Russell Wilson that if he wanted to be the starting quarterback in 2011 he needed to stay with the team instead of playing minor league baseball in the offseason. Even when Wilson, an All-ACC quarterback and 2010 Champs Sports Bowl MVP, asked O'Brien if he could return in August - O'Brien said no. So now the reigns are officially in the hands of Mike Glennon, the highly-recruited younger brother of former Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon. Glennon, a redshirt junior, checks out on paper as a strong candidate for the Wolfpack starting job. The only thing that he lacks is actual game experience. The problem is that with Wilson's departure to continue football elsewhere (as opposed to sticking with professional baseball) will have an effect on the fan base's expectations from Glennon. Glennon did not have a great outing in N.C. State's shortened spring game (inclement weather), and it will be important for his confidence to get some early wins in the fall.
N.C. State lost leading rusher Mustafa Greene to injury during spring practice, but he is expected to be back in time for fall practice. Greene emerged as the answer to one of the big question marks in 2010, and he will be leaned on to help Glennon get comfortable in the starting position. This year it has been the wide receiver position that was not addressed this spring, as T.J. Graham leads a crop of wideouts that lack experience in game situations. Wolfpack fans are hoping for another Greene-type situation out of the position next fall. The linebacking corps will be strong point once again for N.C. State, led by Terrell Manning and Audi Cole. Cole moves over to Nate Irving's position of middle linebacker, and while the transition has not been easy the coaching staff seems pleased with his progress and potential heading into the new season.
WAKE FOREST: We knew that Wake Forest had a long way to go to improve on last year's frustrating 3-9 season. With spring practice in the books, the Demon Deacons still are a ways away from the squad that was competing among the ACC elite a half-decade ago. Head coach Jim Grobe often mentioned how inexperience played a factor in 2010's struggles, with the Deacons having to start several freshman (especially on the defensive end) throughout the season.
"I think last year we were a soft group of freshmen, and now we're just a crusty group of sophomores,"Grobe told the Winston-Salem Journal. "I know coaches are worried about playing too many sophomores but for me, we're light years ahead of where we were last year with these guys."
Offensively, the Deacons will hope to get running back Josh Harris going behind a more experienced offensive line. The talented sophomore broke out against Virginia Tech (20 carries, 241 yards, two touchdowns) and in the season finale against Vanderbilt (18 carries, 138 yards, one touchdown). But inconsistent production during the regular season have left Wake Forest fans looking for more out of the running back from Duncanville, TX. Harris led all rushers in the spring game with 85 yards, but missed many of the workouts due to injury. If Harris can't get the ground game going there will be a lot of pressure on quarterback Tanner Price to make plays with his wide receivers, which doesn't appear very threatening at this point.
Tags: ACC, ACC Atlantic Division, ACC Spring Practice, Andre Ellington, Audi Cole, Boston College, Chase Rettig, Clemson, Cole Stoudt, Corey Crawford, D.J. Howard, Da'Quan Bowers, Dabo Swinney, Danny O'Brien, Dave Shinskie, Demont Buice, Don Brown, E.J. Manuel, Florida State, Gary Crowton, Jim Grobe, Jimbo Fisher, Josh Harris, Kevin Dorsey, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Luke Kuechly, Maryland, Mike Glennon, Mike Marscovetra, Montel Harris, Mustafa Greene, Quintin McCree, Randy Edsall, Roderick McDowell, Ronnie Tyler, Spring Practice, T.J. Graham, Tajh Boyd, Tanner Price, Terrell Manning, Todd Bradford, Todd Morris, Tom O'Brien, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, What I Learned, What I Learned This Spring
Posted on: March 14, 2011 11:34 pm
Edited on: March 15, 2011 3:51 pm
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 Connecticut , who starts spring practice Tuesday.
Connecticut had their best season in program history in 2010. Can they continue that success with a brand new look in 2011?
After a bumpy start that included losses to Michigan, Temple, Rutgers, and Louisville, it looked like it might be another frustrating season for Randy Edsall and the upstart Connecticut Huskies. Sure, Connecticut had made plenty of rapid upgrades to the program since joining the FBS in 2002 and the Big East in 2004. But as October 2010 was drawing to a close, no one had Connecticut penciled in as their Fiesta Bowl pick.
Then something happened on a Friday night against West Virginia. Running back Jordan Todman ran 33 times for 113 yards and a touchdown, providing just enough of an offensive spark to compliment a Huskies defense that forced seven West Virginia fumbles. Connecticut recovered four of those fumbles and won 16-13 in overtime, their first victory against the Mountaineers.
That game seemed to change the entire path of the season. With new focus and determination, Connecticut finished the season with five straight conference wins and earned a share of the Big East regular season title, as well as the conference's bid to the Bowl Championship Series. It wasn't always pretty, but running on the shoulders of Todman and a playmaking defensive unit the Huskies found ways to win late in the season. It was the perfect year to steal the conference from perennial favorites like Pittsburgh and West Virginia, and that is exactly what they did.
Then we rang in 2011, sang Auld Lang Syne, and then it all changed for Connecticut.
Connecticut looked unimpressive in their 40-28 loss to Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl on New Years Day. While their arrival onto the BCS scene should have been celebratory, instead the media focused on the Huskies inability to move their allotment of 17,500 tickets. With a final estimation that the program actually lost $1.8 million on the trip to Glendale. To make matters worse, Edsall opted not to travel home with the team. The worst suspicions were confirmed in less than a day, Edsall was leaving to become the head coach at Maryland.
So now it is time to reload and reboot.
Edsall was the only coach Connecticut hired during their journey into Division I and eventually the Big East. With such a young program, they could not afford to take chances on their next head coach - they needed a sure thing. Connecticut got that by bringing in one of the most seasoned Big East coaches on the market. Paul Pasqualoni spent 14 as the head coach of the Syracuse Orange. In that time he was 107-59-1 with a 6-3 bowl record. But there will be no confusion as far as allegiances go, Pasqualoni is an in-state native, and this is a job he is taking personally.
Pasqualoni brought in George Deleone (Miami Dolphins) to serve as the new offensive coordinator, and Don Brown (Maryland) will coach the defense. With a new coaching staff in place, one of the challenges for spring practice will be learning new schemes and getting used to a new practice routine. Spring will also be a time to identify players to fill position needs, because there are plenty. None more obvious than the running back position. Not only has Todman, the Big East rushing leader, taken his talents to the next level, but backup running back Robbie Frey decided to transfer. Those two backs combined for 2084 of the 2271 team rushing yards in 2010.
"Obviously this spring is going to be a big, big spring for a lot of areas, and one of the big concerns on offense is the tailback position," Pasqualoni told The Hartford Courant in February. "We're going to work as hard as we can work in that area, try to evaluate all the potential that we have there with the skill guys on the offensive side of the ball. We've got two guys coming in. One [Max DeLorenzo] is a downhill, can-make-yards-after-contact guy. The other guy [Deshon Foxx] is a little bit smaller, puts his foot in the ground, makes a cut, makes people miss and outruns people because he's just got flat-out excellent speed."
But tailback isn't the only big-time position with a lot of question marks. Actually, the quarterback spot on the depth chart might as well be a big question mark. Spring practice will start with a wide-open race between four quarterbacks who combine for only one collegiate start (Michael Box). Box is competing against newcomers Scott McCummings, Michael Nebrich, and Johnny McEntee, of YouTube "Trick Shot" fame. With Nebrich enrolling early, he will join the Huskies in spring practice and the quarterback battle should begin from day one. For no other reason than experience, many are giving Box a slight edge in the battle. But there are no guarantees that he will be the starter in September.
One of the ways to gain an edge heading into the season will be developing a connection with Connecticut's wide receivers. The Huskies return all of their starters, and while they did little to impress anyone in 2010, they might be one of the most stable units on the field right now. The group will be led by Kashif Moore. Moore anointed himself as one of the leaders of this team when Edsall bolted for College Park. It was Moore who was texting the players, telling them things were going to be OK. Desmond Conner, of The Hartford Courant, also points out that Moore has decided to wear Jasper Howard's No. 6 this season. Which as you can assume, takes on far more meaning than just the number change.
On the defensive side of the ball, new coordinator Don Brown will have to find a way to replace senior linebackers Scott Lutrus and Lawrence Wilson. They acted as the point-guard's of this playmaking defense, swarming to the ball and directing their teammates on the field. Instead of the leadership coming from the linebacking position, Huskies fans might see it come from up front.
Seniors Kendall Reyes (a captain in 2010) and Twyon Martin will anchor a defensive line that might be the most promising aspect of the defense. Rising juniors Jesse Joseph and Trevardo Williams are both returning from productive sophomore campaigns, and will be counted on for quality minutes as well.
While the end of spring practice may not give us all of the answers to the many questions for Connecticut, it is still arguably one of the most important springs for the program. Connecticut has a lot of holes to fill, and a lot of questions to answer in order to defend their Big East crown in 2011. It will come down to how quickly and effectively the team can buy into the new coach, and new systems in Storrs. One thing that the Huskies do have going for them in 2011? One of the easiest non-conference schedules in the league. Connecticut's only BCS opponents are Vanderbilt and Iowa State, so there should be plenty of opportunities to pick up the extra wins necessary to return to the postseason.
Paul Pasqualoni started his Syracuse career with a bang, going 20-4 in his first two seasons. Now we see if he can do it again, a decade later, with the flagship university of his home state.
Connecticut begins spring practice Tuesday March 15
Click here for more Spring Practice Primers
Posted on: February 11, 2011 5:06 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Every Friday we catch up on four stories you might have missed during the week ... and add a few extra links to help take you into the weekend.
FOUR LINKS ...
1. When last we left new Texas secondary coach Jerry Gray, he was being considered by new Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak for the Titans' defensive coordinator position. As of this afternoon, that consideration has become an interview --unless he's already decided to stay at Austin.
2. The following cartoon was found in a time capsule in Tuscaloosa and is more than 100 years old:
Too bad that after nine months, other than knowing it's some kind of smack talk in the direction of Auburn's football and baseball teams, no one really knows what it means . Elsewhere at Alabama, the snow gives some students the chance to memorialize Nick Saban's championship season ahead of time.
3. It's been a rough couple of weeks for Arizona State; the Sun Devils signed one of the smallest, most uninspiring recruiting classes in the Pac-12 on Signing Day, then saw defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator Grady Stetz leave to become the defensive line coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this past Tuesday.
4. Texas got a late addition to its 2011 recruiting haul when prep All-American linebacker Tevin Jackson of Garland (Tx.) was cleared by the NCAA after a transcript issue prevented him from enrolling in 2010. Jackson will enroll in June and will have the standard five-years-to-play-four.
AND THE CLOUD ...
You know this already, but Mark Richt really is a nice guy ... The SEC is deciding exactly how much the various transgressions of the cowbell rule will cost Mississippi State ... Don't expect an unbiased, evenhanded account from an author who considers Mike Leach "one of the most successful college football coaches in history," but nonetheless a book on Leach's firing is on the way ... Maryland's recruits weren't thrilled over former defensive coordinator Don Brown's departure ... Negotiations on UNLV's on-campus domed stadium (which we mentioned a little while back) have officially been given the green light .
Posted on: February 11, 2011 1:22 am
Edited on: February 11, 2011 1:23 am
Posted by Adam Jacobi
When Maryland defensive coordinator Don Brown bolted his post for the same at UConn last week, it seemed to mean, well, something; after all, incoming Terps head coach Randy Edsdall had made precisely the opposite move, so perhaps not everybody shared Edsall's sentiment that Maryland was a dream job.
Fortunately, Edsall knows the single most important maxim one can learn: that the best revenge is massive success. To that end, Edsall immediately sought out former Miami head coach Randy Shannon to replace Brown, and now the Washington Post reports that the two are closing in on a deal to bring Shannon to Maryland.
Say what you will about Shannon's results as a head coach of the Hurricanes and the fan exodus that ensued, but the man can coach defense. In his six seasons as Miami's defensive coordinator, the Hurricanes ranked in the top ten nationally in total defense in five of those seasons. In his four subsequent seasons as a head coach, his team never finished lower than 33rd nationally.
Of course, this isn't the first time we've heard Shannon's name attached to a prominent job; he was a strong contender at UCLA three weeks ago, but obviously that didn't pan out. On that note, then, it's important to wait for official confirmation from all parties involved that the deal is on, but for now, it looks like Randy Edsall is making the most of his unexpected opening at defensive coordinator, and that Randy Shannon is back in college football, where he belongs.
Posted on: February 8, 2011 10:06 am
Edited on: February 8, 2011 10:11 am
Posted by Chip Patterson
The coaching carousel has slowed since the regular season ended in December, but there are still several pieces shuffling back and forth, particularly in the ACC and Big East. After moving Connecticut into the FBS and all the way to the Fiesta Bowl in 2010, Huskies head coach Randy Edsall departed to take Ralph Friedgen's vacant seat at Maryland. Maryland's offensive coordinator, James Franklin, accepted a head coaching position at Vanderbilt while defensive coordinator Don Brown was retained. Just before Edsall was ready to round out his staff by hiring Andre Powell, former running backs coach at Clemson, to the same position in College Park, Brown shocked the Terps fan base by bolting to Connecticut, Edsall's former employer.
Confusing, I know.
Now former Miami head coach Randy Shannon has emerged as a candidate to replace Brown at Maryland. ESPN.com's Bruce Feldman is reporting that Shannon will be in town on Tuesday and Wednesday to interview for the defensive coordinator position. Shannon served as defensive coordinator for the Hurricanes for six years under Larry Coker before being promoted to head coach. Shannon also is a highly-touted recruiter, with deep ties to the schools in the Miami-Dade County area.
Also in the running for Don Brown's job in College Park is former Maryland assistant Kevin Lampa. Lampa spent four seasons as a secondary coach under Ralph Friedgen, and interviewed for the position on Friday. Shannon's services are not being tied exclusively to Maryland, either. With UCLA awkwardly ridding itself of Rocky Seto thanks to a Facebook flub, Shannon has also become a target for the Bruins.
While the biggest moves are made in December and January, these shifts of assistant coaches could be some of the details that can make or break the 2011 season for these teams. Shannon is a well-respected coach and recruiter, and seasoned enough to jump right in with little transition. He will likely be coaching in 2011, and he will be a great addition to whatever staff he joins.