Tag:Michigan
Posted on: March 6, 2012 12:52 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 12:55 pm
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Tuesday Top 10: Most intriguing early enrollees

Spring football is about to kick off for many more programs this week. That means we'll start to learn a lot more about which newcomers are ready to make an impact this fall. Here are the 10 most intriguing early enrollees to keep an eye on. (Note: I'm not included guys who were high school seniors in 2010 on this Top 10 list.)
 
1-Zach Kline, Cal, QB: 
It's been a loooooooong time since Jeff Tedford's team has had a really good QB. That last guy Aaron Rodgers left Cal after the 2004 season and it's been a bunch of misfires since. A lot of those quarterbacks who have had a shot at taking over, came to Berkeley with sizable credentials, but none of the other QBs Tedford has had since arrived more polished than the 6-2, 205-pound Kline. The Danville, CA native who has worked with former Cal coach Roger Theder for years, has good footwork, a quick release and is very accurate. Kline also seems to respond very well to competition. Zach Maynard, who had an up-and-down 2011, is the guy he'd have to overtake. Maynard, Tedford pointed out, did play better late in the season, but Kline is worth watching closely.

The Bears coach, whose teams have not finished in the AP Top 25 five years running now, has tried to temper some of the hype around Kline, by saying Maynard is still the program's starting QB. "I absolutely have concern about that," Tedford told reporters Monday about the lofty expectations on his young quarterback. "There's such a thing of putting too much on a kid early. I want him to come in here and be able concentrate on what he's doing and learn the offense and do his best without all the expectations."

2-Keith Marshall, Georgia, RB: Heading into the 2011 season, with the Bulldogs depth chart at running back depleted, the expectations on former blue-chip recruit Isaiah Crowell sky-rocketed. Crowell had some outstanding moments, but also was plagued by some issues of immaturity. If Crowell doesn't stay focused, he'll have a hard time keeping Marshall, a guy many recruiting analysts tabbed as the nation's top RB prospect in the 2012 class, off the field. Marshall is an explosive back with soft hands and great character (he had a 4.3 GPA in high school.) You just don't hear about many players these days whose GPA and 40-yard dash times are nearly identical.

3-Travis Blanks, Clemson DB: The last time we saw the Tigers defense it was getting shredded by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. Going into the 2011 season, Clemson needed to replace three standout DBs who had moved on, especially All-American DeAndre McDaniel. The program really struggled in that capacity, finishing the season No. 81 in scoring defense and No. 74 in pass efficiency defense but help has arrived in new DC Brent Venables and this 6-1, 195-pound DB, who CBS Sports ranked as the country's No. 25 overall recruit and No. 2 defensive back.

4-D.J. Humphries, Florida, OT: One of two highly touted line recruits (Jessemen Dunker is the other) who has a legit shot to win a starting job this year on a Gator O-line that that was really, really shaky in 2011 and also has a new position coach. Humphries was a gem Will Muschamp's staff landed in North Carolina. He has long 6-foot-6 frame and nimble feet, making him a prototype left tackle as he continues to fill out. Humphries told Gatorzone's Scott Carter after Signing Day that he had already packed on 12 pounds since arriving in Gainesville.

5-Mario Pender, FSU, RB: Last year at about this time another early enrollee RB at FSU, Devonta Freeman was turning some heads. Freeman had a good season in 2011, but watch out for Pender. The guy is a blur, who is both quick and fast. In fact, sources at FSU say he's the fastest back the Noles have. In high school, he averaged 12 yards per carry.  

6-Tee Shepherd, Notre Dame, CB: Even though QB Gunner Kiel is the ND newcomer who has grabbed most of the headlines, my hunch is the 6-1, 186-pound Shepherd will make more of an impact for the Irish in 2012. He is a terrific athlete on a secondary that not only has to replace both corners but was sorely lacking in the play-making department. Shepard made 10 career INTs in high school despite sitting out his senior year due to transfer rules.

7-Amari Cooper, Bama, WR: Coming off a national title season, the Tide has a bunch of starters to replace and there are a handful of eye-catching newcomers already on campus. T.J. Yeldon, a tailback and Chris Black, a wideout are two guys who came to Tuscaloosa with a lot of buzz, but it's Cooper and OLB Ryan Anderson who probably have the best shot to make an instant impact. Cooper has great ball skills and figures to be an immediate upgrade for a receiving corps that needs a spark.

8-Arik Armstead, Oregon, DL: Many projected the Californian as a top offensive tackle prospect, but he signed on with the Ducks, where he's seen Nick Alliotti's D have a lot of success with its' towering D-linemen. The 6-7, 282-pound Armstead, also a terrific basketball player, has a chance to boost a defensive end rotation that needs to replace Terrell Turner.

9-Raphael Kirby, Miami LB: One of eight early enrollees in Coral Gables, Kirby arrived with a very impressive pedigree. A product of Ga. prep powerhouse Stephenson High that cranks out D1 players, the 208-pound Kirby is undersized especially as Al Golden tries to turn the Canes into a more physical team. But the Canes are short on proven linebackers and Kirby is fast, smart and instinctive--traits that figure to remind folks around Miami of former standout Sean Spence, who just moved on to the NFL. Another newcomer generating some buzz inside the program is agile OT Ereck Flowers.

10 (tie)-Bri'onte Dunn, Ohio State, RB: Tim Tebow provided Urban Meyer's offense at Florida a physical inside rushing presence, and the new OSU coach will be looking for a back to deliver that for the Buckeyes to take some of the pressure off young QB Braxton Miller. The 220-pound Dunn is a load. He also made many OSU fans take a big deep breath when he eventually picked the Buckeyes over Michigan.

10-(tie) Matt Davis, Texas A&M, QB: New OC Kliff Kingsbury has four options to be the Aggies new quarterback in the new A&M offense. The 6-1, 205-pound Davis is a gifted dual-threat QB, like two of the other three guys he'll be competing with when spring ball gets going at the end of the month. 
Posted on: March 2, 2012 1:41 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2012 5:08 pm
 

Mailbag: Urban's smooth transition to the Big Ten

Here is this week's mailbag. As always, you can send questions to me via Twitter at BFeldmanCBS. 

From @Feldyman15 Urban Meyer is a proven winner, however does his style of offense translate to the B1G? Will it be a smooth transition?

Nice to see a question from my favorite former FCS star football player. Meyer's had success everywhere he's been. He's proven he's willing--and capable--of tweaking his offense to suit the personnel he inherits. He's not rigid.


The key thing about him taking over in Columbus is the most important component to his system that he inherited (the dual-threat triggerman) happens to be an ideal fit for what Meyer loves to do. As I wrote a while back when Meyer got hired, he's been sky high on Braxton Miller since long before he took the job. That said, Miller's still a young QB and there are bound to be growing pains. A bigger challenge will be that OSU has to replace three very good O-linemen and there are no proven wideouts to rely on. There will be some rocky moments, but I expect this to be a top 25 team, in part because of Miller's talent, in part because of some playmakers on a seasoned defense and because Meyer's a great, not good, coach.

From @NYWolverine2 Do you think Urban Meyer's spread will work in the B1G since RR failed?

First off, RichRod's problems in the Big Ten weren't because of his offense. In his final season in Ann Arbor, when he finally had many of the pieces in place to run his system, the Wolverines were eighth in the nation in total offense (and first in the Big Ten). Rodriguez isn't still in Ann Arbor because he never got the right defensive coordinator.

If Meyer's system worked in the SEC, it can work anywhere. And if anyone's going to suggest that because of the challenges a program's defense faces on a daily basis at practice because you own offense, like Rodriguez hinders a D's development, keep in mind that Meyer's former defensive coordinator at Florida was Greg Mattison, the guy who has made the biggest difference in Brady Hoke's success at UM.

On top of that, Meyer is riding such a wave of good energy right now since he was hired. He is killing it in recruiting and finished the 2012 class with a flurry. And that heat is only intensifying. Earlier this week, OSU got a commitment from one of the top O-line prospects in the midwest, Evan Lisle, who picked the Buckeyes over, among others, Alabama and OU. Meyer already snagged a five-star guy in Cameron Burrows and Jalin Marshall was another Ohio kid who virtually everyone was after.

From @BrianTrageser What offense are you most excited to watch in 2012?

There are so many intriguing dynamics to look forward to this fall. The ones that most jump out at me as I went through a list of schools alphabetically via conference:

Clemson: Year Two for Tajh Boyd, Chad Morris and Sammy Watkins.
FSU: Can E.J. Manuel and an impressive group of young receivers live up to expectations.
Kansas: Curious how Dayne Crist and Charlie Weis will do reuniting in Lawrence after dismal 2011s.
Texas A&M: Kliff Kingsbury's system is very different from what Mike Sherman ran and the Aggies do have the luxury of an excellent O-line.
WVU: Similar to the Clemson team they destroyed in the Orange Bowl, this could be an even more explosive attack with an off-season of added reps and improved timing.
Ohio State: Urban Meyer loves Braxton Miller and probably has some wrinkles ready to break out on the rest of the Big Ten.
Penn State: Bill O'Brien had a lot of success with the Pats offense (then again, who doesn't?) and now gets a chance to fix the shaky Penn State QB situation.
Boise State: Life after Kellen Moore?
Arizona: RichRod inherits a QB (Matt Scott) who is a pretty good fit for his system.
Oregon: Because Chip Kelly's still there and he's got a gobs of speed.
Stanford: Life after Luck?
USC: Matt Barkley's back for his fourth year as a starter with most of the line in tact to go with two superb WRs and a 1.000-yard runner.
Washington State: Leach's offenses have always produced and there might be some Pistol flavor to spice up the Air-Raid. He inherits two capable QBs, one outstanding WR and a very suspect O-line.
Tennessee: They have a lot of thee-year starters and should throw for a bunch of yards.
FIU: Cristobal hired a Chip Kelly disciple from New Hampshire.
Hawaii: Norm Chow goes home to run his own show.

From @eric_hise Will Mack's reach into JUCO ranks pay off?...side note, look forward to seeing u n the ATX for SXSW!

From what I heard via coaches who tried to recruit those JC linemen, those guys should help boost what has been an underwhelming group over the past few years and provide depth on the D assuming they can grasp Bryan Harsin's system and Manny Diaz' scheme. That's one of the big mysteries with bringing in JC guys.

The Horns, though, have a couple of gifted, physical young backs, so I expect to see a big improvement in this running game. The thing most holding UT back from being a legit Top 10 team is a consistent passing game. My hunch is David Ash will be a lot better than he was in his first season, but this program is probably a year away.

I am also looking forward to getting to Austin for SXSW. (I tweeted earlier this week that I will be speaking there on a panel covering sports reporting and Twitter a week from Monday.)

From @Draft_Hub Top 5 exciting players for 2012

Three players immediately came to mind: Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas, Michigan's Denard Robinson and LSU's Tyrann Mathieu. I was torn for the last two spots between Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez, Wisconsin's former walk-on phenom Jared Abbrederis and WVU's Tavon Austin.

From @JohnHanson20 Does WVU have a legit shot at a Big12 title next year?

In terms of firepower and offense? No question. They have a legit shot because their offense is going to be so explosive, but I have my doubts whether they'll be good enough on D to overtake an Oklahoma. The team lost three of its best players off of what was a very average defense that ranked No. 61 in scoring. Jeff Casteel was a well-regarded DC and he's gone, off to join Rich Rodriguez in Arizona. The new defensive staff is younger and there's more uncertainty.

From @SlickOne716 Is WVU canceling of their game at FSU really going to hurt FSU's chance at the National Championship?

No. With FSU, it's not going to be about having enough impressive opponents. If FSU won out last year, the Noles would've been playing for the title. The pollsters are just salivating at that chance to say the Noles are back, but the team, of late, has had the tendency to shoot itself in the foot a time or three. 

There's no doubt the non-conference schedule took a hit with them having to replace WVU with Savannah State, but at least UF is still on there with a road game at USF. There are a lot of top 25 teams that have a lot worse than that. FSU does need a few ACC programs to get out to fast starts and look viable (Clemson? Va. Tech? Miami?). It'd also help their cause a lot if the Gators knocked off a few top 25 SEC teams before they visited Tallahassee.

From @loubega1 how close is Notre Dame to fielding a dominant defense? Are there enough playmakers in the secondary?

It has been such a long time since the Irish have had a really good defense, much less a dominant one. I would say last season there were were only two truly dominant defenses, LSU and Alabama. Notre Dame is not close to what either of those teams had or did. Those teams were overflowing with playmakers, not just the starters by all over their two-deeps.

In 2011, the Irish made some strides, ranking 30th in total D and 24th in scoring defense. The downside was they were only 59th in sacks, 77th in tackles for loss, and worst of all, forced only 14 turnovers in 13 games. Only one team in all of the FBS that played in a bowl game forced less turnovers (Fresno State).

It has been years since ND has had the type of size and athleticism it has now in its front seven, but many of those guys are still pretty raw. Aaron Lynch, Prince Shembo, Ishaq Williams, Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix need to mature fast and become more consistent. What is more a concern, as you point out, is their secondary. They had a lot of experience back there in 2011, and those guys just struggled to make plays on the ball. And many of these guys came to ND as celebrated recruits. We'll see if they can get it sorted out. Until that happens and the younger D-line guys show they can be consistent, they're still a bit away.

From @NMStefan can Illinois ever really recruit consistently good due to their geography with Northwestern and Notre Dame so close?

They should be able to but so much of that is on the new staff and the relationships they develop with the local high school coaches. Ron Zook's staffs landed more than their share of blue-chippers but many tended to be from outside the state. It's not Notre Dame and Northwestern that are the biggest thorns in the Illini's side in terms of in-state recruiting. It's Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Ohio State. And in terms of the 2012 recruiting class, it was Auburn that snagged arguably the top in-state prospect in OT Jordan Diamond.  Just in 2012, Iowa landed four of the top 10 players. That has to change with the new staff.

From @JDubs88  Would you agree that Spencer Hall and Jason Kirk need a little more sun?

I don't think so. I'm not sure tan works with corduroy. It's kinda like mixing ascots and mullets. I think I learned that in one of my classes in junior college.
Posted on: February 27, 2012 12:59 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2012 1:17 pm
 

Dontari Poe: More than just a Combine Freak?

Every year one prospect lights up the NFL combine by putting on a dazzling showing as the Freak of all freaks. Monday, Dontari Poe, a 6-4, 346-pound defensive tackle from Memphis, was That Guy. 

We've been touting Poe for a year or so now after being told about him by a Memphis staffer of his staggering athleticism. The guy squats over 700 pounds, bench presses over 500 and power cleans over 400, all jaw dropping numbers, but he's more than just weight room powerhouse. He was also a Tennessee state champion shot putter in high school, a testament to some of that explosiveness.

As expected, Poe was impressive in the weight room in Indy, benching 225 pounds 44 times, more than anyone else at the combine. But it was when he dug his cleats in to run the 40-yard dash Monday morning when jaws really dropped. Poe was unofficially timed at an unheard-of 4.87 seconds. And this was as the fourth-heaviest defensive linemen to weigh in at the Ccmbine since 2000. Later, the league announced his official time was 4.98, which is still remarkable for such a mammoth athlete.

Some immediately wondered if Poe is just a "workout warrior"? After all, he only was named to the second-team All-Conference USA team in 2011 with 33 tackles, eight TFLs and one sack for the nation's No. 115 defense. The year before, he was just an honorable mention all-league pick.

In truth, it's tricky to try to read too much into the stats of an interior defensive lineman. Poe, as one college coach who faced him this year pointed out to me Monday, was not surrounded by much talent. You shaped your game plan around him, the coach said. Plus, different defensive scheme dictate how "productive" certain D-linemen can be. Steelers star nose man Casey Hampton's been to five Pro Bowls and he barely registers on the postgame stat sheet.

I spoke to a veteran O-line coach who faced Poe several times during his college career. His take: "He's probably the best talent I've seen in several years. He took plays off and wasn't a great effort guy, but he is a freakish talent."

But don't all 320-plus pound D-linemen take some plays off?

"Yeah," said the coach, "but he took off more than most. He did get better last year than he was the year before. He just was never that productive, but I heard they didn't require him to do that much. He was definitely someone I took into account with schemes. ... I'm not at all surprised to hear that he's blowing up at the combine at all. He was never on the ground in college."

That last detail may actually be just impressive as the speed Poe displayed Monday, because as the O-line coach said, it shows the guy's great balance.

"It's the first thing I look at in recruiting linemen.

"He has definite first-round talent."
Posted on: February 25, 2012 7:12 pm
Edited on: February 26, 2012 7:48 am
 

Notebook: Matt Kalil goes from Bambi to bruiser

Eight things I learned from hanging around the NFL Combine media center at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday:


1-Matt Kalil, who was one of only two O-linemen who worked out Saturday to clock a 40 under 5.0 seconds and is projected as a top-three draft pick, apparently wasn't such a promising athlete when he was younger. Fellow USC product Chris Galippo has known the 6-7, 306-pound Kalil since they were eight years old. And even though it's the Trojan linebacker who is in the shadows now in scouts' eyes, you might not have expected things to turn out like they have for the two childhood buddies from Orange County. 

"I was always bigger and taller than Matt," said the 6-1, 241-pounder. "I was always kicking his butt. We'd go out and play two-on-two football and he couldn't catch. He couldn't throw. He was sort of like Bambi out there." 

Galippo said then one summer when both were students at Servite High, his pal sprouted from 6-1 to about 6-7 and, soon thereafter, Kalil grew into that frame. "That's what's so crazy about it," Galippo says.


Kalil became much more coordinated, Galippo said, as the kid who always had the huge hands and huge feet finally caught up to his body.

Somwhere along the way, Kalil also honed quite a nasty streak that is a stark contrast to his jokester personality off the field, Galippo says, when pointing out one of the big differences between the USC left tackle and his older brother Ryan, a Pro Bowl center. "Matt's one of the meanest O-linemen around. He plays really angry."


2-The Michigan defenders really, really like the focus Brady Hoke's staff brought back to Ann Arbor that, um, apparently was lacking previously under former coach Rich Rodriguez. In fact, standout nose tackle Mike Martin said defense "wasn't very emphasized" under Rodriguez.


"He didn't really spend too much time on the defense," Martin said of Rodriguez. "We were kind of a supplement. Just kinda there trying to help out the offense."

When I asked Martin what the biggest difference in how Rodriguez ran the program as compared to Hoke, the 306-pounder said, "It was such a big change. The amount of accountability he gave to the seniors in the leadership. Coach Rod like to be that guy. But Coach Hoke told us, 'If I have to lead this team, we're not gonna be where we need to be.'"

Martin went on to say that new UM DC Greg Mattison came back to Ann Arbor and "just set the bar at another level. We thought that we were doing the things that we needed to do to get better, but watching film and being more technically sound and doing all of the detail things that Coach Mattison really harped on made us better as a team."


3-All of the coaching chaos at Pitt took its toll on the players. Defensive end Brandon Lindsey said the program had six different head coaches in a calendar year and the only want to handle that is for the players to lean on each other. "It was really hard to stay focused," he said. "It's definitely hard to trust people when two years in a row, your coach is gone, but you just have to trust your instincts and trust your university to bring in the right people."


4-Olivier Vernon, a former blue-chip high school prospect, thought getting "special treatment" wasn't all that special. The Miami DE, who missed six games in the 2011 season for his involvement in the Nevin Shapiro scandal at UM, said he was "baffled" when Yahoo sports broke the story late in the summer on the former UM booster.  "I didn't know what was going on," Vernon said Saturday. "I didn't know my name was going to be mentioned."

The NCAA sidelined Vernon half the season for accepting $1,200 in benefits. 

"I should've known better. Some people come around and try to give you things? I should've known better. . . . I was in high school. I didn't think it was 'special treatment.' I thought that's how things work. I didn't know anything about compliance.

"I really felt like it wasn't actually as bad as it was made out to be."

Vernon also told reporters that the people who introduced him to Shapiro were (former Miami assistants) Clint Hurtt and Aubrey Hill. Hurtt is now the D-line coach at Louisville, while Hill is the receivers coach at Florida. According to the Miami Herald, Vernon told the NCAA of both coaches' involvement, and that he wasn't the only Hurricane who told the NCAA that the former UM assistants led the players to Shapiro, and that one current Canes player said that another former Miami assistant Joe Pannunzio (now a staffer at Alabama) led him to Shapiro.


5-The biggest difference to the Texas players between Will Muschamp's defense and Manny Diaz' D is the simplicity of current UT defensive coordinator's scheme. Linebacker Keenan Robinson said it took Diaz just a week to install his defense in training camp, which was much less than it took to get Muschamp's system in place. 


"It's much more simple," said UT LB Emmanuel Acho. "You also had more freedom within (Diaz) defense. He just lets us play the game."


6-Jamie Blatnick played against Sam Bradford, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, three QBs who all may come into the NFL as top-five draft picks, but when asked who was the hardest quarterback to prepare for, the Oklahoma State DL answered K-State QB Collin Klein. "He's a great runner and is tough as nails."


7-Things were so bleak at Washington when Steve Sarkisian took over running back Chris Polk was contemplating giving up football.

"It's crazy how fast things changed," said Polk. "Coach Sark put everything into perspective."

Thanks to the attitude adjustment that Sarkisian made with the players, the team got better not only on the field but also in the classroom, Polk said. "It was night and day. My grades (improved) dramatically."


8-Iowa D-lineman Mike Daniels could have a future as a pro wrestler. Daniels was sitting by himself at a round table in the media room, about 30 feet from the podium where UNC star Quiton Coples was fielding questions from a big media group. 

I asked Daniels who else had recruited him out of New Jersey besides Iowa. "Nobody," he said. "Nobody wanted me."

We talked about his wrestling in high school, which he went on to say has been a great source of frustration. "I had a poor attitude. It eats at me every day. I didn't take it seriously."

Thinking back to the 'nobody wanted me' answer, I asked if he has a chip on his shoulder that drives him. "I got a HUUUGE chip on my shoulder. And, I'm gonna stay pissed. That's how you get better. Do Ray Lewis play nice? Does John Randle play nice?"
Posted on: February 24, 2012 11:19 am
Edited on: February 24, 2012 11:31 am
 

Friday Mailbag: Sizing up Andrew Luck

Time for the Friday Mailbag. As always, if you have questions, send them to me via Twitter at BFeldmanCBS.

From @nrwester anything to be said abt the fact Luck had 2 top-15-pick lineman at school? What happens when he see's pressure?

We see that the guy also has sub-4.7 speed and can run like an WILL linebacker and we'll see that he's about as savvy as any QB prospect coming out of college in a very long time.

Andrew Luck did have two very gifted O-linemen in front of him in 2011. It also should be pointed out that the other three starters were inexperienced guys. Here's a better point on Luck: He led Stanford to 23 wins in the past two seasons while his best deep threat was a tight end. Wait till Andrew Luck gets some wide receivers who can separate and make yards after the catch.

I think he is going to be outstanding in the NFL. People know he's gifted, but I'm not sure people really just how smart, accurate and athletic or big this guy is. I would never use the words "cant' miss" to describe any QB prospect, but Andrew Luck is about as close as you're going to get at making the transition to the NFL.

From @AHBick who's your pick to win the Big 12? Full disclosure, I'm wearing crimson shades

With both Landry Jones and Mike Stoops returning to Norman this year, Oklahoma is my pick to win the Big 12. I think Mike Stoops will provide a spark to a defense that hasn't been quite as salty as what it was during his first stint at OU. There is plenty of talent for him to take advantage of in the back seven. This is also a team that got rocked by injuries last year to not only a bunch of gifted players, but guys who were also leaders (Ryan Broyles and Travis Lewis for starters). That adversity may help them in the coming year with how the young players were tested.

I expect Oklahoma State to take a step back this year given the losses of their stars on offense. Plus Bedlam is in Norman this season. Baylor is likely to take an even bigger drop without RG3 and Kendall Wright. I'm not sure if K-State can be as successful just because the Wildcats won so many close games in 2011. It's hard to do that kind of thing two years in a row.

On the other hand, Texas will be improved. UT was so shaky on offense last year. There is a lot of good young talent there, but I'm skeptical they can be good enough at QB in 2012 to go from being a fringe Top 25 team to a legit Top 10 team.

The toughest competition for OU in the Big 12 race this year may come from the two newcomers. And the Sooners have to visit both WVU and TCU in 2012. Both have talented returning starters at QB with dynamic receiving corps. The Mountaineers probably will have the most explosive offense in the league and playing up there especially in mid-November is never easy. I still see OU as the most complete team in the conference though.

From @IceCoLD53 Ohio and ND are spread teams now. Is that helping UM recruiting for Hoke?

I actually think that has little to do with Michigan's recruiting success right now. The only real position where Urban Meyer's scheme would affect Michigan as it relates to recruiting needs is at QB, and the Wolverines got a commitment from Shane Morris long before the Buckeyes hired the former UF coach. Notre Dame just signed a QB, Gunner Kiel, who is no running quarterback. In terms of skill set, Kiel isn't much different from what Michigan is looking for now.

The big reason why UM is hot in recruiting has to do with the vibe of the program: The perception is the Wolverines are on the rise. They just won the Sugar Bowl. Everyone around the place has bought in that Brady Hoke is exactly what Michigan needs and he "gets" Michigan. The fact that they finally beat Ohio State only hammered that point home even harder. Kids and their high school coaches are excited about Michigan.

From @ChrisMonti Rutgers '12 outlook, one step back, then forward?

I'm not overly optimistic about that because the Big East is going to be so watered down, the perception is the conference is gonna be even less relevant. My hunch is it'll be that much harder for RU to compete with schools from the Big Ten and others when they go head-to-head on top talent around the Northeast. Can Kyle Flood do much more than Greg Schiano did? We'll see. It has become a tougher spot because of the conference's situation.

From @jlwdiggs does gunner Kiel already have the starting qb spot locked down for the irish?

I doubt it. As I said a few weeks back, Brian Kelly is sky high on redshirt freshman Everett Golson, who just seems to have that mythical "IT" quality, something this program has been lacking for a while.

It's never easy for a true freshman to come in and take over at QB. The issue with Kiel is, how does he cope with grinding away and competing for this job? If you heard California-based QB coach George Whitfield (the guy who trained Cam Newton before the draft and is working with Andrew Luck now) on our Signing Day Central show, he voiced some concerns about that after working with Kiel and other touted QB prospects at last summer's Elite 11 competition.

From @donniejonesjr What are the State of Alabama chances of keeping the BCS title for a fourth year in a row?

I'd categorized it as decent. Expect Bama to open the year in the preseason top four. The Tide's number of returning starters on both sides of the ball is relatively low, but they have some key guys back in emerging QB A.J. McCarron, coming off his strong performance in the BCS title game, the nucleus of the O-line and a quality big back in Eddie Lacy. Plus, you can never underestimate Nick Saban. He is that good of a coach. But I'm skeptical because they did lose a lot of proven playmakers on defense; they have to visit both LSU and Arkansas, and because it is just so hard to repeat in college football, the odds are really against them.

Auburn's chances, given all the staff turnover and inexperience, makes them too much of a long shot.

From @shockjay Who will have more wins next year: Kansas (Big 12) or Missouri (SEC)? 

Considering how awful KU was in 2011, I don't see the Jayhawks making that big of a jump in Charlie Weis' first season, although ND transfer Dayne Crist will give the offense a needed spark. Anything more than four wins is overly optimistic, though because the defense is brutal.

Meanwhile, their archrival does go into a much tougher league, but Mizzou returns a good, young QB in James Franklin and brings in the best WR recruit in the country in Dorial Green-Beckham. They should be even better on offense than they were in 2011, and they were pretty formidable on O, ranking 12th in total offense and 30th in scoring. We'll get a much truer gage on how the Tigers fit with the transition on Sept. 8 when Georgia comes to Columbia. The Dawgs have a strong defense and an experienced QB.

>I could see Mizzou 4-2 by the time Bama visits, but then the schedule gets thicker. My hunch is they can win seven games, but beyond that it's a stretch.

From @crsegar What would it take for Edsall to be fired after this season?

I've always thought that it's crazy to hire a guy and then fire him after just two or three seasons. You're just not giving the guy a chance to recruit to his system and establish his program. It does take time, and in some cases more than others. Now, if there is a scandal or NCAA issues, it's a different story in regards to how much room a new coach merits. And, for as bad as the Danny O'Brien transfer saga looks, it's nothing that some wins can't remedy from the Terps standpoint. 

You almost have no choice but to ride this out for another two seasons if you're Maryland. Randy Edsall's far from a first-time head coach. Maryland knew, or at least should've known what it was getting. Short of another 2-10 season, I don't see how they'd fire him, and even then, I'm not sure they'd pull the plug. Financially, it'd be such a hit for the school, but obviously thus far it's been disastrous but they're on the hook now and they have to give him a chance to turn things around.

From @Brad_Freeman What did you think of your trip to College Station, and your impressions of the new coaching staff?

It was a good day there. Kevin Sumlin's staff is one of the biggest reasons why I think he was such a good hire for A&M. My story from College Station will run on the site in a week or so.
Posted on: February 21, 2012 2:17 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 12:29 pm
 

Top 10: Best bets to put on combine freak show

The NFL combine kicks off this week, meaning it's time for the league's annual freak show. This week's Top 10: The former college players with the best shot of lighting up Indy with their testing numbers. (Note: A few guys I had considered for this list, such as Stanford TE Coby Fleener, I didn't include because it has been reported that he is not working out in Indy. In Fleener's case that is due to an ankle injury.)

1-Robert Griffin III, Baylor, QB: The 2011 Heisman Trophy winner proved over the past year he's a lot more than just a guy who happens to have world class speed as a hurdler. RG3's exploits as a college QB are now well-documented. Griffin not only blossomed as a quarterback, often doing his damage as a pocket passer but he also has filled out quite a bit since coming to Waco and is a solid 6-2, 220. However, he still has wheels like few others at any position. QBs, especially ones with arms like Griffin has, almost never run sub-4.6s in Indy, RG3 should blow that away. Earlier this week RG3 told Dan Patrick there's a possibility he will go sub-4.4. Given his track credentials, it'll be surprising if he doesn't.

2-Zach Brown, UNC, OLB:
There will be many bigger linebackers in Indy but none faster than the Tar Heel. Brown is amazing athlete. Before arriving in Chapel Hill he had a 29-0 record as a prep wrestler with 17 pins. He also ran for over 1,500 yards as a high school senior. In his first time running the 40 as a Tar Heel, he started coaches by clocking a 4.28.

Brown has spent the past six weeks in South Florida working out with trainer Tony Villiani, who says the Tar Heel "will be bigger than people think he is. He's not going to be that small weakside linebacker. The goal is for him to be low 4.4s or under. People know about his speed but normally guys who are that fast hey may not be as agile too. People who watched him at the Senior Bowl know he's both."

3-Trent Richardson, Alabama, RB: The former 'Bama star has it all: size, power, moves and sprinter's speed. Pound-for-pound Richardson, who has benched almost 500 pounds and cleaned almost 400, might just be the strongest player in Indy. Don't be too surprised if he also proves to be one of the fastest and most explosive too.

4-Tommy Streeter, Miami, WR: After a few years of teasing 'Canes staff with his potential, the 6-5, 216-pound junior had a breakout season in 2011. Streeter opted to leave early after his one big year, and with his size and exceptional speed, he has the chance to shoot up draft board this week. Scouts don't expect to see a guy his height so fast, but remember he's been one of the fastest men in a very fast program from the day he arrived in Coral Gables. (Two other UM speeders, Lamar Miller and Travis Benjamin also could've made this list.) Those close to the UM program are expecting some big things this week from Streeter, who has a chance to shock scouts with just how fast he actually is. Last year's fastest man in Indy, DeMarcus VanDyke, a former Cane CB who got drafted by  the Raiders after he blazed the fastest 40-time at the Combine, told me a few weeks back that Streeter could duplicate his showing this year.

5-Janzen Jackson, McNeese State, DB: The former five-star recruit had some great moments as a Vol, but also was plagued by off-field issues at Tennessee. No one ever doubt his athleticism though. He finished his college career back in Louisiana at McNeese and will be looking to get back in scouts good graces with a big showing in Indy. Jackson's pre-combine workouts in Louisiana have impressed his trainer, former NFL player Wyatt Harris:
"I have trained some great athletes here at Sonic Boom. People like Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Tracy Porter, Jacoby Jones and Devery Henderson, and I have never had an athlete like him here," Harris told Houma Today. "He is the best athlete that's ever trained at Sonic Boom. His athleticism is freakish and his speed, quickness and ease of movement are at the very top of the athletic ladder. He applies all that athletic ability to the football field. He is just not a great athlete, but he can play a high level of football also. He is going to knock the socks off of these other safeties he tests against at the combine."

6-Mike Martin, Michigan, DT:
The former standout high school wrestler and shot putter has talked recently about besting Stephen Paea's 49 reps of 225 in the bench in Indy. Given Martin's rep in the weight room, it wouldn't be a shock if he did. Going into last season, he'd already put up impressive marks of benching 505, squatting over 700, power cleaning 430, hang cleaning 475 and run the 40 in the 4.9s.

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7-David Wilson, Va. Tech, RB: Everyone around Blacksburg has been raving about this guy's explosiveness for years. Some of that burst as well as his determination was evident in the 205-pounder breaking some 150 would-be tackles en route to rolling up almost 1000 yards after contact in regular season play in 2011. In training at Tech he's been clocked in the 40 at 4.29 and vertical jumped 40.5-inches, according to the school. Those kinds of jaw-dropping numbers often draw skepticism, but keep in mind this is also a guy who earned All-American honors in the triple jump. It's rare to see a guy broad jump over 11-feet in Indy, you'd have to think Wilson is primed to go long here.

8-Dontari Poe, Memphis, DT:
Another serious contender to put on a show when he gets on the bench press. Poe is a mammoth inside presence with surprisingly good agility, the 6-5, 350-pounder is a powerhouse in the weight room, having power cleaned over 400 pounds, benched 500 and squatted over 700 pounds.

9-(tie) Jarius Wright, Arkansas, WR:
The fastest Hog was also one of the most underrated receivers in the country. He has a good chance to create some more buzz if he can come close to the 4.27 40 time the Arkansas coaches say he clocked last spring. His times in the shuttles also could be head-turning.

9-(tie) Bruce Irvin, WVU, OLB-DE:
A pass-rushing specialist Irvin plays super fast. According to some of his teammates, he also times that way too. They swear he can run a sub-4.4 at 235 pounds. The question is how much heavier will he been in Indy and has he retained that speed?



Posted on: February 17, 2012 1:31 pm
Edited on: February 17, 2012 5:38 pm
 

Friday Mailbag: Big Ten ready to flex muscle?


Here is this week's mailbag. As always, you can send your questions via Twitter at BFeldmanCBS.

From @Mark Johnson  w SEC the best conf who do you think is the 2nd best after realignment?

There is a big drop-off between the SEC and the next-best conference. Having won six BCS titles in a row is quite an accomplishment and with four or five SEC teams expected to open the season in the top 12, it doesn't seem like anyone is close to make a move to overtake Mike Slive's league. 

  Going forward, I'd lean to the Big Ten in who I'd list as the next toughest conference. A big reason for that is Urban Meyer's arrival giving Ohio State and really the rest of the Big Ten such a jolt. On top of that you have Michigan now surging back on track, coming off a BCS Bowl win; Wisconsin coming off back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances; Michigan State coming off its best season in over a decade and Nebraska joining the league in 2011. The downside of it is the uncertainty of the direction Penn State is headed.

  The other conferences I had right there with the Big Ten are the Big 12 and the Pac-12. From an off-the-field component the Big 12 still seems fairly unstable given all of the uncertainty around it and its recent history. On the field, you've had Oklahoma State rise up with consecutive top 10 finishes. We'll see if Mike Gundy's program can sustain it. Same for Bill Snyder at K-State. Baylor had a fantastic season but figures to backslide some with RG3 gone. OU had a "disappointing" season yet still finished in the top 15 and now gets Mike Stoops back to run the defense. Texas appears to be on the way back up after two woeful seasons. 
 
The Big 12 also added two programs in WVU and TCU that are poised for big debut seasons because they both return a lot of young talent although the Horned Frogs, given this week's events and key player dismissals, definitely don't look as strong as they did a few days ago.

  Larry Scott's league is on much more solid footing than the Big 12 big picture, but it's still coming off a season where one of the teams that played in its title game, UCLA, finished with a 6-8 record. That doesn't speak well of the league when something like that happens. Chip Kelly just led Oregon to perhaps its best season ever, but the Ducks still have the Will Lyles recruiting mess hanging over the program. Stanford lost Andrew Luck and a couple of other top 15 draft picks and the Cardinal are likely to drop out of the top 20, although with the way David Shaw has recruited, it doesn't seem like this program will plummet off the national radar. USC is poised for a great 2012, but after Matt Barkley's senior year, the Trojans will have to deal with the meat of the NCAA's scholarship sanctions. After these three teams, the rest of the conference is in scuffling to get to be Top 25 caliber.

  From @Drew Conrad  what do you think about University of Utah promoting a 25-year-old to OC? 

  No question it's risky to flip the keys to a guy this young, but Brian Johnson has spent a lot of time around some very bright offensive minds, starting with Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen, going through Andy Ludwig and Norm Chow. That's a pretty interesting mix of coaches and styles. From the guys in the coaching world I've asked about Johnson, I've heard a lot of good things. Almost all of those guys keep talking about how focused and smart the former QB is.

His experience working with head coach Kyle Whittingham and knowing what he wants is also key for a new hire. Johnson's level of coaching experience isn't much less than what Kliff Kingsbury had when he took over play-calling duties at Houston, and that worked out great for the Cougars. The biggest difference there though is that Kingsbury's head coach Kevin Sumlin had been an OC before while Whittingham is a defensive guy.

  The short-term concerns here are that the team lost two very good offensive tackles and on top of that a terrific O-line coach, Tim Davis just left the program for Florida. And obviously, they need to get better at QB if they're going to be serious contenders in the Pac-12 South.

From @GoonerAggieFan Thoughts on the Staff that Kevin Sumlin has put together at A&M, including his most recent addition Terry Price?

  It is excellent. He brought one of the sharpest young offensive guys in coaching with him from UH in Kingsbury. That guy is going to be a star in this business very soon. He also brought one of his betters recruiters in the Southwest in Clarence McKinney, and landed USF D-coordinator Mark Snyder, who is one of the top defensive guys in the country. I'll have a lot more on the Aggies in a week or so. I'm heading to College Station in a few days.

  From @marty roberts  If FSU shores up OL, how far u think they can go this year? And where u think they start in rankings?

Given all of the youth and newcomers from the JC ranks they're adding into the mix, that is a pretty big if. I'd expect improvement, but can this group make such dramatic strides to go from being as shaky as they were last year to the caliber of being part of a BCS title contender? I have my doubts, especially when you consider after last season's hype, it's basically anything short of a top-five season will be seen as a major disappointment/underachieving yet again. 

  The line was a mess last year. FSU was 110th in sacks allowed and 104th in rushing. You can't be an elite team no matter how tough your defense is being so bad in both those stats. 

The other big key is E.J. Manuel also needs to take a significant step forward and become much more consistent. Part of his struggles, no doubt, were due to the inexperienced O-line and to his injuries, but you look at just how much he and the Noles struggled in their regular season finale at UF and it's clear this is still a team with a lot of work ahead.

As far as where the Noles will open the season, I'd expect them to begin around No. 11 or 12. On paper, there is a lot of reasons for enthusiasm: returning QB coming off a pretty good first season as a starter with a gifted young group of receivers, an outstanding defense returning and the influx of (another) touted signing class. The problem: it seems like we've heard much of these same reasons why FSU is finally poised to compete for a BCS title again before, almost annually in fact, and for a variety of reasons, it hasn't came true and things fizzled out. And, why I used the word "problem" is that I suspect that notion isn't something only the media now believes, it's something players on the team hear about so much that it's a challenge to not let that mindset seep into the locker room: 'O.K., what's going to creep up and muck things up for us this time?'

From @Omer Subhani how good/bad was recruiting job by All Golden considering circumstances? TheU

  The recruiting job Golden's staff at Miami did this year, considering the circumstances of the avalanche of publicity the Nevin Shapiro story got, and the fact that there is an on-going NCAA investigation still hanging over the program, was remarkable.

As I said on our Signing Day Central show, I think there were three big keys to this class: the first was having a local star hold firm on being very public about his desire to be a Cane as Duke Johnson, perhaps the most dynamic running back prospect in the country, did. The second was stocking up on depleted positions (WR, D-line and DBs) with scholarship restrictions looming. The third was finishing with a flourish to build up that momentum going forward, and by reeling in Tracy Howard, the nation's top CB recruit, Golden did that in a big way. Remember, Howard was a kid who just a few weeks earlier was said to be a long-shot for Miami. Highly touted DE Tyriq McCord was another big late pick-up who many top programs chased hard.

If Golden can land a class this deep and talented in the face of all of the Shapiro stuff/NCAA player suspensions, it'll be interesting to see what he can do at Miami once the NCAA's ruling finally is known.

From @djr98 wat do u think of arkansas for 2012? 

  I like the Hogs chances to be a top 10 team, but I don't like their chances to win the SEC West and compete for a BCS title. Reasons for a top 10 run: Tyler Wilson is back, along with Knile Davis and they do get LSU and Bama at home this year. Reasons why I don't think they can win the SEC: I'm not sold on the defense. It wasn't good enough in 2011 and they're losing most of the best players they had on that D to the NFL.

From @joe king Who's gonna be next years Sammy Watkins,An can Hugh Freeze recruit well enough after Mullin has dominated the State this yr.

  I'll go with Dorial Green-Beckham being the biggest impact freshman wideout. He has freakish athleticism at 6-6, 225 and will play in a wide-open offense at Mizzou with a promising young QB (James Franklin) where they run the ball well enough to stress defenses. That should enable DGB to have a lot of big-play opportunities.

  Freeze is an ultra-aggressive recruiter and a good salesman. He also knows the area around Ole Miss as well as any coach they could've hired. I suspect he'll probably end up offering more scholarships before the summer than any coach in the country. I have no doubts he will get some talented players to Oxford. He was able to nab a couple already.

The on-field product is going to be mediocre for a few years, though. Freeze inherited a complete mess from Houston Nutt. Recruiting there had really tailed off save for Nitt's final class there. The program was in disarray and that won't be mended overnight. Dan Mullen just put together a very strong class, especially on the D-line and at linebacker. There is a pretty sizeable gap for Freeze to try and close.
Posted on: February 10, 2012 12:50 pm
 

Friday Mailbag: The state of Penn St recruiting

Here is this week's mailbag. As always, you can send questions to me via Twitter at BFeldmanCBS.

From @Philly_Sak Given all the circumstances, how do you feel Bill O'Brien did salvaging the PSU recruiting class?

As you mentioned, the circumstances around this class were so catastrophic, relatively speaking, people couldn't have expected too much after all that has been happening around State College of late. On top of all of that, you also had a new head coach without any head coaching track record having spent most of his time away from his new program while he finishes up with in the NFL. That is A LOT to overcome.


Recruiting analysts ranked the class around No. 50 nationally and in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. That's actually better than what I would've expected given the circumstances. Of course, we try not to read too much into the team rankings especially. After all, a few years ago, Stanford signed a class that was ranked around No. 50 nationally and in retrospect the group with Andrew Luck, David DeCastro and others should've been no lower than No. 2 overall. 
 
  The downside is six prospects who had verbaled to PSU opted to go some place else. Many of them will play in the Big Ten but for Ohio State. They did hang on to touted WR Eugene Lewis, a local kid who all the recruiting sites are very high on. DL Jamil Pollard and Brian Gaia, an offensive lineman from Maryland, are two other coveted recruits bound for Penn State. 

While it helped that O'Brien immediately retained Larry Johnson who had been the program's best recruiter, I really think due to all of the above this was about as close to a lost class as a big-time program will ever have. 

On the bright side, there have been reports this week that many top 2013 recruits, including one of the top-ranked tight ends, Adam Breneman are high on PSU and O'Brien. You'd have to think O'Brien's work in New England with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez will help sell guys like Breneman, and if he can reel in a highly touted 2013 recruit early that will stir some much-needed momentum with the next wave of kids. But recruiting is going to be an uphill battle there for quite some time and Meyer and Brady Hoke having as much momentum as they do now is only going to make it that much harder. Beyond that, Wisconsin has never been stronger coming off consecutive Rose Bowl trips.

  From @ClintonOftedahl After USC/Barkley, which schools made out the best with players postponing the NFL Draft?

I agree that no program made out any better than USC sorting out which underclassmen stayed/left for the NFL. The Trojans did lose their best lineman in LT Matt Kalil and their top pass rusher, DE Nick Perry, but it was Barkley, who will be a four-year starter and has been the leader of this team the past two seasons, that was the pivotal guy. They also retained T.J. McDonald, one of the nation's top safeties, who is the leader of the defense. If Barkley bolted, I expect the Trojans would be an eight or nine-win team. With him, they are a legit national title contender.

At No. 2 in terms of schools that benefitted the most from the stay/go status, I'd put Notre Dame. Brian Kelly has to feel good about having LB Manti Te'o for another season and they also keep Tyler Eifert, one of the country's better tight ends. Eifert is a big plus for a team that lost its best weapon, WR Michael Floyd and has issues at quarterback. Having a legit go-to guy like Eifert for 2012 will be huge for whoever becomes the starting QB.

Right after them, I'd put Oklahoma, which retains Landry Jones, who three months ago, most observers figured was a lock to leave. Another fan base that should be breathing a big sigh of relief is Arkansas. The Hogs QB Tyler Wilson gave a lot of consideration to bolting for the NFL in the days leading up to the deadline, but he's going to be back as is RB Knile Davis.

For the fifth spot, I'd list Georgia. The Dawgs lost gifted tight end Orson Charles but didn't lose LB Jarvis Jones or DB Baccari Rambo. The last big "winner" here I'll mention is Wisconsin. Most top young running backs tend to jump to the NFL when they get the chance. Montee Ball, who just capped off a magnificent season, didn't jump, and that's surprising.

From @Falb7 Does Urban Meyer have a right to be upset with Bret Bielema's comments about his recruiting tactics?

As I said last week, it's hard to sift though much of the finger-pointing and backtalk we had in the aftermath of signing day. None of the guys involved ever come out looking better for being a part of that, although selfishly I do think it does spice up subplots to the games in the fall and sweeten potential rivalries or, in some cases, foster new ones. 

  No coach ever likes to get accused by a peer especially for shady business on the recruiting trail. The perception-is-reality stuff has to be frustrating but as long as it doesn't turn off recruits, and that sure doesn't seem to be the case with Ohio State, I doubt Meyer will lose any sleep over it. Rival coaches only tend to grouse about people's success. They never seem to pay much attention to anyone that isn't impacting their own success. Or the guy who is going 3-9 and signing all of the "two-star" kids. 

 

The one thing that doesn't sit well, and this was something a lot of Florida fans pointed out was that Meyer had been very outspoken as he left coaching for what he deemed unethical recruiting methods that had been increasing in recent years. Some of Meyer's critics, such as Mike Bianchi, have called him out on that.


"What I've seen the last five years is a complete turn in the integrity of the college coaching profession," Meyer said in one radio interview last year. "It's completely turned the other way. Right now, it's not good because the risk-reward is 'have at it, do what you've got to do to get the great player, go win games and at the end of the day we'll find out what happens down the road.' "


From @jgeer92376  A CFB question - which team of Stanford, Baylor, Oregon, Michigan State or Wisconsin will suffer the most for losing their QB?
 

It's a toss-up between Stanford and Baylor. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were as close to "Franchise QBs" or program-elevators as we've seen in the last 20 years. Even though both programs are in much better positions now than when before both QBs signed with them out of high school, there is going to be significant drop-off in 2012. After that, I'd put Michigan State next because of all Kirk Cousins meant to his program on and off-the-field the past four years. The program that loses the least: Oregon. Darron Thomas was a good QB, especially in that system, but Bryan Bennett was already nipping at his heels and redshirt Marcus Mariota is right there pushing him.

From @MR_SOUTH_BEACH where do you see mich being ranked in the preseason poll and can they beat alabama ?

I had them No. 11 in my early rankings for 2012. The program has some nice momentum coming off an 11-win season and a Sugar Bowl win in Brady Hoke's first year. And, the Wolverines finally beat Ohio State, which is huge for their psyche in Ann Arbor. 

For the Wolverines to take the next step and be a national title contender, which is where they'd need to be to knock off Alabama this year, Denard Robinson needs to be much sharper as a passer. He actually seemed to regress in 2011. His completion percentage was way down (from 63 percent to 55 percent) and he threw four more INTs despite quite a few less attempts. He also got away with some jump balls that could've turned into more picks. You'd think the off-season with time to review his work in his first season with OC Al Borges would be a good thing in that regard. We'll see. There is plenty of talent around him (especially RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, who after Montee Ball is near the top for running backs in the Big Ten), but they are going to miss center David Molk, who was solid anchoring the line.


They also need to find a way to get tougher on defense, which isn't going to be easy considering they have to replace NG Mike Martin. But there are a lot of very promising young players who got settled in last fall and should thrive with another off-season with Greg Mattison. Keep an eye on Jake Ryan, a budding star there.

Alabama is losing a lot of great players on both sides of the ball. However, they still may have the best O-line in the country and the back-ups Nick Saban had on D probably were better than anyone else's, save for maybe LSU. That Tide group also is better than most people's starters.  Hoke has his share of playmakers, starting with Robinson, and Mattison is one of the brightest defensive minds around. Bama also is going to be young in most spots, so it's not unrealistic to think Michigan could pull off the upset. Still, to see a Big Ten team beat the defending national champs, especially one that is NOT breaking in a new QB definitely would be a head-turner of major proportions.

From @cbhenn What's your pre-spring SEC East 1-7 predictions for 2012?

I have Georgia winning the East. The Dawgs have a very good, experienced D returning and a savvy QB in Aaron Murray. After that, I have South Carolina. I could see Tennessee coming in third as my surprise team. The Vols will no longer be a young team. They'll have a lot of three-year starters on what figures to be a potent offense. They will be counting on a lot of unproven guys on the D-line but my hunch is they have a shot to win nine this year. I slotted UF fourth ahead of Mizzou because they have a much deeper group of athletes on defense. After that, I have Vandy and UK rounding out the division.

From @Tavon4Heisman Does Geno Smith have a better shot at a Heisman now that WVU will be in the Big 12 as opposed to playing in the Big East?

No doubt. He and WVU finished the year with a strong statement, scoring 70 on Clemson in the Orange Bowl. All of the key skill guys are back and should be even better with another off-season to fine-tune the timing of Dana Holgorsen's system. And now, Smith moves to a bigger stage in a much more high-profile league. Four of the past 10 Heisman winners came from Big 12 schools. That's more than any other conference can claim. If Smith has a big season, and he should, he will be right in the mix to get to New York and perhaps with the trophy. He is going to need some help though from his team's defense because no matter how eye-popping his stats are, if WVU is no better than 8-4, he won't win it.


From Matthew Parten in Auburn, AL: What, in your opinion will end up being the most important off season development for Auburn this year - the premature departures of Gus Malzahn, Barrett Trotter, and Michael Dyer, the hire of Brian Van Gorder, the decisions by Onterio McCalebb and Philip Lutzenkirken to remain at school for their Senior seasons, or the upcoming hire of an offensive coordinator?  

The hire of Van Gorder, who had so much success at Georgia, was a good move. His experience in the league will help a lot, but I'd say the most important development was the departure of Malzahn. Even though things dropped off dramatically in 2011, and much of that can be traced to Cam Newton and most of the O-line being gone, Malzahn is still one of the brightest offensive minds in college football. He's proven in recent years to be a very savvy play-caller and game-planner. Plus, you can also tie in the departure of a stud running back/workhorse such as Dyer and it makes it sting that much more.

From @cnichollHays  You've brought up a lot of interesting stats in the "Stats that Matter" feature...what is the most interesting stat uve seen


There have been a lot of them that I was really intrigued by the more we discussed them. Tom Herman, the new offensive coordinator at Ohio State, had a really interesting one called the "double positive"that was fun to track and Texas DC Manny Diaz willingness to embrace the Moneyball mind set was cool to write about as well.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com