Posted on: October 7, 2011 12:06 pm

Mailbag: Penn St still a national power?

Time for this week's mailbag. As always, if you have mailbag questions, send them to me on Twitter at BFeldmanCBS.

  From @NittanyState06  from an outsiders POV, Is Penn State still looked on as a national power? Will we begin hearing cries for JoePa to step down?

The Nittany Lions are no longer at that level and they don't look like they'll be headed back to that level any time soon. PSU did have two strong years in 2008 and 2009, going 22-4 before last season's 7-6 mark. But even in the '09 season when they went 11-2, they didn't seem like a powerhouse. They only faced one team in the regular season that was ranked (#15 Ohio State) and the Nittany Lions lost 24-7 at home. 

This year, Penn State is 4-1, but it's about as shaky a 4-1 as this program's probably had in decades. They got run over at home by Alabama and barely survived against Temple. Last weekend, they had their hands full with 1-4 Indiana. 

Obviously, Penn State still has a marquee component. The Nittany Lions have a genuine legend in Paterno and a huge fan base, but something is now missing: The on-field product. Penn State is 1-6 in its last seven games against ranked opponents (averaging about 11 ppg in those games) and five of those six Ls have come by 16 points or more. The Nittany Lions not being competitive against top teams is the biggest reason why I feel like the perception is this program no longer is a national power.

This is a team with major quarterback issues and you wonder if they'll be able to sort that out. As for the cries for JoePa to step down we've been hearing those on and off for years.

From @PaulPabst  Can Luck lose a game and still win Heisman? Any way Kellen Moore can win the Heisman?

Andrew Luck can. His team doesn't need to be perfect to win the Heisman. He will get a lot of benefit of the doubt from Heisman voters, who quite frankly probably couldn't name a second Stanford player. Even if they go 10-2, I suspect Luck still wins because most voters will say they probably wouldn't even have made a bowl game without him.

Moore needs a lot of help. While he's a strong candidate, the level of competition he faces each week holds him back. No one questions whether he is a great college QB. He is. But he needs others, such as Luck to fall. 

One of the guys with a legit shot of giving Luck a run is Alabama's Trent Richardson. He's coming off a huge game in the Swamp and he will have the whole country riveted in the Game of the Year Nov. 5 when LSU visits. If Richardson has a big day running all over that Tiger D, and Bama wins, he will give voters a lot to think about--especially if the Cardinal fall out of the top 10.

From @Lexvegaskid better defensive player: Tyrann Mathieu of LSU or (Melvin) Ingram for S. Carolina?

Both are true impact players, guys every offensive coordinator spends hours worrying about. Right now, I'll take Mathieu over every other defensive player in the country. He makes big plays at a staggering rate. For him to have already set the LSU career forced fumbles record less than halfway through his second season there is remarkable. He is that defense's wildcard since they can do so much with him. He's listed at cornerback but he's as much as SAM linebacker as anything. Mathieu leads the team in tackles by quite a bit and he really does set the tempo for his team with that frenetic style. Thus far it's been the Year of the Honey Badger.

From @mpodo Why isn't Jim Delany interested in expanding Big Ten right now?

The dilemma for Delany and the Big Ten is who is really worth them added? Notre Dame would be, but the Irish do NOT want any part of joining a conference unless they absolutetly have to. Mizzou makes some sense academically and geographically (linked to two strong TV markets, St. Louis and KC and wouldn't be a far trip for teams to get to) but the league didn't want to go that route last year. Pursuing teams from the Big East (Rutgers) or ACC (Maryland) who have the academics that the Big Ten says it must have don't bring much in terms of football equity. Rutgers right now is closer to Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue than it is to Nebraska or Wisconsin and Maryland just got destroyed at home by Temple.

From @J_Sweatt  how hot is mike Sherman's seat?

If the Aggies lose again this weekend, to Texas Tech, it's going to get hot. Two weeks ago Sherman seemed to be in a good spot. The Aggies were heading to the best football conference in the country and playing Top 10 football. Then they had a second-half collapse vs. Oklahoma State and they did the same thing wilting against Arkansas last week. Tech is unranked and a loss here would give a lot of folks close to the Aggies program the feeling that Sherman isn't the right guy to turn things around or lead them into the SEC. This is year four for him and even though he led A&M to the Cotton Bowl last year, he's only 21-21 there with an 11-14 conference mark. This is a loaded offense. It shouldn't be 2-3, but that'll be the record if the Aggies don't get some things figured out fast.

From @Nashville_MMA what are your thoughts on Tyler Brays progression as a sophomore? Jim Chaney has developed some outstanding QBs in his coaching career and Bray looks to be right on track. When I spoke to Chaney, the Vols offensive coordinator, he told me the light had really come on for Bray about a month before the season began where the lanky QB started to grasp what it meant to be a quarterback, not just play the position. That level of focus and preparation is often what separates the good college QBs from the decent ones.

From the tools standpoint, there is a lot to like about Bray. He's got great height, has excellent football savvy and has a gunslingers demeanor, which is a huge plus especially when you have talented targets who can go make plays for you. On paper, those strides he's made are obvious. His completion percentage has jumped from 56 percent to 69 percent and his TD-INT mark is up to 14-2 from 18-10 last year. But in truth, he really has faced only one good defense this season (Florida) and he wasn't that sharp, going 26-48 with three TDs and two picks in a loss. He did lose his most dangerous weapon Justin Hunter in that game though. He needs to show he can deliver against elite competition. This weekend's Georgia game will be a good test. The unranked Dawgs aren't great, but this is still a step up from the teams UT has handled thus far.
  From @JayJersey14  I know I'm not the only one to ask, but what's going to happen with the Big East? No one has much of a clue on this one. The people I've spoken to in the conference are in the dark. They're speculating, optimistically, off the speculation they are hearing. Losing TCU was a big blow after losing Pitt and Syracuse. I was told by someone who saw John Marinatto when the Big East commish learned that Pitt and Cuse were bailing for the ACC and they said it looked like he was about to have a heart attack. The league is in chaos. The best programs in the conference (WVU and Louisville) are trying to bail out to the Big 12, but they might not get the invite. If they don't and they're stuck in the Big East, there's still a real shot that UCONN also could head to the ACC.

From a football standpoint UCONN doesn't have that much cache. If you replaced UCONN with UCF I don't think you lose anything given the potential of UCF. Navy, which I'm told was ready to join the Big East in football, has cold feet after seeing the league start to erode. I imagine ECU would still love to get into the Big East and a possible hope would be to become some improved version of C-USA by taking the best of that league. It is, after all, eat-or-be-eaten in college sports right now.

From @mdg27x Considering Virginia Tech's best victory was close and only over East Carolina, are they really the favorites over Miami?

  Miami hasn't exactly been impressive either. The closest thing the Canes have had to a good win was against an undermanned Ohio State team that looks very shaky right now. UM's defense was run over last week by Bethune-Cookman. Lamar Miller has been terrific, but there are still huge questions about how solid Jacory Harris is and can he play close-to mistake-free football. Tech has given Miami fits in the past and it seems like Harris' career at Miami started its downturn two years ago in a monsoon at Lane Stadium.

From @hogeandrew Andrew Hoge Why isn't Matt Barkley in the Heisman talk when he beats out Luck and James for PAC 12 player of the week?

It's simple. Barkley has really only faced one decent team all year and he struggled. Throwing one TD pass and two INTs in a blowout loss at ASU. The combined record of the other four teams he's played is 7-12. Until he and USC can beat some better teams, he really won't be in the discussion.

From @Dbullsfan  is there any hope on the horizon for NC State fans?

I'll be very surprised if NC State doesn't have a new coach three months from now. And with a coaching change, you always get some aspect of hope.
Posted on: October 4, 2011 11:32 am
Edited on: October 5, 2011 9:48 am

Tuesday Top 10: Biggest Surprises of first month

A month into the 2011 season and it's time to look back on the biggest surprises thus far. And by surprises I mean pleasant surprises, not disappointments. That's a list for another day.

1. Clemson: 
The Tigers who have been perpetual underachievers prone to teasing more than producing may just have turned the proverbial corner under Dabo Swinney this year. Swinney hired former HS coach Chad Morris to run his offense and Clemson is really getting results, going from 86th in scoring up to 33rd. After looking shaky early, the Tigers, led by QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins, have responded by knocking off three ranked teams in a row, highlighted by last weekend's win at Lane Stadium. That W was also quite a departure for a team that had lost four of its previous five road games.

1. Nordly Capi, DE, Colorado State: 
Talk about a shocker. Capi was thrown into action four snaps into the 2011 season after standout DE Broderick Sargent was lost of the year with an ACL injury. Capi, a 6-3, 249-pound sophomore from Florida, who had no sacks in four games last year, goes on to terrorize the New Mexico offense that day, forcing four fumbles, setting an NCAA single-game record. And, the kid hasn't really slowed down much since, going on a five-game sack streak, CSU's longest since Clark Haggins had one of the same length in the late 90s. Capi, who is said to have a really outgoing and fearless personality (he wants to be a fire fighter after his football career is over), leads the nation in both sacks (eight) and forced fumbles (five).

3. Michigan Defense: The Wolverines D would be even higher on this list if they've played a few more decent teams (although WMU, ND and SD State do have capable offenses), but the fact that this unit has gone from 108th in scoring defense to 4th is still remarkable and a big tip of the hat to new DC Greg Mattison who has replaced Greg Robinson. Finally, this D is more than just stud DT Mike Martin as DE Craig Roh has gotten healthy and given them some presence and Kenny Demens, Thomas Gordon and Jordan Kovachs really have taken to the new system, which is a big reason why a unit that was 114th in pass defense has jumped 100 spots despite seeing some good passing attacks.

4. Robert Griffin III, Baylor QB:
RG3 has played out of his mind in the first month. The guy who arrived at Baylor with the rep as one of the fastest men to ever play QB in college football, has blossomed into a true passing threat. Griffin leads the nation in passing efficiency by a wide margin, has a sterling 18-1 TD-INT ratio and almost unfathomable 18-20 TD-INC ratio. For comparison, the No. 2 guy in passing efficiency Russell Wilson is 13-28 in TD-INC.

5. K-State: Bill Snyder is doing it again at Kansas State. The Cats went to Miami and took down a Miami team that was coming off a big win over Ohio State and then they took down a ranked Baylor team. Led by speedy Miami transfer Arthur Brown, K-State has gone from 78th in scoring defense up to 17th and this team has a decent shot of opening the year 7-0, matching last season's win total before OU comes to town in late October.

6. Russell Wilson, Wisconsin, QB:
We knew the former NC State QB was good. His 3-1 TD/INT ratio in three seasons in the ACC was very strong, but it's been how quickly he has taken to this new system and his teammates and how accurate he has been that is so impressive. You'd think the timing with the new receivers wouldn't be as crisp as it has been. Remember this is a guy who had never completed above 59 percent of his passes. This year he's at 75 percent and is averaging a gaudy 12.5 yards per pass attempt, tops in the country and on pace to shatter Ty Detmer's NCAA record of 11.1 ypa. Just a part of the reason why RussellManiaXVI is running wild in Madison.

7. Ga. Tech offense:
Guess opponents haven't quite figured out Paul Johnson's offense after all. The 5-0 Jackets, 71st in scoring and 119th in passing last season, have been very sharp in 2011 behind QB Tevin Washington who has been burning defenses with the pass, sporting a 10-1 TD-INT ratio and a passing efficiency number of 260.7 (he'd be #1 in the nation if he had enough pass attempts). Tech is #2 in the country in scoring and up to No. 79 in passing offense.

8. Auburn:
The Tigers may have been in the preseason top 25, but they had many critics looking at all of the talent the defending national champs had to replace and were scratching their heads. Gene Chizik's team has looked pretty shaky at times, but this bunch is still finding ways to win close games. Their 16-13 win at No. 10 South Carolina last weekend earned them a place on this list as the young Auburn D kept Marcus Lattimore from running wild and limited Steve Spurrier's team to 2-10 on third downs.

9. The Big 12:
For all of the chaos with this conference off the field, the product on the field has been better than expected. Both Oklahoma schools look like potential BCS title game candidates. Texas is undefeated and showing some spark on both sides of the ball, while getting some plays from its young QBs. Baylor knocked off TCU early and has been turning heads. Texas Tech and K-State are both still undefeated. Even though A&M's second half troubles cost them a win over future SEC brethren Arkansas, the Big 12 is still 27-3 in games outside of the conference play and has six teams in the PA top 25, the same as the SEC has.

10. Vanderbilt:
James Franklin is generating a lot of buzz on the recruiting trail and that vibe is carrying over to the field, where the Commodores, a team that won four games the previous three seasons, is 3-1. Vandy's D has been very sharp forcing turnovers at an eye-catching rate (the school is No. 5 in turnover margin). Vandy absolutely dominated Ole Miss, 30-7 in mid-September in a way that jogged people's minds trying to recall the last time Vandy football demolished another SEC opponent the way they did the Rebs that day.

Posted on: September 30, 2011 12:25 pm

The Mailbag returns: RG3's Heisman hopes

Before I joined CBS, I had a regular Friday mailbag each week. I'm resuming that here. Send your college football questions to me via Twitter @BFeldmanCBS.
From @GoBearsGo95 how many wins would Baylor need for RG3 to win the heisman.

Griffin has taken over my top spot in the too-early Heisman rankings after his spectacular first month, throwing 13 TDs and 0 INTs. The most impressive part is that he has actually thrown more touchdowns than incompletions (12). That is staggering. Even more jaw-dropping is that this is a guy who came to Baylor known primarily for his World Class speed, not is passing skills. There is no way, he can keep that ridiculous pace up, but given the way he lit up well-respected Gary Patterson's D on national TV in the opening week, Griffin has gotten off to the start he needs to at least get invited to NYC for the ceremony.

Then again, last year, around this same time, I didn't think Cam Newton could sustain his fantastic pace for a whole season, and he did. Not only that, Newton actually got better as the pressure increased. Newton, though, also had a better supporting cast and arguably the top impact defender on his team too (Nick Fairley). 

Baylor needs to win at least 10 games for Griffin to have any shot at overtaking Andrew Luck and Kellen Moore, who are established favorites by now. The Bears have four "national stage" kinds of games remaining: at Texas A&M, Oct. 15; at Oklahoma State, Oct. 29; Oklahoma, Nov. 19 and then against Texas, Dec. 3. I think Baylor needs to win at least three of those to really have a good chance to win it.

From @RealNick_OSU How do u think Ohio St will handle head coaching job over offseason assuming OSU loses a couple more games? Meyer?

Barring the Buckeyes running the table and going 13-1, I think it'll be tough for Luke Fickell to keep this job. I realize that is an incredibly high standard to accomplish, especially given the off-field circumstances, but with the prospect of Urban Meyer, a former OSU assistant who has won two BCS titles out there, if Ohio State can get him, they almost have to go for him. 

Meyer wrote about his affinity for the Buckeye coaching job in his book a few years ago. I suspect at some point the pull of getting back into coaching is going to be too strong. And plum jobs don't come open very often. Certainly not this sweet of a gig, especially for a guy who once coached there. I'll say this I have been very impressed by Meyer as a game analyst. He is insightful and way ahead of the game. I really thought he and Chris Spielman did a terrific job last week during the ND-Pitt game, but I still can't see him, as the competitor he is, not being too wired to get back in the mix. 

From @whetherPROOF chances UF knocks off Saban in the swamp saturday?

I'll give it 20 percent. Anytime you have blazing speed, like the Gators do, and a talented D-line, like the Gators do, you have a shot. The problem is Alabama's D is so much bigger, more physical and well-coached than anything else UF has seen so far. I don't see UF being able to exploit mismatches the way they could in past games this year. Also, the Tide's O-line is very good and should be able to provide room for Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy and the big-game experience will pay off for Bama here.

From @andrewltyler Will Texas Tech's streak of bowl games attended be coming to an end this year?

Nope, look for Tech to go bowling again. The Red Raiders really don't play anyone of note till Oct. 8 vs. Texas A&M, but these wins still count. Seth Doege is a good QB and he has some pretty good weapons around him. Assuming they win at KU, which I suspect they will, they just need to find two more Ws and I think they can get that with home games against Iowa State, K-State and Baylor in Arlington.

From @2xQuickDJ  if UW QB Price wins at Utah, does the national press start looking N of Palo Alto?

I like Keith Price a lot. He is playing better than I believe many expected he would, although when I spoke to Steve Sarkisian in August, he was very, very high on him.

Quite frankly, the national media really isn't focused on Washington, though. Losing at Nebraska, 51-38 didn't help and wining at unranked Utah won't really help change that. Now, about a month from today, U-Dub plays at Stanford, if the Huskies can win there, that will get people's attention around the country.

From @gregbranscum Is Mike Leach interested in UK if a coaching change should happen?

For starters, I don't see UK coming open any time soon. Joker Phillips just took over. He got UK to a bowl game in year one. The 2010 season wasn't a disaster. Remember this is still a Kentucky program that has averaged five wins over the past 10 years. They're 2-2 with an outside shot to qualify for a bowl game again. Even if they don't go bowling, you have to give the guy at least four years unless it is a complete disaster with issues on and off the field. There are going to be growing pains especially when you have a first-time head coach learning at a high level.
  As for Leach, I know his family really liked Lexington, but as I said, I don't see this job coming open in 2011.

From @Jon_Roser  is Memphis the worst team ever?

Wow, does it feel like things are that awful in Memphis that it has come to this? Well, I guess so. Although Howard Schnellenberger's final season at FAU might produce an even worse squad. The Owls are 0-3, but in fairness they have faced three good teams and only lost 30-14 at Auburn after trailing just 10-6 at halftime. They are at the bottom or almost at the bottom in rushing offense, passing offense and scoring. They aren't too much better on D either (112th). But at least now their schedule eases up quite  a bit.

Other teams Memphis is rivaling in futility:  New Mexico State 2005: 0-12 although the Aggies lost one in double OT to Idaho and fell by three to Utah State in the finale. 

FIU 2006 (0-12): The year before Mario Cristobal arrived, FIU scored 23 points over the final six games, but they did lose their first two games by one point each and dropped a 7 OT game to North Texas. They were a TD underdog or less in  five games and ended up losing four of those by double-digits  and three by 25 or more. 

But my pick for the worst of recent history is Temple, 2005 (0-11). The Owls lost games by 65 (Wisconsin); 63 (Bowling Green); and 48 (UVa). Aside from a 3-point loss to WMU, the Owls didn't come within 20 of any other opponent. 

This Memphis team has looked terrible and Larry Porter is presiding over one of those "disasters" I spoke about above. To lose by 44 at Arkansas State, not Arkansas, but Arkansas State is disturbing. It's one thing for a young coach to go 1-11, as it seems like this team will do again, but it's another to get blown out of the building. The defense has been really bad and their offense has been so much worse than that.

Short of them winning against UAB in mid-November, I don't see anything better than 1-11 although by that game my hunch is Porter probably won't be coaching the Tigers any more.
Posted on: September 28, 2011 11:56 am
Edited on: September 28, 2011 12:45 pm

Daily Surf Report: The real bad Kiffin news

Just when it appeared the Trojans coach had broken free of his troubled reputation, Lane Kiffin was again tackled this week by his inescapable past, and now you have to wonder how it will ultimately shape his future, writes Bill Plaschke.

According to a report by Yahoo! Sports, former USC assistant Willie Mack Garza broke NCAA rules by reimbursing a talent scout to pay for a prospect and his mother to visit Tennessee when Garza was coaching there in 2009. Garza's boss at the time? It was, of course, Kiffin.

If there is one name that USC does not need associated with its program right now, it's Will Lyles. If there are two entities that USC does not want in the same sentence right now, it's Kiffin and the NCAA. Kiffin assured USC AD Pat Haden that he had no knowledge or involvement in Garza's alleged $1,500 repayment to Lyles for flying highly touted running back Lache Seastrunk and his mother from Texas to Tennessee for an unofficial recruiting visit.

"All I can say on that is that the alleged incident, I had no knowledge of, or no knowledge of a relationship at all," Kiffin told reporters Tuesday morning.

The other tough question involves Garza's season with the Trojans. If he was indeed a rogue recruiter for Tennessee, why would he suddenly become a clean one for the Trojans? Does USC have to worry now that its sincere two-year effort at compliance and cleanliness could be soiled with future revelations of past Garza messes? Are they sure nobody in Heritage Hall has Will Lyles on speed dial?
I am not at all surprised that some schools have gotten in hot water for using "recruiting services" as de facto shuttle services, meaning that if a school buys their service for $5,000 or $10,000, the service will do whatever it can to make sure that a group of the most coveted prospects in their area will get to campus for summer camp or unofficial visits.

The surprising part was that someone wired a payment to one of them. This stuff has been going on for a few years now and has been pretty common in the South. Who knows what this will ultimately mean for Lane Kiffin and whether he has plausible deniability.

I do buy Plaschke's point that stuff like this only whittles away the coach's margin for error. Truth is, of all the things that have been connected to Kiffin in the past week, the news of the Trojans losing at ASU was probably a lot worse for him than this latest sticky mess. Sanctions or not, he needs to convince people around USC that he can win games and not just against those with significantly inferior talent.

*Can Bud Foster slow down Chad Morris' high-flying Clemson offense, Mark Giannotto wonders.

Over the course of 17 games (13 at Tulsa last year, and now four with Clemson this season), Morris’s units have scored less than 28 points just once, not a bad track record for someone who spent the previous 16 years, and won three state titles, as a Texas high school coach. So when Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster sat down with reporters Monday night after practice, he seemed resigned to the fact that Saturday night won’t be a game in which his unit can hold the opposition to six rushing yards, like the Hokies did at Marshall, or 112 total yards, a feat Virginia Tech accomplished at East Carolina.

“You try to contain them. I don’t know if you can stop them,” Foster said. “Keep them to a minimum, but I don’t know what that minimum is. Can you keep them to 20 points? I don’t know. They’re just a talented group.”

Morris, meanwhile, tends to signal the play into Boyd once he’s at the line of scrimmage and an opponent sets up in their defense. Ultimately, Foster says, Clemson’s goal is to have so many moving parts and such a quick tempo that a defense is forced to simply play a vanilla base defense. So the most important battles Saturday could happen pre-snap, as Foster and the Hokies try to determine whether they have enough time to switch their coverages or change in-and-out of blitzes once Boyd is under center reading the defense for his keys.

I love this matchup of the two coordinators at different stages of their careers. Another great subplot will be how much VT's star CB Jayron Hosley matches up on Clemson's stud freshman WR Sammy Watkins. Hosley played a big role in Tech completely shutting down Lance Lewis, ECU's standout receiver. Lewis is averaging 10 catches and two TDs in the Pirates games aside from the one vs. Tech. In that one, he managed just three grabs for 17 yards.

*Even though Nebraska pounded Wyoming last week, it was painful for Jared Crick, the Huskers standout DT who was sidelined for the game, to watch, writes Steve Sipple.
"It sucked, man. It really sucked," Crick said Tuesday. "I was just wanting to be out there. Not just wanting to be out there for my 32nd start. I just wanted to be out there and play with my guys. That's the biggest thing for us, just being out there for each other. Me not being able to do that really hurt me.

"It definitely gave me an itch to get back out there. It definitely gives me a lot of motivation going into this week."

Crick, the preseason Big Ten defensive player of the year, took a nasty shot to the earhole on the final play Sept. 17 against Washington. The hit knocked him off his feet. Nebraska coaches haven't disclosed why he sat out of the Wyoming game, and Crick didn't want to address the topic with reporters. Despite missing practice all last week, he feels good about his conditioning.

*The nation's three most prolific passers, Brandon Weeden, Case Keenum and Geno Smith have one thing in common: all played for Dana Holgorsen in college.

I'll have a lot more about Holgorsen later today on the site.

*Korey Williams, Southern Miss' leading tackler broke news on Twitter Monday night that he will have knee surgery and indicated his senior season is probably over.

"Had dreams of making my senior season my best season," Williams posted on Twitter. "Just ready to get this surgery and start this rehab ASAP."

USM coach Larry Fedora, who announced several weeks ago he would not comment on injuries or his players’ health this season, did not return phone calls today seeking comment on Williams’ status, reports Patrick Magee.

Meanwhile, Williams, a senior, already appears focused on preparing for the NFL.

On his Twitter account, Williams posted: "Erin Henderson. Undrafted free agent because he tore his acl his last year of college. Now starting middle linebacker for the Vikings."

*In the shameless self-promo department, I'm on a podcast with Wes Bunting from the National Football Post about two intriguing QB prospects Ryan Tannehill and Weeden as well as the young but gifted LSU secondary.
Posted on: September 26, 2011 11:00 am
Edited on: September 26, 2011 1:28 pm

Daily Surf Report: FSU's disappointing start

The Oklahoma loss was painful, but FSU's loss at Clemson is potentially and excruciatingly devastating, writes Mike Bianchi.

This heart-wrenching, nail-biting 35-30 defeat to Clemson hurts so badly because it puts a Florida State season of such promise and potential on life support. The national title is gone. The conference title is in jeopardy. "We were our own worst enemy," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said after his team committed 11 game-changing penalties for 124 momentum-sapping yards.

It's now official: Florida State is not back. Not even close. Can we agree upon that now?

I got loads of hate mail from FSU fans last week when I had the audacity to chastise the ridiculous concept that the Seminoles should be satisfied by keeping it close and "only" losing by 10 points to No. 1-ranked Oklahoma. I said it then and I'll say it again: Moral victories are for directional schools, not big-time college football programs.

I was on the Noles bandwagon coming into this season. I didn't think they'd win the BCS title, but I thought they'd be a top-five team. They still might be able to get there this year, but it does not look good right now. They're just 113th in rushing, 105th in sacks allowed and 87th in turnover margin despite opening against two woeful opponents. The biggest issues for them emerged in Death Valley on defense, where they really lost focus and committed back-breaking penalties and some assignment busts. They just couldn't get off the field on third downs as Tajh Boyd, a guy who had only a handful of starts, playing in a new system, carved them up.  On top of that, Greg Reid, their top CB, has had the kind of off-field problems you wouldn't expect from a junior trying to show he's a leader.

I know the Noles are killing it recruiting. Of course, they always seem to be killing it in recruiting. It's the focus on the field, which Jimbo Fisher said all off-season he was confident was getting there, that has been lacking. Up next for them is five straight games against teams they should pound before they host a Miami team that looks pretty shaky too. I'm not sure they can prove to anyone outside of FSU diehards that they are even close to back until the final week of the regular season when they visit the Swamp.

*One of Miami's top commits, Miami Norland High School LB Keith Brown visited Clemson over the weekend and "loved" it and told CaneSport that while he would still consider himself a very soft Hurricane commitment, he also says "most likely I won't be going to Miami."

Because Brown wants to know what NCAA sanctions UM faces before he graduates in December. He doesn't want to wind up on campus in January and find out about any punishment afterward. What would it take from the NCAA to keep him on board with Miami? "Probably no bowl games and no TV time and taking scholarships away," Brown said. "One year is no problem. Probably two or three (would cause him to go elsewhere)."

Thing is, Miami almost certainly will NOT know its fate with the NCAA by Signing Day, much less in December when mid-year signees would need to know.
*Mike Locksley was fired over the weekend. The move comes as no surprise. His time at New Mexico was a complete debacle. In fact, it was a tour de force for coaching ineptitude. He was 2-26 and, it wasn't like they were close. The Lobos were getting drilled by teams, not close to turning the corner. Worse still, he himself had all sorts of embarrassing issues off the field on top of that. I was stunned he got a third season. 

*The Randy Edsall Era at Maryland has begun with a thud and John Feinstein isn't buying that the former UCONN coach was brought in to rebuild a wreck of a program.

“This is a process we are in,” Edsall said after the Terrapins’ humiliating 38-7 loss to Temple on Saturday. “It was not going to get changed overnight no matter how much I want it to.”

Saturday was not a good day for Edsall on any level and, while he was candid in admitting that his team wasn’t ready to play (no kidding) it was a cop-out for him to fall back on the “this is a process” cliche. Al Golden, who took over at Temple in 2006 when the Owls had been kicked out of the Big East and had gone 38-151 under three coaches in 17 seasons, had a real process to go through.

Edsall needs to spend less time making announcements about uniforms and more time getting them ready to play in those uniforms.

Finestein makes a good point. Edsall inherited a team with the best QB in the ACC. Danny O'Brien is the kind of building block few others have. The Terps also have some pretty good talent on defense. There are some holes, but going into this season, this looked like an eight-win team. Now, after a dismal 1-2 start with a hefty ACC stretch coming in early October, you wonder if this team will even make it to a bowl game.
*After getting blown out in the fourth quarter at ASU, the USC offense merits a D+ grade, writes Michael Lev.
QB Matt Barkley missed Woods for a touchdown, threw two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and lost a fumble on a sack. … The offense converted only 1 of 9 third-down attempts and scored touchdowns on just 2 of 6 trips into the red zone.
Heading into the weekend, I'd received some Tweets from some Trojan fans grousing about why Barkley wasn't being included in more Heisman talk. My feeling was that despite some impressive stats, the jury was still out on whether Barkley should be in the discussion with other Heisman contenders. He has struggled late in games and in crunch time. He and this USC team also haven't shined in many big spots against tough competition. Those are the kinds of things you must do to be seriously in the Heisman mix in the end.

The way they fell apart Saturday night has become shockingly common with this USC program in the past few years now. They also seemingly have too much talent at their skill positions to be only 79th in offense. We'll see if they can get it sorted out. The Trojans have a very interesting October coming up with games at Cal, at Notre Dame and then against Stanford. Those are games that people will keep an eye on. Not against Syracuse and Minnesota.


Category: NCAAF
Posted on: September 21, 2011 9:20 am
Edited on: September 21, 2011 10:06 am

Daily Surf Report: Larry Scott laying down law

The Pac-12's statement last night announcing that it would NOT expand was surprising to many observers, myself included. The statement itself was more telling than you often see when conferences put out their alerts or news releases:

". . . While we have great respect for all of the institutions that have contacted us, and certain expansion proposals were financially attractive, we have a strong conference structure and culture of equality that we are committed to preserve. With new landmark TV agreements and plans to launch our innovative television networks, we are going to focus solely on these great assets, our strong heritage and the bright future in front of us."

Included in the statement was the "culture of equality that we are committed to preserve" which was clearly a reference to Texas and its Longhorn Network. The assumption many were making was that at some point if Texas would get to the Pac-12--and Texas' role in all of this stuff was the most intriguing (Pac-12 vs. ACC vs. Independence vs. Trying to keep the Big 12 alive)--is that UT and Larry Scott would be able to finesse the LHN deal into the conference's TV model, but that was part of the deal breaker for all of this.

Of course, this news does not mean the conference realignment chaos is over. If anything, it just shows how much bigger of a mess the Big 12 schools' dynamic actually is now. 

Richard Justice, the long-time Houston Chronicle columnist, tweeted this Wednesday morning: "For one day, sanity ruled college sports. Whether it'll last for a decade or an hour is beside the point. It's a start."
I think "sanity" is Larry Scott. And I think he's only beginning to flex his muscle. Dan Beebe, the "head" of the Big 12, is on the opposite side of the spectrum. *LSU may have lost the best DB in college football in Patrick Peterson, but the Tigers have two DBs, Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu who both may lack the big corner's size, but also now are being considered as first-round talents, reports Glenn Guilbeau.
"I think Claiborne is a first round pick now," NFL Draft expert Mike Detillier said. "I do not see him returning for his senior year. Tyrann could also be a first round pick. They don't have the size and speed of Peterson, but they're both great cornerbacks."

Mathieu at 5-foot-9 and 180 and Claiborne at 6-0, 185 are built like most cornerbacks. Peterson was freakish at 6-1, 219, but LSU coach Les Miles sees parts of Peterson in both players. "I think Mo is as fast and athletic as any," Miles said Monday at his press luncheon. "His athleticism, fluidity and ball skills are equal, but Patrick was bigger, stronger and more explosive. I would certainly like to have Mo at either corner and Patrick at any corner as well."

Miles sees Peterson's sixth sense for playmaking in Mathieu. "Tyrann anticipates making the play," he said. "He makes plays that only a guy who thinks he can blitz and not be blocked can make. He just thinks he can chase the ball, get to the ball, catch the ball and strip the ball. He looks at every piece of a play as an opportunity to enhance his opportunity to make another play. He is a guy that sees each opportunity as incredible and tries to throw his body around it. I see it in a number of our guys at times. It happens with some regularity with our guys."
I'll have a lot more about the talent on this LSU defense next week in a bigger story on the site.
*Notre Dame freshman DE Aaron Lynch is making a big impact for the Irish, who have been desperate to find a difference-maker up front for a long time, as Tom Davis reports.

After racking up just one tackle in the first two games, Lynch accounted for five total tackles and a sack of Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins. In a game that had a combined 13 quarterback hurries between the two squads, the 6-foot-6, 265-pound youngster had six of those himself.

“If (Lynch) didn't get to the quarterback, he got held,” coach Brian Kelly said.

*Top 2013 QB prospect Shane Morris not only is already committed to Michigan, he's also working very hard recruiting for the Wolverines as well, reports Tim Sullivan.

“Definitely, I'm just trying to get the best players in the country to come to Michigan,” Morris said. “In person, on Facebook or whatever I have to do to get a hold of them.”

That approach paid off for Morris following the night game against Notre Dame. Thanks, in part, to his hard work, Alliance (Ohio) Marlington defensive back Dymonte Thomas committed to U-M. He's the second commitment in Michigan’s class of 2013. “I’ve been recruiting him hard,” Morris said, “He’s a great kid, and we’re really good friends. I didn’t think he was ready to commit yet. We’re all really excited about that. He’s going to be one of the best players in Ohio next year.”

Morris has other recruiting targets in his sights, too. Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian wide receiver Jordan Payton and Lakewood (Wash.) Lakes offensive lineman Zach Banner attended the Notre Dame, and Morris gave his best pitch for Michigan to the senior prospects. “I talked to Jordan Payton and Zach Banner for a long time,” Morris said. “I tried to talk to everyone I could out there and build relationships.”


Category: NCAAF
Posted on: September 20, 2011 8:11 am
Edited on: September 20, 2011 10:20 am

Daily Surf Report: Great hotel discounts?

South Carolina could be in very serious trouble in the wake of the NCAA charging that numerous South Carolina athletes and prospects received $55,000 in improper benefits from boosters, according to a notice of allegations sent to the university on Monday. School president Harris Pastides said the school takes the allegations "very seriously," reports Jeff Hartsell. The boosters involved -- called "representatives of the school's athletic interests" by the NCAA -- have been disassociated from the school.

South Carolina has until Dec. 14 to respond to the allegations, which occurred from May 2009 through February 2011. The case could go before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions next February, with football coach Steve Spurrier asked by the NCAA to attend. The allegations are "considered to be potential major violations," the NCAA notice said. USC could be subject to more stringent penalties because of violations under former football coach Lou Holtz in a case decided in November 2005, within the five-year window for "repeat violator" status.

"The University will review the notice and respond accordingly. I assure you that we will continue to take all aspects of this investigation very seriously," Pastides said in a statement. "We are prepared to continue to work with the NCAA to resolve any issues."

The latest allegations stem from two cases, one involving the Whitney Hotel in Columbia and the other the Student-Athlete Mentoring Foundation, a Delaware group that "provides supplementary support to high school student-athletes," according to its website. The NCAA charged USC with a "failure to monitor" in both situations. In the Whitney Hotel case, the NCAA says 10 football players and two women's track athletes paid "reduced rents" to live there in 2009 and 2010. The football players paid $14.59 per day or about $450 per month, the NCAA said, resulting in improper benefits of as much as $19,280 for one player and $16,940 for another. The Associated Press reported that the NCAA deemed the rate should have been $57 per day for a total of $1,710 per month.

One of the athletes involved is touted freshman WR Damiere Byrd, who is currently serving a four-game NCAA suspension. The timing of this case will drag on past signing day in February and given the dollar values involved it will be quite a headache for the school.

*A defiant John Marinatto, the Big East commissioner, said Monday night that he was confident the league would emerge stronger from the loss of Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the Atlantic Coast Conference over the weekend, writes Pete Thamel.

Marinatto said in a telephone interview that he planned to hold Syracuse and Pittsburgh to their 27-month contractual exit obligations, meaning that they would not be able to leave the Big East until June 2014.

Marinatto also echoed the disappointment of his peers around the Big East that A.C.C. officials like Commissioner John Swofford and Boston College Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo had openly speculated about playing the league’s postseason basketball tournament in Madison Square Garden. The Big East holds a contract with the Garden for its basketball tournament through 2016 and has played the tournament there since 1983.

“We have a track record of coming out stronger than we did before,” Marinatto said, referring the A.C.C.’s raid of three Big East teams in 2003. “We may even hold the opening round of our basketball tournament in Greensboro,” a frequent site of the A.C.C. tournament, he said in jest.

*Speaking of conference realignment, despite what you may have read or heard, Texas and the Pac-121 are “nowhere near any agreement,” reports Jon Wilner.

For one thing, the Longhorn Network would have to be folded into the Pac-12 regional model — it wouldn’t exist as a separate entity.

What’s more, there is no chance that any school will have more than 1/16th of the revenue, whether it comes from the conference’s first, second or third-tier rights. NO CHANCE. We’re more likely to see USC give up football and join the Big West. Remember, the Pac-12 CEOs would like to have Texas, but they are not desperate to have Texas.

*Tennessee coach Derek Dooley didn’t sugarcoat the loss of Justin Hunter on Monday in his first public comments since the star receiver’s season was officially ended by torn anterior and medial cruciate ligaments, and the Vols coach made clear his attack would look different moving forward, writes Austin Ward.

The Vols already have an idea who will be involved on the Committee for Offensive Change, starting with the other standout receiver in Da’Rick Rogers and including another veteran target in Zach Rogers.

But without Hunter, the Vols are likely going to have to lean more heavily on the running game, putting pressure on tailback Tauren Poole and maybe expanding the roles of freshmen like Marlin Lane and Tom Smith. The Vols also need other options in the passing game, which brings in two more two freshmen to audition for work in DeAnthony Arnett and Vincent Dallas.

Hunter's ability to challenge defenses downfield was huge, especially for such a young offense with issues on a very green O-line as it gets into the teeth of the SEC schedule.

*Penn State is off to a shaky offensive start and Bob Flounders has some telling stats, including the number of catches by PSU No. 3 wideout Shawney Kersey in three games (two). 

The Lions frequently use multiple-receiver sets but the QBs are locking in on Derek Moye and Justin Brown. Kersey is plenty fast, but what good is all that speed if the Lions don't use it?

Incidentally, the Nittany Lions are one of just three teams in FBS who have played three games and still haven't thrown a TD pass, joining UCF and San Jose State. 

*More stats talk: Even though Nebraska's defense, three games into the season, ranks 61st nationally in rushing defense, 66th in scoring defense, 67th in total defense and 78th in pass defense, Bo Pelini isn't worried about the numbers, reports Brian Rosenthal.

"It's why they put 'Coach' in front of our name," Pelini said. "You don't panic, you don't sit there. You look at it for what it is, and you work to get it fixed. That's what I've learned over a long period of time. You don't make rash adjustments. You do hold guys accountable. But you don't chuck what you do, because you know what you're doing works, and you've got to trust in that."   . . . Overall, Pelini's biggest concerns involve playing with correct technique, communicating and adjusting. Many times Saturday, not everybody was on the same page, resulting in players being put in bad situations, he said.

*Just what Pac-12 defenses needed to hear: Oregon has another weapon emerging in tight end Colt Lyerla, a speedy 6-foot-5, 225-pound five-star recruit whol has three catches this season — all for touchdowns. With two new starting receivers entering this season, QB Darron Thomas said defenses have been focusing on stopping David Paulson in the passing game, writes Adam Jude.
“But it’s going to open up,” Thomas said, “and he’s going to get some balls.”

 *Well-travelled former Florida linebacker Chris Martin has left Navarro College to go to City College and be closer to his ailing mother, reports Tomas Verde. Martin, a former top recruit, bounced to three high schools, originally committed to Notre Dame, then to Florida, then signed with Cal, but soon bolted for UF because there were too many distractions at Cal. He eventually left UF for junior college in Texas.

Posted on: September 16, 2011 11:48 am
Edited on: September 16, 2011 3:35 pm

Daily Surf Report: Young Vols ready for Swamp?

This weekend will separate some of the pretenders from the contenders. One of those teams I'm most curious about are the young Tennessee Vols, who have piled up points in their first two games, albeit against suspect competition. On Saturday, they face another intriguing team that has polished off some inferior opponents, Florida and the Vols will enter very hostile territory in The Swamp.

I spoke to Vols OC Jim Chaney on Wednesday to get a better sense of UT. Chaney, who has helped groom several NFL QBs from his days at Purdue, said about a month ago sophomore QB Tyler Bray seemed to get locked in. Something clicked with Bray, where he understood "I need to get totally invested." "Up till then, he was playing quarterback and now he gets that there's more to it than just saying 'set - hike'," Chaney explained. "He understands the position."

While Bray may not quite have the same arm strength, Chaney compares the young QB's laid-back demeanor to former Purdue standout Kyle Orton. Bray also has really good football instincts, Chaney said. On top of that the 6-6 Californian has the luxury of playing with two outstanding young WRs, Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers.

Chaney admitted he is concerned about the Vols ground game ("We can't run the ball") and how his still-green O-line will do against a pretty fierce group of Gator defensive linemen on the road. "Whenever something changes in front of them (the Vols sophomore-dominated OL), it's like the whole world changes," he said. Obviously, expect UF to do a lot of that shifting and disguise to try and confuse an inexperienced bunch. Also, keep in mind Bray's two road starts were at Memphis and Vandy. This is a whole different deal

Asked what he's most curious to find out Saturday Chaney said: "I want to see how they handle things when the lights come on--are they gonna be able to slow down and think?" Then again, the Gators have a lot of inexperience too. Will Muschamp's got a young secondary trying to cope with the UT passing attack, but he has a pretty good answer, writes Rachel George.

"We need to get pressure with four guys rushing," the Gators' coach said this week. "That's the best pass defense in America."

*I was impressed by LSU Thursday night handling Miss State on the road. I don't know how you couldn't be wowed by this LSU D. They completely short-circuited a dangerous Oregon offense in the opener, keeping the Ducks from having a single 20-yard play the whole night. Against, MSU, they completely bottled up a very talented back in Vick Ballard and suffocated a good running team. 

The Tigers may not have Patrick Peterson or Drake Nevis, but they come at you in waves. They just don't have 11 guys. They have about 20 that come after you, and it almost looks like all 20 are out there on the field at the same time.  They had a whopping 15 TFLs. Bennie Logan had 3.5. Michael Brockers had three. Freshman stud Anthony Johnson had two. Kiki Mingo had one. Tyrann Mathieu had one And so on.

Jarrett Lee was solid on the road and did a lot more good than bad. Aside from one late pick, he was very sharp and efficient. They can compete for a BCS title with that kind of performance, especially since Spencer Ware and Michael Ford run so hard. *With six straight games now scoring under 30 points (counting Arizona, Oregon State, Notre Dame and UCLA to finish last season), USC is approaching the record of eight games in a row under 30 points last chalked up in the 1984-85 seasons under Ted Tollner for teams that finished 9-3 and 6-6, writes Dan Weber of

*UCF and FIU have more at stake than undefeated records when the two up-and-coming teams clash Saturday night in Miami, writes Brendan Sonnone. Namely recruiting pull.

"FIU is in the same place UCF was a couple years ago," Miami Central coach Telly Lockette said. "They're starting to get the marquee guys now in Dade and Broward counties. It won't be long until they're a household name."

With both rising programs eager to keep signing South Florida athletes, Saturday's matchup could have a significant impact on the schools' reputations on the recruiting trail.

"There's definitely a little bit of status [for UCF] to lose," Florida-based recruiting analyst Corey Long said. "They have a nice space down in Miami now. Kids know about them down there. If they go down there to FIU and lose, [players] start wondering, FIU might be where I need to go. It's definitely one that under-the-radar prospects will be looking at real closely."

*One program has a coach on the hot seat. The other program, the one the blue-chipper is committed to, has a coach dealing with a huge NCAA investigation. Will UGA be able to flip the commitment of Miami LB recruit Raphael Kirby, Michael Carvell asks.

The 6-foot, 210-pound linebacker from Stephenson High School will make an unofficial visit to UGA for Saturday’s game against Coastal Carolina.

Kirby made the decision to take the last-minute recruiting trip after talking with UGA recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner on Thursday night.

“We had a long conversation and Coach Garner said he wanted me to come up for a visit soon; I told him that I’m not really doing anything this weekend, so I’m going on Saturday,” Kirby told the AJC.

*Kirk Cousins is one the real class acts in college sports. He really is as impressive as they come whenever he speaks, to either a group of people, his peers or the media, as you get a sense of in this take, via Joe Rexrode when he talks about embattled Notre Dame CB Gary Gray, who Michigan State faces Saturday.
“I view them as the first three quarters," Kirk Cousins said. "I don’t pay a lot of attention to the fourth quarter. I think a couple of those balls, if No. 4 turns his back around it’s an interception. So it’s great for Michigan to win the game but I don’t view it a whole lot as their defense is terrible and Michigan’s offense is amazing. I view it as, if that guy turns around, the game’s over long ago. So I expect them to be a very, very tough defense.”

No. 4, by the way, is senior cornerback Gary Gray. He's getting the Jaren Hayes treatment, circa 2004, in South Bend. Reporters are coming up just short of asking Brian Kelly if he plans to sit Gray in the corner for a two-week timeout. Here's what Kelly said Tuesday about Gray:

"It's unfortunate that people look at that one position because it's not just Gary Gray that we put this loss on," Kelly said. "There's a lot of situations. If we don't turn the ball over, Gary Gray's name is not even brought up. Gary is going to be fine. He's a senior. He'll bounce back. He had a great game last year against Michigan State, and he's been really solid for us. So we need Gary Gray to come up and play good football this weekend against Michigan State."

Cousins obviously saw the Gray mistakes and is aware of the criticism, but he's not looking at Gray like a weak link. Really, he isn't. “It’s unfortunate for him, I think he’s a very, very good corner," Cousins said of Gray. "He’s played a lot of football for them. So when you’ve played that long, I feel like he’s gonna be ready. And obviously he had an off night last week, but he’s right in position. It’s not like he’s getting beat deep. I mean he’s right there to make the play, so that shows he’s in position and has the athleticism to cover people, and I think it’s probably a little undeserved criticism on his end. And I expect him to come back this week and play at a much higher level. So I don’t think it’s something where we’re saying, ‘Let’s pick on him, we think he’s weak.’ I think that across the board they’re a much better defense than maybe that last quarter showed against Michigan.”
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or