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Posted on: September 28, 2011 1:16 pm
 

Why Les Miles could succeed as an NFL head coach

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



No, we haven't done any scientific surveys or hired Gallup to conduct a poll. But we have an edcuated guess as to how most college football fans would react to this CBSSports.com Mike Freeman report that several NFL teams are looking at Les Miles as a serious head coaching candidate. And that reaction is: WHAAAAA?

Even amongst college football fans -- heck, even amongst LSU fans -- Miles is rarely viewed as some kind of coaching savant. There's the late-game clock mismanagement. The years of underachieving offenses. The inability to gets his uber-talented teams over the hump to an undefeated season, national title or not. (Say it with us, Miles skeptics: "You can't spell Les Miles without two L's.")

But even if you aren't impressed by Miles' record -- and with a national title, two SEC West titles, and four seasons of 11 wins or more in only six tries, you should be -- the wildly successful start to his team's 2011 season should be evidence enough that he's doing something right. Several somethings, in fact, somethings that could very well make Miles a success even after making the leap to the NFL.

And if you've missed them along the way, these are them:

He coaches to win. Sounds simple, right? But truckloads of coaches base their in-game decisions on not losing rather than winning, and the end result is that their record in close games hews to the .500 mark you'd expect when allowing luck to be the deciding factor. Not Miles: whether it's throwing the famous last-second bomb to beat Auburn in 2007, calling the last-minute fake field goal that helped down Florida in 2010, or a dozen other examples, Miles is committed to calls that give his team a chance to win, not just a shot at avoiding a loss.

The proof is in the pudding of his record in close games: 22-9 in his six seasons in games decided by a touchdown or less. In a league by nature even more conservative than the college game, Miles's go-for-broke approach could pay even bigger dividends.

He surrounds himself with the right coaches. Not every move Miles has made on his staff has been gold; after defensive coordinator Bo Pelini left to become Nebraska's head coach following the 2007 national championship. Miles promoted Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto as co-coordinators to fill that spot ... and promptly watched the Tiger defense take a massive step backwards in a disappointing 8-5 2008 season.

But Miles didn't wait around to see if Mallory and Peveto could get it together. He promptly went out and hired respected ex-Tennessee coordinator John Chavis, and the LSU defense has never looked back. Even many of Miles's less popular hires have paid dividends--look no further than Steve Kragthorpe, the widely reviled former Louisville head coach brought on as offensive coordinator this offseason to general disdain. But it's Kragthorpe having the last laugh: former pick-six machine Jarrett Lee is playing the best quarterback of his life and the Tigers have been ruthless in the red zone.

Assuming Miles learned the pro game well enough from his two-year stint with the Dallas Cowboys to have an idea of who he'd want on his NFL staff, that same eye for coaching talent should serve him well.

His special teams are dynamite. For years, LSU has boasted some of the best-coached, most consistent and most explosive special teams units in the SEC. Much of that success has been chalked up to the Tigers' string of top-notch return men: Trindon Holliday, Chad Jones, Patrick Peterson. But after watching Morris Claiborne emphatically end West Virginia's second-half rally with a kickoff return for touchdown last Saturday (and Tyrann Mathieu do much the same to Oregon with his forced fumble and reutnr-for-touchdown on punt coverage), it's time to acknowledge that LSU's special teams success runs deeper than just the guys asked to field the ball.

He connects with his players. It's not worth belaboring the point already made by Freeman in his report, but no one has ever accused Miles's teams of not playing their hardest for him, nor Miles himself of being unable to reach recruits or manage his star players. Motivating and focusing college kids is a very different task than doing the same for seasoned professionals, but Miles's homespun charisma and willingness to trust his players to win games (see the first item on this list) should go a long way towards helping him make the adjustment.

Miles would no doubt have a lot to learn about the NFL -- two years as a tight end coach doesn't seem like an ideal level of pro experience for someone being asked to take over his own team -- but he appears to have a foundation in place that would serve him well should he make the leap. With NFL teams apparently willing to offer him the chance, the question is: will he?

Posted on: September 26, 2011 10:07 am
Edited on: September 26, 2011 2:20 pm
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 4



Posted by Bryan Fischer


As much as it frustrates the rest of the country, there's a reason why the SEC is continually touted as the nation's best conference. There's a reason why they've won five straight BCS championships.There's a reason why the league is so competitive. And it's not hard to figure out either.

Defense, and lots of it. S-E-C Speed, S-E-C D.

With nearly half the league ranked 75th or worse in total offense through four games, five ranked teams and a 25-4 non-conference record don't happen by accident. Six teams are in the top 30 in scoring defense, including Alabama and Florida in the top five.

For LSU, the fearsome part of their defense is the backend. Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu repeated as Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week thanks to six tackles and two turnovers against West Virginia. A week earlier, his teammate Morris Claiborne was tabbed for the award after two interceptions against Mississippi State. If there's a better pair of corners in the country on one team, they're in the NFL. Mathieu's interception that he took down to the one right before halftime helped stretch the Tigers' lead to 20 and Claiborne's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown ended all hopes of a Mountaineers rally and kept momentum planted firmly on the LSU sideline.

"West Virginia did a very good job, but our defense showed up to play and we got off to a nice start," Les Miles said after the game. " Morris Claiborne’s return was right on time, and we were able to finish it off. We made some mistakes, but we overcame that adversity."

What was surprising Saturday was just how little pressure LSU's front seven were able to get on opposing quarterback Geno Smith. He finished with a school-record 468 yards of total offense as the Tigers game up more yards in a game than they had since 2005. Giving up chunks of yards to a Dana Holgorsen-led offense is nothing new, but what kept the game in LSU's favor was the big play ability of coordinator John Chavis' defense.

Ultimately, the Tigers don't win by scoring, they win by scoring on defense.

Mathieu, who wears Patrick Peterson's old number seven, is as ball-hawking as you can get. Peterson was a one-man island last season, often taking away half of the field by himself in zone coverage if he wasn't locking up his man one-on-one. While Mathieu isn't as good in coverage as the man he took over for, he has a great feel for the game and reads plays as well as anybody on the back half. When he roams or blitzes, things just happen - as they did in Morgantown on Saturday. Despite losing Peterson, this secondary is better and deeper than it was a year ago as Claiborne and others have elevated their game. As one NFL scout told CBSSports.com writer Gregg Doyel, there are actually more than four NFL players among this group.

Read more about Tyrann Mathieu in Bruce Feldman's Big Picture

"The offensive game plan was not a problem," Holgorsen said. "Turning the ball over four times is a problem, and they have something to do with that too. They have a pretty good defense."

LSU has scored first and led at halftime in each of the Tigers' games this year. It's all part of the plan: Score first, play defense, be opporunistic and win the fourth quarter.

Alabama uses a similar strategy. Before the season, one person inside the program said what many had been saying: this defense was better than 2009's championship squad and might be one of the most talented ever under Nick Saban. They might have an even faster secondary than LSU and use the speed to play everything in front of them, swarming to ball seconds after the snap.

Against Arkansas, they also delivered shot, after shot, after shot on quarterback Tyler Wilson. The 3-4 the team runs allows Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart to mix in plenty of zone blitzes to create pressure on quarterbacks who rarely can tell where it's coming from before the snap. The Tide recruit athletes who can move well in they scheme more than anything and that's translated into a fearsome unit that is living up to their reputation as the best in the country. They play smart and play well.

"Well we set out to establish that we were going against the best offense in the SEC and a lot of people were labeling us as the best defense in the SEC, so we wanted to go out and show people what we were capable of with all cylinders turning," linebacker Dont'a Hightower said.

Though the highlight of the game with Arkansas was Marquis Maze's punt return for a touchdown, that was nearly the straw that broke the razorback's back. As Saban and others admitted it was a defensive play, DeQuan Menzie's interception, that shifted the momentum after the offense couldn't convert on the goal line.

"That was a big turning point in the game from a momentum stand point, and you know, we need to make more plays like that, get more turnovers," Saban said. "People are going to see what we do and figure out ways to deal with it. Our challenge is to get better every day."

That's a scary thought - for Alabama or for any SEC defense. Can't wait to see them match up with LSU on November 5 as much as the offensive coordinators do not.

Stat of the week

After wrapping up a 56-31 win over Rice, just about everybody was talking about Heisman candidate and Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. Look up the box score and it's easy to see why: he went a ho-hum 29-33 for 338 yards and five touchdowns as the Bears racked up 673 yards of offense. Even more eye-popping was the fact that he threw more touchdowns than incompletions for the second consecutive game. Griffin has also thrown more touchdowns (13) than incompletions (12) this season. He is completing 85% of his passes, hasn't thrown an interception and is throwing for nearly 12 yards per attempt. As one would expect, he tops the NCAA efficiency rankings, just ahead of Wisconsin's Russell Wilson.

Other stats of note

- Florida beat Kentucky for the 25th time in a row and by at least 34 points for the fourth straight year.  The Wildcats are on the losing end of the two longest active losing streaks to one team, the other being the 26 game streak to Tennessee.

- Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz set a school record and tied the NCAA record by throwing seven touchdown passes against UC Davis over the weekend. He sat out the second half after the Warriors led 49-0 at half but not before he also passed for a school record 424 yards in a half.

- Notre Dame is dead last in the country in turnover margin at -2.50 a game. The Irish have given the ball away 15 times in four games, more than they did in all of 2009 and 2006. The defense has forced just five this year.

- Quarterback Denard Robinson is the nation's leading rusher at 168.7 yards per game, over 15 yards a game more than runner up LaMichael James. While that's pretty impressive, he wouldn't be in the top spot were it not for the NCAA not counting his stats from the game against Western Michigan - which was stopped early. Of course, who knows, he might have been able to pad his stats during that game and still be in the lead a few weeks later like he is now.

- Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray had his nine-game streak of at least 100 yards rushing broken. The Aggies really went away from the ground game in the second half and never did establish Gray against Oklahoma State. Meanwhile, Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden set school records for completions (47) and passing yardage (438).

- James was back to putting up video game numbers for Oregon against Arizona this weekend. He rushed for a school record 288 yards and also set the all-purpose mark. His first quarter touchdown run also gave him the Ducks record for career touchdowns as well. His 288 yards were more than the Wildcats have rushed for all year (249).

- Florida Atlantic had just one first down against Michigan State but racked up 20 against Auburn's defense in a 30-14 loss. The Owls are dead last in the country in offense and have scored only 17 points all year. 62% of FAU's offensive yardage this year came against Auburn.

- South Carolina's defense allowed just 77 yards to Vanderbilt and only five first downs all game. Defensive stud Melvin Ingram scored yet another touchdown, his third in as many weeks. By reaching the end zone, Ingram is tied for third on the team for points scored with quarterback Stephen Garcia.

- A few miles away from Columbia, Clemson receiver and freshman sensation Sammy Watkins is leading the Tigers in scoring after 141 yards receiving and two touchdowns in a victory over Florida State. Through four games this year he has 433 yards receiving and six touchdowns, marks that would have placed him second and third on the team respectively in each category last year.

- Four teams topped the 400 yard rushing mark last Saturday, led by Air Force rolling up 595 yards against hapless Tennessee State. Oregon had 415 yards against Arizona, Florida rushed for 405 against Kentucky and Army pounded Ball State for 402 yards. A team has rushed for over 400 yards 10 times this year while a team has passed for over 400 yards 22 times through week four.

- According to SI.com's Stewart Mandel, Illinois is 4-0 for the first time since 1951. I'm with him, how is that possible?

- Georgia Tech has six plays of 70+ yards this year and seven one-play scoring drives.

Yard-by-yard

-  Hats off to Mike Gundy's halftime adjustments. After being held about 1,000 points below their average in the first half to trail by 17, the Cowboys offense exploded as Brandon Weeden started picking apart Texas A&M's secondary with intermediate passes on their way to a comeback win. The Aggies turned the ball over three times and anytime you give Weeden the ball on a short field, watch out. The most telling sign was the lack of panic on the OSU sidelines as they fell behind. Though they hadn't been in the position before, it was as if they knew what to do and went out and executed. The defense isn't quite as good as Oklahoma's but they'll be able to ride the offense quite far in Big 12 play.

- I'm not quite ready to say the Michigan defense is good but it's certainly much improved and solid enough in a weaker Big Ten for new coordinator Greg Mattison. After the much maligned unit struggled all of last year, they seemed to turn a corner against a very good offense in San Diego State. The Wolverines shutout talented running back Ronnie Hillman and the Aztecs in the first half, the first time they've pulled off the feat in the first half in over two years. Hillman hadn't fumbled since the first carry of his freshmen season last year and yet coughed it up twice. We've been in this position with the Wolverines before last year - a fast start, Denard Robinson being Denard Robinson - before fading badly at the end in Rich Rodriguez' last year as head coach. This year, though, might be different. The schedule is manageable and with the defense being more opportunistic than they have been in the past, Michigan could have a much different ending.

- Michigan's archival Ohio State doesn't have the kind of stability that the Wolverines have but they had to be encouraged with the solid first start for quarterback Braxton Miller. He didn't cause anybody to label him the "next" anything after going 5-13 for 83 yards and rushing for 83 yards but it looks like he's the future after a disastrous passing game for the Buckeyes I saw firsthand against Miami. What's funny is the last time I saw Ohio State play on the road was a couple of years ago at USC. The offense struggled and the next game a talented true freshman by the name of Terrelle Pryor started for the first time. Pryor tossed four touchdowns in that game and led the Buckeyes to an 8-1 record as a starter. While Miller didn't come anywhere close to looking like his predecessor, he looked comfortable running the offense and playing with what the defense was giving him. No one's saying he'll be able to replicate what Pryor did on the field but it looks like yet again the Buckeyes have another true freshman ready to lead them into Big Ten play this year.

"I slept pretty good," he said of his first start. "I really didn't have any jitters at all."

With improved play from Miller and the rest of the offense, head coach Luke Fickell might sleep better too.

- There's no offense quite like Georgia Tech's. It's an option attack but one that has a dangerous passing game that is part of the reason the Yellow Jackets are leading the nation in yards per game. They piled up 496 yards on Saturday in a nice win over North Carolina. Quarterback Tevin Washington is the triggerman but unlike previous players at the position under Paul Johnson, he looks like he can legitimately get the ball down the field accurately. Of course, it helps to throw the ball to 6-foot-5 receiver Steven Hill. There were times where he looked just like Calvin Johnson while making one-handed catches on his way to 151 yards and a touchdown. Hill might be the best receiver no one's really talking about but with Washington throwing the ball and running back Orwin Smith helping out on the ground, expect to hear more about Georgia Tech going forward.

- Poor N.C. State fans. As if it weren't enough to see former quarterback Russell Wilson at the helm for a top 10 team, Thursday's blowout loss to Cincinnati couldn't have given anybody any confidence in what's to come this season. The offensive line gave up six sacks to go on top of three turnovers, two of which were interceptions thrown by Wilson's replacement Mike Glennon without much thought. There's some talent on the team but clearly not enough in a much tougher ACC this year. It's going to be a long season until North Carolina's Committee on Infractions hearing for Wolfpack fans.

- I thought the Clemson game would be a bit of a letdown game for Florida State and while they made it close, the execution just was not there for the Seminoles. Of course they wanted to win and definitely were without some key players, but they invested so much into the game against Oklahoma one would have to think that they spent a little too much time watching film from last week instead of film of the Tigers. Just when it seemed like the defense was ready to make a stop or the offense get going, there'd be a penalty (they finished with 11 for 124 yards). On the other side, it finally appears that Clemson is getting the hang of offensive coordinator Chad Morris' new hurry-up system. Tajh Boyd still has moments that must make Morris rip out some hair but he is looking much more comfortable behind center. With electric freshman Sammy Watkins making plays every time you tune in, it's easy to see why there's plenty of optimism in Death Valley.

"I'm super excited about how our players keep growing this offense and executing. And we're only four games into this offense," Morris said. "It's crazy."

- Penn State beat Eastern Michigan 34-6 as part of the Big Ten's weekend of home games against directional schools to raise money for themselves. The Nittany Lions might have come out with a victory but it was a costly one - starting outside linebacker Mike Mauti will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Considered to be the team's best backer, this is needless to say a big blow to a team that already has struggled some on both sides of the ball. Mauti missed the 2009 season with an ACL injury to his other knee and was limited at times last year due to a shoulder injury. Senior corner D'Anton Lynn was also hurt and had to be transported to the hospital to have his head and neck examined after a hit.

- Speaking of Penn State, the team that almost beat them last week, Temple, ended up routing Maryland 38-7. Steve Addazio has quietly taken what Al Golden left him and turned the Owls in a forced to be reckoned with. Junior back Bernard Pierce is the Northeast's best kept secret, as he rushed for five touchdowns and 149 yards to power Temple's first road win over a BCS foe in nine years.

- How bad is Oregon State? The Beavers lost 27-19 to a UCLA team that is not without their own issues on both sides of the ball. Many expected them to get a boost - they were favored at home - with the return of all-purpose threat James Rodgers and tight end Joe Halahuni but it was to no avail. It's the worst start of the Mike Riley era and unlike many of his previous teams, there's just no execution. There's been issues behind the scenes and at quarterback on offense while the defense is still breaking in plenty of new players. As Pac-12 play continues, don't expect things to get any easier until the Beavers get back to their roots of playing smart football and keeping the turnovers to a minimum. For UCLA, it was a game they just had to have if they're to sneak into a bowl game this year. According to the LA Daily News , a joyous Rick Neuheisel told a group of fans after the game  "Anybody have fun on the flight here? Not as much as you'll have on the flight home!" Of course, he also added that the Bruins haven't been 1-0 in the conference, "in a long time."

More on College Football
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Brett McMurphy Brett McMurphy
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Related links
Video
Quote of the week

"Big 12! Big 12! Big 12!" - Oklahoma State fans after their victory at Kyle Field. Perhaps it was also fitting that Texas A&M had two 12th man penalties on defense early in the game.

Quote of the week, part II

"The speed of the game, it's kind of lighting struck the outhouse and we were in it." - Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter after the Wildcats' 48-10 loss to Florida.

Tweets of the week

"Arizona will always be a basketball school.. So Child please!" and "If one more person EVER tells me Arizona is turning into a "football" school .. Can kiss the baby"

- Former Arizona forward Derrick Williams during his football team's blowout loss to Oregon. Ouch.

Fisch's Finest

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma

4. Boise State

5. Stanford

6. Wisconsin

7. Oklahoma State

8. Oregon

9. Virginia Tech

10. Nebraska

Where we'll be this week

The big CBS primetime matchup between Alabama and Florida from the Swamp will have Mr. College Football himself, Tony Barnhart, in attendance. Dennis Dodd will be at Camp Randall for Nebraska's first Big Ten conference game against Wisconsin while Brett McMurphy will be listening to 'Enter Sandman' as Clemson plays at Virginia Tech. I've got early duty as I'll be at Texas A&M's first SEC conference game (well, first unofficial one anyway) against Arkansas at Cowboys Stadium.

Leaning this way

Alabama at Florida (8 p.m. ET, CBS)

The past three meetings has featured one of two teams ranked number one overall and while neither will be in the top spot in the polls this year, a top 12 matchup awaits down in the Swamp. Both the Gators and Tide have tough defenses that are ranked in the top five nationally in the three big defensive categories (total/rushing/scoring defense) so each offense figures to have a little more trouble moving the ball than they have so far this year. Alabama's speed will be the difference as they bottle up Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps to come out with a victory.

Nebraska at Wisconsin

Welcome to the Big Ten Nebraska. Camp Randall should be jumping around as they welcome in the Cornhuskers and Taylor Martinez. Look for Russell Wilson to continue to be sharp and not turn the ball over and the Badgers' defense to make just enough plays to win. Martinez should be able to move the ball though, Wisconsin's defense hasn't really been tested - much less by an offense like Nebraska's.

Clemson at Virginia Tech

The first big test for both teams as Clemson goes on the road to take on Frank Beamer's squad. Clemson made several key mistakes that kept Florida State in the game last week and if they turn the ball over, that plays right into the Hokies game plan. Virginia Tech should win but don't be surprised if this is a close ACC battle.

Category: NCAAF
Tags: ACC, Air Force, Al Golden, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Army, Ball State, Baylor, BCS, Bernard Pierce, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Boise State, Brandon Weeden, Braxton Miller, Brett McMurphy, Bruce Feldman, Bryan Fischer, Bryant Moniz, Calvin Johnson, Camp Randall, Chad Morris, Chris Rainey, Cincinnati, Clemson, Cowboys Stadium, Cyrus Gray, D'Anton Lynn, Dana Holgorsen, Denard Robinson, Dennis Dodd, DeQuan Menzie, Derrick Williams, Dont'a Hightower, Eastern Michigan, FAU, Florida, Florida Atlantic, Florida State, Frank Beamer, Geno Smith, Georgia Tech, Greg Mattison, Gregg Doyel, Hawaii, Heisman, Illinois, James Rodgers, Jeff Demps, Joe Halahuni, John Chavis, Kentucky, Kirby Smart, Kyle Field, LaMichael James, Les Miles, LSU, Luke Fickell, Marquis Maze, Maryland, Melvin Inrgam, Michigan, Michigan State, Mike Gundy, Mike Mauti, Mike Riley, Mississippi State, Morris Claiborne, N.C. State, NCAA, Nebraska, NFL, Nick Saban, Non-BCS, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Oregon State, Orwin Smith, Pac-12, Patrick Peterson, Paul Johnson, Penn State, Rice, Rich Rodriguez, Rick Minter, Rick Neuheisel, Robert Griffin III, Ronnie Hillman, Russell Wilson, Sammy Watkins, San Diego State, SEC, SEC, South Carolina, Stanford, Stephen Garcia, Steve Addazio, Steven Hill, Stewart Mandel, Tajh Boyd, Taylor Martinez, Temple, Tennessee, Terrelle Pryor, Tevin Washington, Texas A&M, Tony Barnhart, UC Davis, UCLA, USC, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Western Michigan, Wisconsin
 
Posted on: September 19, 2011 11:18 am
Edited on: September 19, 2011 12:47 pm
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 3

Posted by Bryan Fischer

A longtime Floridian told me Friday he couldn't remember the last time the state was the center of college football like it was this past weekend. Sure there have been big games and plenty of teams in championship contention, but it's hard to think of a time when each corner of the state had a big primetime match up. Equally surprising, he said, was that traditional rivalry Florida-Tennessee was only the third most interesting game on the docket.

The spotlight was indeed on the Sunshine State and things couldn't have gone better for the most part. At the northern end, number one Oklahoma rolled into Tallahassee to play Florida State and there were moments when you genuinely stopped and said, "FSU's back." A loss is a loss but the way the Noles played was encouraging.

The storyline coming out the game seems to be all about Big Game Bob Stoops' team getting their first non-conference road victory over a top-five team in over three decades. The Sooners were gritty, responding to scores like a top-ranked and championship team should. Quarterback Landry Jones had several clutch throws and it seemed like linebacker Tom Wort was making every other play on defense. Oklahoma looked the part and survived with a victory.

The key word being survived. Yes their road woes are well documented but the reason the game was close - closer than most thought - was that Florida State looked the part of a top five team as well. For three quarters at least, it was a knockdown, drag out fight between two high profile head coaches. After FSU freshman Rashad Greene caught a beautiful 56 yard touchdown pass to tie the game, Doak Campbell was rocking. As more than one writer said on Twitter, it was partying like it was 1999.

One wonders what might have been had quarterback E.J. Manuel not gotten hurt. Could he have pulled off the upset? Who knows? But the biggest take away was the defense held an explosive, veteran-laden OU offense to just 23 points and showed they are close to having the athletes at every position like they used too when things were rolling. They were kids last year in Norman and it took less than a year for them to grow up into men. The offense still needs some work - especially along the line - but the defense should help carry the Seminoles through ACC play.

Jimbo Fisher has Florida State making waves on the recruiting trail and there are plenty of signs that the on the field product is coming along as well. The next step is winning games like the one on Saturday but, by all indications, that's coming. Party like it's 1999 indeed.

A couple hours down the road in Gainesville, two teams showed they still need work if they're to take the next step. It looked like Florida was going to run away with the game up 30-7 late in the third but the defense seemed to take the foot off the accelerator. For the most part though, the defensive line was active and did a great job of shutting down the Vols' running game. Completely. Florida's defense held Tennessee to just -9 yards on the ground, the third best mark in the country so far. The offense took a hit once receiver Justin Hunter went down but it was the young offensive line that just couldn't handle the pressure Florida was generating.

All-purpose threat Chris Rainey was everywhere Saturday for the Gators' offense. He had 233 all-purpose yards and recorded his fifth career blocked punt. The Gators are still adjusting to Charlie Weis' offense and Will Muschamp's defense but Rainey is a constant playmaker that the team will have to lean on as they get into the thick of the SEC schedule. Is this team in the same class as Alabama or LSU? Not even close. But there's enough there on both sides of the ball to put up a fight with Georgia and South Carolina for the East title.

Further South, some observers would have had no issue with vacating the Ineligibowl. It just wasn't a pretty game. Ohio State was a step slow all night and Miami struggled on offense outside of their scoring drives to open and close the game. Both teams got back several players from NCAA suspension and Miami's certainly made the difference in the game: Jacory Harris was efficient outside of two boneheaded interceptions and linebacker Sean Spence truly transformed the defense into a much stouter unit that was able to apply pressure on nearly every snap.

Sophomore running back Lamar Miller set the tone early with a big run on the first play of the game en his way to a career night that made him the fourth leading rusher in the country at 151.5 yards per game. There's plenty of talent on this team to get nine or so wins but there's still moments when the Hurricanes revert to last year's form and make a boneheaded mistake. It will be curious to see how they use this game as a momentum builder going forward. At full strength and with some confidence, the Hurricanes have a little bit of swagger back.

On the other side, Ohio State is lacking an identity and has to figure out their quarterback position and do so soon. The Buckeyes have no clue about what kind of team they want to be and there could be some doubt amongst the players about head coach Luke Fickell if post game comments are to be believed.

"I felt like me and Jordan (Hall) were doing a great job in the run game, so I felt we should have just come out and ran at them," tailback Carlos Hyde told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "We should have manned up and ran straight at them, see if they could stop us."

Also, don't overlook the other game in Miami on Saturday: FIU following up it's big win over Louisville with a solid victory over in-state foe UCF to start 3-0 on the season. Many had pegged the Knights as a possible BCS buster at the beginning of the season so for FIU to knock them off does wonders for a program that was the definition of a rebuilding job just a few years ago. Yes it's a Sun Belt team but with the schedule like it is, don't be surprised if FIU keeps things rolling. The defense recorded six sacks against UCF and did a great job the week before against the Cardinals. Plus they did everything without all-everything star T.Y. Hilton, who missed most of the game with a hamstring injury. Take note, the program in the state with the most upside is the one that's not in a BCS conference.

The state of Florida won't be the center of the college football universe like it was this past weekend for some time. But while it was, it delivered.

Stat of the week

Auburn's win streak was snapped at 17 games by Clemson on Saturday, which was the longest in the nation. It was the 10th longest streak in the past decade and amazingly, 10 of the 17 games were decided by eight points or less. Stanford now has the longest win streak in the country with 11, just two seasons removed from a losing record and five seasons away from the school's 1-11 mark.

Biggest reason why the Tigers' streak ended? They're 117th in total defense, 100th in pass defense, 116th in rush defense, 107th in scoring defense and dead last in the country in third down stops. Yikes.

Other stats of note

- Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege broke the NCAA record for highest completion percentage for 40 or more completions in a game. He completed 40 of 44 against New Mexico for a healthy 90.1 percent clip. He also hit 15 passes in a row at one point, tying a school record on his way to a 401 yard and five touchdown day.

- Kellen Moore's 457 yards of offense against Toledo was third most in the country this year and he averaged nearly 10.39 yards a play. His completion percentage on the season is at a remarkable 78.9 percent.

- With the loss to LSU on Thursday, Dan Mullen fell to 2-10 versus the SEC West as head coach at Mississippi State. Both wins are over rival Ole Miss. While the Bulldogs have been much more competitive under Mullen, they still haven't quite gotten over the hump just yet. He was 8-6 against the West while an assistant at Florida.

- There are beat downs and there's what Missouri did against Western Illinois. The Tigers defense allowed just one first down and 44 total yards on the day while the offense rolled up 744 total yards to set a school record that had been set just after World War II. Tailback Henry Josey ran for 263 yards and three touchdowns, the most in a game this season. The mark was also good enough to move him into sixth place on the national rushing list.

- Of the five players to top 200 yards rushing in a game so far this year, three did so on Saturday (Josey, Marcus Lattimore and LaMichael James).

- Georgia Tech's game against Kansas was pretty amazing to take a look at after the fact. The game delivered the longest run from scrimmage of the season (Orwin Smith went 95 yards for a touchdown), featured two 100 yard rushers and had five players with over 70 yards on the ground. The Yellow Jackets also piled up a school-record 768 total yards, 604 of them via the running game. The 12.1 yards per rush also set an NCAA record for highest in a game.

- Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly has games with 18, 17 and 23 tackles to lead the nation in that category. His 58 total tackles are 19 more than the next player.

- Jeff Fuller became Texas A&M's all-time receptions leader against Idaho while Cyrus Gray topped the 100 yard mark rushing for the ninth time in a row.

- Via senior writer Bruce Feldman, Baylor's Robert Griffin III has eight touchdowns and just eight incompletions.

Yard-by-yard

- Impressive, impressive comeback by Iowa from down 24-3 in the 3rd quarter to Pitt. James Vanderberg has been a little underrated early in the season in the face of replacing a longtime starter and doing so with plenty of fresh faces around him. The junior quarterback is 31st in the country in passing efficiency and 25th in total offense after Saturday's game in which he had several impressive throws in the second half in route to a 399 yard and three touchdown day. The lack of a running game has to be concerning if you're Kirk Ferentz, especially as the begin Big Ten play in two weeks with a trip to Penn State. A heck of a comeback but it's apparent there's plenty of flaws in the Hawkeyes.

- Why hello there Sammy Watkins. While it has taken some time for the Clemson offense to adjust to Chad Morris' new system, Watkins has been an explosive playmaker for the Tigers they really haven't had since C.J. Spiller left for the NFL. Yes it was against a porous Auburn defense, but this week was Watkins' coming out party to the nation with 10 catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns. He shows an explosiveness you just can't teach whenever he gets the ball in his hands and was the spark that allowed Clemson to turn things around. A former five-star recruit, he was ranked behind fellow Tiger frosh Charone Peake coming out of high school by Maxpreps which should give you some indication what kind of young nucleus Dabo Swinney has assembled when you add in running back Mike Bellamy and quarterback Tajh Boyd. Speaking of Swinney, he channeled his inner-Howard Dean in his post game remarks on television.

- Al Golden didn't leave the cupboard bare at Temple as the Owls almost beat Penn State for the first time since Joe Paterno started coaching in Happy Valley. Despite giving up the lead late, Steve Addazio's club showed they can play with bigger and stronger team and should have no problem contending for a MAC championship this year.

- Kudos to James Franklin and what he's been able to do with Vanderbilt. After a close, 4th quarter win against defending Big East champ UConn, the Commodores embarrassed Ole Miss on Saturday 30-7. Franklin has really gotten the team and the rest of the community to buy into what he's building there and it's starting to pay off with the team's 3-0 start. Quarterback Larry Smith isn't sharp enough in the passing game yet but the offense is moving the chains on the ground and playing good defense - they're currently 10th in the country in total D. Things will get much tougher as they head on the road to face South Carolina and Alabama but with home games against Army and Kentucky and a date with Wake Forest, bowl eligibility is possible in Franklin's first year.    
 
- It looked like West Virginia finally started to get their rushing attack going against Maryland this weekend. Geno Smith is putting up great numbers from the quarterback position but head coach Dana Holgorsen knows that if the team wants to win the Big East - or beat LSU this week - they're going to have to be able to run the ball. Whether the answer at tailback is Vernard Roberts or Andrew Buie still remains to be seen but it can't just be all Smith, all the time. Tavon Austin is a dynamic threat who adds a few wrinkles but there still needs to be a consistent rushing attack so the defense can't play nickel the entire game. The Mountaineers did have an impressive three players top the 100 yard receiving mark last Saturday though.

- It was not pretty at the Rose Bowl as critics briefly turned their attention from overrating Texas to remarking on how hot UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel's seat is. He's an alum who probably cares more about the program winning than anyone there yet there's been hardly any progress to show for it. The defense was supposed to be much better this year and strength of the team but it was anything but in the blowout loss to the Longhorns. Case McCoy (with a little David Ash mixed in) appears to be the answer for UT at quarterback and freshman tailback Malcolm Brown showed flashes on his way to a 110 yard day.

- I am not a believer in Nebraska's defense after playing Washington last week but they'll still do just enough to make it to the title game in their first year in the Big Ten. Still, the effort against the Huskies had a lot to be desired of a top 10 team.

- After returning from Sun Life Stadium late in the Miami night, I was surprised to find out there was not one, but two football games on and I managed to stay up for Oklahoma State-Tulsa late, late, late into the night. I couldn't believe they kicked off after midnight local time, much less that Brandon Weeden was still throwing to Justin Blackmon late in the fourth quarter - and well past 3 AM Central - with the game well in hand. Mike Gundy is not only a man, he's all in on this Cowboys team it appears. All or nothing, this is the most talented squad since Barry Sanders was in Stillwater and everybody is onboard. Why Gundy still had his stars on the field that late in the game for a blowout continues to baffle me however.

- I thought Navy's offense in the middle of the season always spelled trouble for teams that weren't ready for it - especially those coming off an emotional victory like South Carolina. The Midshipmen had a chance late but ultimately the Gamecocks ended up winning 24-21 thanks to a last minute interception. As one head coach told me, you schedule option offenses early or play them in a bowl game or else you'll end up upset. South Carolina wasn't upset but they nearly were with the way they played.

- I couldn't believe the score when I first saw it but here it was, Utah 54, BYU 10. A week ago in the Coliseum, I saw the dejected faces on the Utes sideline as their rally came up short against USC. I thought it would be another tough battle in the Holy War but the Utes smacked everybody around Saturday. Don't count out Utah as representing the Pac-12 South with USC ineligible for the title game and Arizona State still Arizona State.

- Kudos also go out to Wyoming, who blocked Bowling Green's extra point to win 28-27. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat…

Quote of the week

Craig James during LSU-Mississippi State: "You play four quarters in the SEC."

Tweet of the week

Myself following the second ESPN account to feature the word Genocide in place of West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. Not a bad nickname if he keeps putting up passing numbers in Dana Holgorsen's offense however.

"Company-wide memo about Geno & autocorrect on Monday. RT @McShay13: WVU QB Genocide Smith off to a fast start."

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Fisch's Finest

My top 10 after week 2:

1. Oklahoma

2. LSU

3. Alabama

4. Boise State

5. Stanford

6. Wisconsin

7. Texas A&M

8. Oklahoma State

9. Florida State

10. Oregon

Where we'll be this week

Tony Barnhart will be at the big Arkansas-Alabama game, Dennis Dodd will be in College Station for the top 10 matchup between Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. Brett McMurphy gets another great game this weekend, showing up at LSU-West Virginia Saturday night.

Leaning this way

Arkansas-Alabama: The secondary for Alabama will be flying around and turnovers will doom an explosive Arkansas offense.

Oklahoma State-Texas A&M: The Aggies defense is underrated but this game will still be a shootout. The home crowd will give them the edge in a close one.

LSU vs. West Virginia: LSU's defense is just too much late in the game for Dana Holgorsen's offense to break through.

Across the goal line

I was going to write about conference expansion in this space but figured things would change by the time I finished writing the final paragraph. 


Category: NCAAF
Tags: ACC, Al Golden, Alabama, Andrew Buie, Arizona State, Arkansas, Army, Auburn, Barry Sanders, Baylor, BCS, Big 12, Big East, Big East, Big Ten, Big Ten, Bob Stoops, Boise State, Boston College, Bowling Green, Brandon Weeden, Brett McMurphy, Bruce Feldman, Bryan Fischer, BYU, C.J. Spiller, Carlos Hyde, Case McCoy, Chad Morris, Charlie Weis, Charone Peake, Chris Rainey, Clemson, Craig James, Cyrus Gray, Dabo Swinney, Dan Mullen, Dana Holgorsen, David Ash, Dennis Dodd, Doak Campbell, EJ Manuel, FIU, Florida, Florida State, Geno Smith, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Henry Josey, Idaho, Iowa, Jacory Harris, James Franklin, James Vanderberg, Jeff Fuller, Jimbo Fisher, Joe Paterno, Justin Blackmon, Kansas, Kellen Moore, Kentucky, Kirk Ferentz, Lamar Miller, LaMichael James, Landry Jones, Larry Smith, Louisville, LSU, Luke Fickell, Luke Kuechly, MAC, Malcolm Brown, Marcus Lattimore, Maryland, Miami, Mike Bellamy, Mike Gundy, Mississippi State, Missorui, Navy, NCAA, Nebraksa, New Mexico, NFL, Non-BCS, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oregon, Orwin Smith, Pac-12, Penn State, Pitt, Rashad Greene, Rick Neuheisel, Robert Griffin III, Rose Bowl, Sammy Watkins, Sean Spence, SEC, Seth Doege, South Carolina, Stanford, Steve Addazio, Sun Belt, Sun Life Stadium, Surveying the Field, T.Y. Hilton, Tajh Boyd, Temple, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, Toldeo, Tom Wort, Tony Barnhart, Travon Austin, Tulsa, UCF, UCLA, UConn, USC, Utah, Vanderbilt, Vernard Roberts, Wake Forest, Washington, West Virginia, Will Muschamp, Wisconsin, Wyoming
 
Posted on: September 1, 2011 3:32 pm
 

USC secondary coach Willie Mack Garza resigns

Posted by Bryan Fischer

Nearly 48 hours before their season opener, USC will shockingly take the field without a key staff member.

Trojans' secondary coach Willie Mack Garza resigned Thursday afternoon effective immediately citing personal reasons, according to a school statement.

"I stepped down today from my coaching duties at USC," Garza said. "I have some personal issues unrelated to USC that I need to address.  I wish the Trojans the best and I am sorry I won't be with them in what I know will be a very successful season."

Garza was entering his second year with the program and followed head coach Lane Kiffin to Los Angeles from Tennessee. The 42-year-old assistant also had coaching stops at Western Michigan, TCU, Tarleton State and North Dakota State before connecting with Kiffin and the Volunteers in 2009. Several USC beat writers confirmed that he was not at practice on Wednesday and that players were informed via text message Thursday morning.

Graduate assistant and former Trojan and NFL defensive back Sammy Knight is expected to take over Garza's responsibilities. USC plays Minnesota at 12:30 PM on Saturday.
Posted on: August 4, 2011 1:03 pm
 

Embree wants players rewarded for graduating

Posted by Bryan Fischer

Last week at Pac-12 Media Days, conference commissioner Larry Scott echoed the thoughts of many and said that college athletics was at a crossroads. The newest head coach in Scott's conference, Colorado's Jon Embree, agrees but he isn't just sitting back and lamenting at the state of the game, he's putting forward ideas.

For all the talk about paying players and full cost of attendance scholarships, Embree is advocating a different approach that takes elements from both. Instead of paying players directly, he argues, how about giving players $50,000 or so upon receiving a degree for them to either further their education or get started in life.

"I think they should be rewarded for graduating," Embree told CBSSports.com. "If we're going to use the term student-athlete, if we're going to be releasing graduation rates, if we're losing scholarships because of APR, then let's put our money where our mouth is. They don't do anything special for the kids when they win.

"To me, that graduation piece is best because they're earning something: a degree. You're helping them setup themselves for the future. In the NFL, they might get one year, two years or none. But that degree will be with them. Then you'll have a decent amount of money to get a head start on life."

Embree likes tying money to graduation as a way of incentivizing education for coaches, players and schools. A former tight end at Colorado, he knows the challenges players face more than most and recognizes that a scholarship doesn't cover all of a student-athlete's living expenses. While he is receptive to full cost of attendance scholarships, Embree is very much against giving players "spending money" on a weekly basis.

"A scholarship only covers so much," he said. "I don't believe you can pay the student-athletes a monthly stipend and keep it fair across the board. You start doing that, then one guy things he should get $300, another guy thinks it should be $500."

The concept of giving players money upon graduation is not a new one. Many have advanced the idea that those players who's jersey is sold (i.e. the ones the school is really making money off of) would receive a cut of the money upon graduation or leaving for the NFL. The idea of tying the money to something like jersey sales is a no-go for Embree however.

"No because what will happen is that they'll start selling jerseys in the book store that isn't a guy that's playing," he said. "They'd get around that. There's no doubt that college athletics is at a cross roads. A lot of money is made off these kids, me included. I don't know what all the answers are but they need some kind of equity. Just something."

Some food for thought for NCAA president Mark Emmert and 50 college presidents when they meet for a retreat on athletics later this month.

Posted on: June 8, 2011 3:16 pm
Edited on: June 8, 2011 3:20 pm
 

The UFL may be Pryor's next move

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Can you believe we had three posts in a row here that made no mention of Ohio State, Jim Tressel or Terrelle Pryor? Those were some scary times, but don't worry, I'm here to put the world back on its axis.

When we last checked in on the college football world's latest whipping boy, it was to hear allegations that Pryor had received up to $40,000 in compensation for autographs he signed while with the Buckeyes. We also found out that Pryor would not be returning to Ohio State next season. So Terrelle had a pretty busy day, but while I don't have access to his daily planner, there are plenty of people wondering what Pryor's next step will be. A lot of people think that Pryor will apply for the NFL's supplemental draft, but just as many people think that he isn't quite ready for the NFL yet. At least, not as a quarterback.

So, according to a report from ESPN's Adam Schefter, the UFL may be the best bet for the next place we see Pryor don the pads before trading them in for tattoos.

A well-placed UFL source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter on Wednesday that Pryor would benefit from the coaching in the league, which includes high-profile former NFL coaches such as Marty Schottenheimer, Dennis Green, Jim Fassel and Jerry Glanville. The source said he believes there's "a decent shot" Pryor could wind up playing this year in the UFL.

Sportsbooks don't seem to feel the same, as Bodog has released odds on where Pryor will end up, and the UFL is listed at 3/1. The CFL comes in at 5/4 and the NFL is at 10/11.

If you forced me to guess -- actually, you don't have to force me because I'm about to do it anyway -- I'd say Pryor will wind up in the NFL. Some team will probably take a chance on him if he enters the supplemental draft, though I don't know that he'll end up playing quarterback. Now, if he has his heart set on playing quarterback, while Pryor may want to go to the NFL, he'd probably be better off in the UFL or CFL. It would give Pryor a lot better shot of playing time and proving to NFL scouts that he can play quarterback.

Posted on: June 3, 2011 2:46 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2011 9:44 am
 

CBSSports.com College Football 100: 40-31

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.

40. BRADY HOKE, head coach, Michigan. In the modern era of college football (a nebulous concept, but one defined here as "since the inception of the Heisman Trophy"), every Michigan head coach has stayed for at least nine years, with the exception of two: Gary Moeller, who coached for five years but resigned after an arrest for assault and battery in 1995, and Rich Rodriguez, who coached three years and was run out of town last January. Past them, Michigan has been a picture of stability over the years, and the concurrent success is no accident.

With that Rodriguez firing, though, the message from Michigan seems to be, "We'd like it if you stayed a while, but we'll tell you when to get comfortable." That's the power of high standards of success, and while Brady Hoke probably has a pass on getting results for the first year, he probably doesn't have that pass for two. Ohio State won't be reeling forever, after all, so this turnaround job that Hoke performed at San Diego State and Ball State prior to that needs to happen again, real quick. If Hoke makes progress down that road in 2011 -- and especially if he beats Ohio State -- he can start getting comfortable right away, and everything in Ann Arbor will be back to its normal, stable self. -- AJ

39. MATT BARKLEY AND ROBERT WOODS, dynamic quarterback/receiver tandem, USC. There's not a lot for USC fans to look forward to this year. They're out of the Pac-12 title race and can't go to a bowl game for the second straight season. But that's not a reason to stop watching, as the Trojans have one of the best quarterback/wide receiver duos in the country in Matt Barkley and Robert Woods. The latter was named Pac-10 Offensive Freshman of the Year and was on just about every freshman All-American team after racking up a USC record for all-purpose yards. (And in case you didn't know, USC has had a few pretty good freshman play in their illustrious history.)

Then there's Barkley, the golden-haired signal caller who is one of the top quarterbacks in the country and someone many have pegged as a top 10 draft pick if he comes out after the season. Entering his third year as a starter, much is expected of him after posting 26 touchdowns against 12 interceptions last year. The Barkley-to-Woods connection was among the best in the nation last year and should be one to watch as they hook up for more than a few touchdowns in year two. -- BF

38. BRANDON WEEDEN AND JUSTIN BLACKMON, equally dynamic quarterback/receiver tandom, Oklahoma State. For all Barkley's and Woods' succes, there wasn't a quarterback-wide receiver combination in the nation quite as devastating as Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon last season. The duo hooked up 111 times for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns, as both players seemingly emerged out of nowhere and became nationally recognized names. Blackmon then surprised a lot of people at Oklahoma State and around the country when he decided to come back to Stillwater for another season, and now the two are ready to perform an encore.

The question is whether or not they'll be able to. Blackmon may have snuck up on some teams last season, but you can be sure that he'll be the focus of a lot of opposing defense's film sessions this season. It also won't help that Dana Holgorsen is in Morgantown rather than Stillwater. So it won't be easy, but if these two can match -- or maybe even improve on -- the production they had last season, this might be the season in which the Cowboys finally break through for that elusive Big 12 title.

37. ISAIAH CROWELL, running back, Georgia. We gave the most important incoming freshman in the SEC -- and maybe the country -- his own special weekend breakout entry. Read it here.

36. GUS MALZAHN, offensive coordinator, Auburn. No matter how many times you read it, the list of losses from Auburn's national title teams remains staggering: the Heisman-winning quarterback, the nation's best defensive lineman, six other offensive starters including the top two receivers, seven other defensive starters including the top two linebackers. With all due respect to head coach Gene Chizik (and his smashing successes in the recruiting and team-building departments), nearly all the hope Auburn has of retaining its top-25 perch and position near the top of the SEC West standings rests in Malzahn and his spotless offensive track record. If anyone can take what's left at Auburn (which does include some highly-talented pieces, like running back Michael Dyer and potential breakout receiver Trovon Reed) and fashion an attack that can still keep SEC coordinators up at night, it's Malzahn.

Malzahn's influence can be felt outside of just his impact on the Plains, though. Even as some major programs (like Michigan and Florida) revert to more conservative, pro-style schemes, the runaway success of up-tempo spread offenses like Malzahn's and Chip Kelly's has encouraged teams like Pitt and West Virginia to follow their fast-paced lead. College football offenses seem to be gravitating towards those two opposite poles -- pounding pro-styles and lightning spreads -- and Malzahn's tremendous accomplishments are a major part of explaining the move towards the latter. -- JH

35. THE NCAA's 2011 CELEBRATION RULE, scourge of all that is fair and good in this world, NCAA rulebook. We know it's coming; it's only a matter of the who and where. From the moment a player heads towards a clear endzone, every head coach out there will have his heart skip a beat hoping his player won't do something stupid like ... celebrate? No, thanks to a new NCAA rule, fumbles near the end zone won't be the thing players, coaches and referees will be on the lookout for this season ... it'll be a celebration.

The rule -- actually passed last year but taking effect starting this season -- says that if an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty is committed during live play (say, a high-step into the end zone), instead of 15 yards assessed on the extra point or kickoff, the touchdown will be negated. The points will be taken off the board and the ball will be placed 15 yards from the spot of the foul. Remember the Reggie Bush somersault into the end zone? Though already illegal, if this rule had been in effect before, Bush would have been left with nothing to celebrate in the first place. So here come the pins and needles as everyone, fans and coaches alike, hope an 18-year old won't celebrate. Should be a fun season ... unless it's not. -- BF

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34. STEPHEN GARCIA, quarterback, South Carolina. Strange as it may sound, it's true: the Gamecocks are the legitimate SEC East preseason favorite. They have arguably the league's best running back in Marcus Lattimore. They have inarguably the league's best receiver in Alshon Jeffery. They have an experienced, well-coached defense that just added the nation's No. 1 overall recruit at defensive end. With massive advantages like those, you'd expect the fifth-year senior, third-year starting quarterback to be the final piece of a championship puzzle--and maybe not just a conference championship, either.

But the bad news -- or is it the good news? -- for Carolina is that that quarterback is Stephen Garcia. There's no doubt anymore; if Garcia behaves himself over the summer, he will be the Gamecocks' starting QB again this fall. That means he might uncork a whole season like his 17-of-20, three-touchdown masterpiece in Carolina's 35-21 2010 upset of No. 1 Alabama, and bring home the 'Cocks' first-ever SEC title. It also means he might get suspended the Saturday morning of the biggest game of the season or fumble four times in a loss to Vanderbilt. Because he represents the team's best chance of capitalizing on its best chance yet to claim a championship, Steve Spurrier and Co. will just have to take the good with the bad. How much of each Garcia gives them could (or maybe will) singlehandedly determine who represents the East in Atlanta. -- JH

33. THE ACC'S SEPTEMBER 17th, nonconference opportunity, ACC. When the ACC expanded in 2004-2005, the hope was that adding Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College and a championship game would raise the football status of the supposed "basketball conference." But thanks to a poor bowl record and a total lack of national title contenders over the past decade, the conference has quickly become the butt of many college football jokes. The conference produces nearly as much NFL talent as the SEC, but with such little impact on the national scene, it's assumed the ACC just can't hang with the other BCS conferences.

Well, if the ACC is going to make a statement in 2011, September 17 is their chance. Most notably, it is the date of the aforementioned Florida State-Oklahoma showdown. But the Seminoles are only one of five ACC teams hosting a major non-conference showdown that day. Clemson welcomes defending champion Auburn to Death Valley for a rematch of last year's 27-24 overtime thriller. The Miami - Ohio State showdown in Coral Gables has much less star-power than before, but that might only benefit the Hurricanes. In addition, Maryland hosts West Virginia and Georgia Tech looks for redemption from last year's upset against Kansas. The Seminoles and Tigers may take a loss, but Miami, Maryland, and Georgia Tech all have shots to win their non-conference game. If the strongest argument against the ACC is how they stack up against non-conference opponents, the conference can silence those critics with a strong showing on the third Saturday in September. -- CP

32. TAYLOR MARTINEZ, quarterback, Nebraska. It takes a lot of self-confidence for a grown man to unironically adopt a nickname like "T-Magic," but fortunately for Nebraska fans, Taylor Martinez isn't lacking for that confidence--nor for freakish athleticism. The freshman quarterback conjured up memories of Eric Crouch and Tommie Frazier as he ran for 965 yards and 12 touchdowns while throwing for 1631 yards and 10 more TDs. That's even taking into consideration a right ankle injury that bothered Martinez throughout the second half of the season, keeping him out of two games and limiting him in others. A healthy, more experienced T-Magic for the entire 2011 campaign could be quite the weapon.

However, as both Martinez and Denard Robinson demonstrated just last year, football is not a sport that caters to the health of smaller quarterbacks with heavy rushing workloads. The defenses in the Big 12 are no picnic for opposing QBs, but they're even more physical in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, the once-rocky relationship between Martinez and head coach Bo Pelini seems to have healed to some extent. Certainly, there aren't any reports of Martinez missing practices, and he had the chance to transfer this off-season but didn't. Once that first player-coach fight happens, contentment is usually relative and impermanent, but it seems like much more of a 2010 problem than a 2011 problem, and that's bad news for the rest of the Big Ten. -- AJ

31. BRYAN HARSIN, offensive coordinator, Texas. Earlier in the Top 100 we featured Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert. Well, if Gilbert is going to have a big impact on college football this season, odds are it will have a lot to do with his new coach, offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. Okay, so technically Harsin is the co-offensive coordinator, but I really don't think Mack Brown fired Greg Davis and then brought Harsin in from Boise State so he could share play-calling duties with Major Applewhite. No, Harsin will be grooming one current Longhorn quarterback and one former Longhorn quarterback.

Because if there's anything that Harsin proved himself able to do in his time at Boise, it was produce good signal-callers. Harsin's biggest influence at Texas this year will be to help Gilbert increase his touchdown passes and significantly reduce the turnovers. Over the last three seasons at Boise State, Harsin helped Kellen Moore throw 99 touchdowns to only 19 interceptions. He also put together an offense that averaged about 43 points per game the last three years, and while the defenses in the Big 12 are a bit better than the ones Harsin saw in the WAC, if he can get within reach of numbers like that with the Longhorns in just one season, the rest of the college football world will likely cower in fear. -- TF

The 100 will continue here on Eye on CFB tomorrow. Until then, check out Nos. 100-91, 90-81, 80-71, 70-61, 60-51 and 50-41. You can also keep up with the 100 by following us on Twitter.
Posted on: May 25, 2011 12:46 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2011 9:57 am
 

CBSSports.com College Football 100: 100-91

By the Eye on College Football bloggers

To celebrate the 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.

100. THE DOOLEY RULE, new NCAA regulation.
We don’t know when; we don’t know where. But we’re betting that at some point this season, college football’s new Dooley Rule -- which punishes offenses that commit a penalty in the last minute of either half with a 10-second runoff from the game clock -- makes a major impact on the outcome of a game. If it’s the right game, the rule could make a major impact on the outcome of college football’s entire season.

That’s not necessarily likely, of course. Until namesake Derek Dooley’s Tennessee team lost last year’s Music City Bowl when North Carolina stopped the clock with its own penalty, the situation hadn’t yet seemed to occur in a high-profile college football game. (There’s a reason it took until 2011 for the rule to be put into place.) But now that it’s there, we think the odds are good that we’ll see it put into practice this fall … and that the losing coach will be sure to let us know about it. -- JH

99. JARED HASSIN, running back, Army. For the last nine years, Army has fallen short of toppling their Navy counterparts. Could 2011 be the year that the Black Knights finally get over the hump? If they do, it will likely be thanks to the efforts of Hassin. He broke out in a big way his sophomore season, racking up 1,013 yards and 9 touchdowns, helping lead Army to their first postseason appearance since 1996 and first bowl win since 1985.

Hassin was originally enrolled in the Air Force Academy before transferring back to Army (his original commitment) and sitting out 2009. It was an odd recruitment, especially for the son of an Army graduate. But regardless of the process, the lifelong Army football fan is now playing for the team he grew up loving. He is undisputedly one of the most important players on the Black Knights, and fans hope the 6-3, 235-pound back can flash the historic rivalry back to the late 80's and early 90's, when Army took 9 of 11 from the Midshipmen. -- CP

98. GUNNER KIEL, quarterback, Columbus (Ind.) East High School. The nation's top quarterback in the class of 2012 and number two overall prospect according to MaxPreps analyst Tom Lemming, Kiel holds a scholarship offer from just about every program in the country. The 6-foot-4, 210 pound signal-caller is ideal for just about any kind of system and has a good arm, throws the ball accurately and is a natural born leader on the field.

Kiel comes from a long line of quarterbacks - his uncle Blair played at Notre Dame and in the NFL and both of his brothers play the position in college - and the next in line might be the most talented out of all of them. His recruitment, as one would expect from a top prospect, is not being played out in the public as he is trying to keep things close to the vest. Oklahoma, Indiana, Missouri and Alabama are a few of the schools making a strong push for his services but it will be well into the season (or after it) before he ends up making a decision; expect to hear plenty about it as 2011 progresses. -- BF

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97. RYAN TANNEHILL, quarterback, Texas A&M. The Aggies had two different seasons in 2010: one B.T. (Before Tannehill) and one A.T. (After Tannehill). With Jerrod Johnson at quarterback, the Aggies were 3-3 on the season, and 0-3 in Big 12 play. Then Tannehill took over the reins against Kansas on Oct. 23 and Texas A&M didn't look back. The Aggies reeled off six straight wins, including games over Oklahoma, Nebraska and (the coup de gras) Texas. They wouldn't know defeat under Tannehill until the Cotton Bowl, where LSU won 41-24.

Still, Tannehill was a revelation. Not only was he able to run a rather potent Aggies offense, but he did so without the crippling turnovers that became a trademark of Texas A&M under Johnson. This season will be different for Tannehill, however. No longer is he the former tight end-turned-savior, but the quarterback who is supposed to make sure Texas A&M takes the next step--its first league title since 1998, and just their second Big 12 title ever. -- TF

96. GREG MATTISON, defensive coordinator, Michigan. One could certainly make the argument that it was the continuing ineptitude of former defensive coordinator Greg Robinson that cost former head coach Rich Rodriguez his job in Ann Arbor. After all, Robinson's latter year spearheading the Wolverine defense was, by far, the worst in points allowed in Michigan history; the former was the third-worst (and just for good measure, the second-worst season came in Rich-Rod's first season, with one-and-done Scott Shafer as DC). Yes, Michigan has an unusually stingy history of defense, but that's just the thing: Michigan fans have every reason to expect that stingy defense. That's just how it's done at Michigan.

It'll be up to Mattison, then, to keep Brady Hoke's seat cool, and he's got the pedigree to do it. Mattison is entering his 35th year of assistant coaching defense and his 16th as a defensive coordinator, and he's been a part of some very successful defenses (Florida's '06 BCS Championship team, for one). Fans shouldn't expect miracles and shutouts on Day 1 or even in Year 1, but they're going to need to see some sense this year that Michigan's old way of football is coming back. Getting the points per game allowed back under 27.5 for the first time since 2007 would be a good start. -- AJ

95. TYLER BRAY, quarterback, Tennessee. Give the sophomore gunslinger from California this: he doesn't lack for confidence. From the moment he stepped into Tennessee's starting lineup as a true freshman in midseason 2010, Bray carried himself with a swagger that paid big dividends in the Volunteers' season-ending, bowl-salvaging four-game winning streak--a streak in which Bray threw for 12 touchdowns and better than 1,200 yards. Behind four more Bray scoring strikes, the Vols nearly upset UNC in their bowl game (see above), raising expectations for even bigger things in 2011.

But Bray might have taken a little too much self-belief into spring, where he finished an up-and-down camp with a miserable 5-for-30 performance in the Orange-White Game. If he can harness his confidence and continue building on last year's impressive debut, the Vols could be major spoilers in a logjammed SEC East. If not, one of the nation's proudest programs could slip below .500 for the third time in four years. -- JH

94. JON EMBREE, head coach, Colorado. After a disastrous experience with an outsider as head coach in Dan Hawkins, Colorado turned to someone with a strong connection to the program in Embree, a former tight end and assistant coach for the Buffs. He's never been a head coach before but his fiery attitude and pledge to bring back several school traditions have already gotten players and alumni fired up for the upcoming season.

Embree has his work cut out for him though, with Colorado coming off a 5-7 season and transitioning to a new league, the Pac-12. He installed a pro-style offense during the spring and has his staff hitting the recruiting trail hard over the past few months to get word out about the program. The schedule is tough, hosting Oregon and going to both Ohio State and Stanford, but Embree has a senior quarterback in Tyler Hansen and a few solid pieces to build around. Expectations are rising in Boulder and while it might be too much to ask of Embree to turn everything around in his first year, he sure will make things more interesting up in the mountains. -- BF

93. SAVON HUGGINS, running back, Rutgers. Huggins enters his true freshman season with the Scarlet Knights with high expectations from the Rutgers fan base. At their spring game in April, Huggins drew about as much fanfare in his street clothes as the boys in pads. Huggins was one of the few big signing day steals for head coach Greg Schiano, and the Maxpreps No. 1-ranked running back should be an immediate upgrade for the Big East's worst rushing offense in 2010.

Fans are not the only ones anxiously awaiting Huggins' arrival. The coaching staff failed to identify any kind of order for the position in the post-spring depth chart. When Huggins suits up for fall camp, he will have as much of a chance to play as the three current backs on the chart. Hailing from nearby Jersey City, NJ, Huggins is the new face of Rutgers football. If he doesn't pan out into the star Schiano is hoping for, the 2006 Coach of the Year might find himself suddenly on a warmer seat in Piscataway. -- CP

92. QUALCOMM STADIUM, home field, San Diego State. Thanks to years of incompetence from its regular Aztec tenants, the former Jack Murphy Stadium's most prominent ties to college football have been the Holiday Bowl and (more recently) the Poinsettia Bowl. And those aren't insiginificant, particularly considering some of the classics that have been played in the Holiday.

But that should change this year. SDSU is poised for potentially their biggest season in school history, with senior quarterback Ryan Lindley and sophomore running back Ronnie Hillman forming the most dynamic QB-RB combo in the Mountain West. To win the conference the Aztecs will have to go through both TCU and Boise State, but wouldn't you know it--both MWC frontunners must visit Qualcomm this year, the Frogs Oct. 8 and Broncos Nov. 19. With two chances for the Aztecs, don't be surprised if "the Q" plays host to this year's version of Nevada-Boise, the upset that turns the non-AQ BCS chase on its head. -- JH

91. PAUL RHOADS, head coach, Iowa State. When Paul Rhoads took over as head coach at Iowa State in 2009, replacing Gene Chizik -- whatever happened to that guy? -- he was walking into a tough situation. The Cyclones had only won five games in the previous two seasons, but the man who grew up 20 miles outside Ames led the team to seven wins in 2009, including a win over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl. Iowa State took a step back in 2010, but did get a huge win over Texas and narrowly lost to Nebraska in overtime.

In 2011, however, the time for moral victories has passed. While the Cyclones have won 12 games under Rhoads in his first two seasons, only six have come against conference opponents, four of them coming against former Big 12 North teams. Now the Cyclones will no longer have seasons in which they don't have to play Texas and Oklahoma, so winning in the conference won't be easy. Of course, it's not like anybody is expecting Iowa State to compete for the conference title every season, but if Iowa State wants to be better than a program that makes the occasional bowl appearance, Rhoads is going to have to do more than pull off the occasional shocker. -- TF

Check back tomorrow at Eye on College Football for Nos. 90-81 on the countdown, and follow us on Twitter.




 
 
 
 
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