Posted on: January 5, 2012 11:49 am
Edited on: January 5, 2012 11:55 am
 

The man behind the hottest play in football

Late Wednesday night, Colorado School of Mines, a Division II school just down the road from the Coors facility in Golden, Co, was Trending nationally. The reason: Dana Holgorsen gave the school a sweet plug on national TV just a few minutes after West Virginia finished brutalizing Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl. Well, actually, it's really because Holgorsen gave his pal, 46-year-old Bob Stitt, the Mines head football coach, a really, really sweet plug.

  Holgorsen was asked about the unique play that had devastated Clemson all night long, where WVU QB Geno Smith fields a shotgun snap and just flips it forward to a wideout motioning across the formation on a dead sprint. It's a variation of the Fly-Sweep that has caused defenses headaches for the past decade in major college football. Only in Holgorsen's play, the QB handles the ball for less than a heartbeat. Holgorsen explained to the country after the Orange Bowl that he learned that play from his buddy Bob Stitt from the Colorado School of Mines.

Back in Colorado, Stitt and his family were floored. "My 7 year-old just looked at me and his eyes were as big as saucers," Stitt told me Thursday morning. "My phone just starts blowing up with texts. I got about 30 in about 15 seconds."
 
  Holgorsen calls the play his "Quick" game. Stitt calls it "Fly". WVU scored on it four times Wednesday night. "Every time they ran it,  I told my wife, 'Yeah, that's the play that I showed Dana,'" Stitt said.
Of course, Stitt never expected to hear his name called out on national television. 

I've heard Stitt "clinic" with other top offensive minds over the past few years at the One-Back Clinic, a small gathering of some cutting-edge coaches each off-season. Whenever the soft-spoken Stitt walks to the front of those rooms, in front of some 20 coaches, most from the most prolific FBS programs, the guy commands their attention.

"These guys from some of the small schools are great, because they'll tell you everything they do because they want you to hire them someday," new UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone told me at last year's One-Back Clinic held at Houston a few minutes after Stitt talked about the pistol offense and back-shoulder throws. 
 

To guys like Holgorsen and Mazzone and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, Stitt is the real deal, a ball coach with some proven great stuff. For the newer guys in that room, Stitt was the guy from the one school they'd probably never heard of that plays in Division II's Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. But Stitt knew how to get their attention:

"If this stuff works with our guys, it'll probably work with the guys you have," Stitt would tell them. "We're an engineering school, and we only have one major, engineering. Our average ACT score in math is 29." That line would elicit the biggest "Oooh!" of the day. Well, that and Stitt talking about how his team averaged more than 356 passing yards in 2010.


The Orediggers were 8-3 this season, finishing No. 8 in the nation in passing. They had a 1000-yard rusher and a 3000-yard passer. Three of Mines' last four quarterbacks have been finalists for the Harlon Hill Trophy, the Division 2 Heisman.

Because his teams rarely have much speed, opponents often rush seven guys and play Zero-Coverage on them since they don't think Mines receivers can run by them. To counter that, Stitt resorted to the backshoulder passing attack. But, if he had to play against people afraid he's got the receivers who can run by em? Well, Holgorsen has 'em, as Clemson found out.
 
Stitt came up with his wrinkle on the Fly Sweep because he believed that it was more efficient than trying to have the quarterback hand the ball off after receiving the snap. Devoting all of the time to rep it to get the timing down seemed counter-productive to him. 
One day at practice, it came to him, 'Why not just put it (the ball) in the air?' He stopped practice and had his offense do that, and it immediately worked. And yes, that is one of the perks of being a small-college head coach. You can experiment with something like that in the middle of practice.

"The challenge of the Fly Sweep is meshing the handoff with the motion," he says. "With this, the speed of it's faster because you don't have to mesh the handoff, so that 4.3 guy (WR Tavon Austin) is going 4.3 as soon as he gets the ball. And the people that have to try and stop it are the inside 'backers, so you get that kid with that quickness, where he can stick his foot in the ground and get upfield, it's deadly."

  No kidding. Stitt first showed some of the FBS guys his play a few years ago at the One-Back Clinic when it was at UNLV. Hal Mumme, then at New Mexico State, loved it and installed it.  Mumme probably loves it even more because, technically, the play counts as a pass, not a run in the stat sheet. 
 
Holgorsen, though, didn't buy in until the spring of 2008. Stitt showed up at a UH practice after he'd flown down to Texas for fund-raiser. The Mines head coach was still in his golf gear and was checking out the Cougars practice from off in the distance. Holgorsen spotted him, 'See that fly sweep?'

  "Why aren't you putting that thing in the air?" Stitt replied.

Holgorsen said he'd forgotten all about that idea, but brought Stitt over, in full golf gear, to confer with him and quarterback Case Keenum. As Stitt gave them some pointers on how to run it, he couldn't help but think he was someplace he probably shouldn't be. But, a few minutes later, during the Cougars "Team" portion of practice, Holgorsen broke out the play on the unsuspecting Cougars defense. Head coach Kevin Sumlin was downright giddy. "Whoa, what was that?!?"

Houston got so good at it that Stitt smiled when he saw a few days ago in UH's romp over Penn State Keenum get a late snap and just 'volleyballed' it forward to the receiver without even controlling the ball.
 
As far as the specs of the play, Holgorsen and Stitt have different ways they dress it up. Stitt loves to run it out of a 3-by-1 (three receivers on one side of the formation) and run the play into the boundary side of the field. Holgorsen kept motioning one of his receivers into the backfield to set up in his diamond formation. The added benefit, Stitt points out, is what you can also do off the play. Holgorsen has taken that fly motion and run inside zone off it. "It is a great complement to the inside zone," Stitt says.

Stitt will run the fly motion and have his quarterback read the slot defender. If the guy doesn't cover that, they'll throw the bubble.
 
Just a hunch but you'll probably be seeing a lot more of this play in 2012. 
Posted on: January 3, 2012 3:08 pm
Edited on: January 3, 2012 3:23 pm
 

Talking RichRod, Carr, old & new media

John U. Bacon has spent years writing about University of Michigan athletics. A few months ago, Bacon released his book "Three and Out," which he wrote after spending three seasons around the Wolverines football program under Rich Rodriguez. Recently, I caught up with Bacon to talk about Michigan football, the dynamic between Lloyd Carr and Rodriguez and the climate around the program between "old" and "new" media. 

Feldman: What do you think is the biggest misconception most folks had about Rodriguez in his time at Michigan?

 

Bacon: That he was a bad guy who didn’t care about tradition, the rules or his players. From everything I saw, that was far from the case – and I believe his players would agree. Rodriguez took too long to learn Michigan’s gospel, and preached it too rarely from the pulpit, but privately he hammered home the value of Michigan tradition with his team every chance he had.  The contrast was striking – and puzzling. Why not say all that when the cameras are rolling? Before his noon work out, he called down every day to make sure no players remained in the room, lest his presence be interpreted as “coaching.”  And as for caring about his players, just ask Brock Mealer, Elliott’s brother, whom Rodriguez invited to work out with the strength staff to learn to walk again after his car accident, then asked to be the first man to touch the banner when they rededicated the stadium in 2010. Part of this problem was Rodriguez’s, however, who displayed little knack for public relations. <br /> 

Feldman: If Michigan had given Rodriguez one more season, how do you think the 2011 year would've gone on the field for the Wolverines?

Bacon: I can imagine two scenarios.  The first goes like this: Rodriguez lets his defensive staff go, and A.D. Dave Brandon gives him the same checkbook he gave Brady Hoke to get the best coaches out there. (Hoke’s defensive coordinator, Greg Mattison, will make $900,000 this season, more than three times the salaries of Rodriguez’s two DC’s.) With an easier schedule, Ohio State in trouble, Denard Robinson entering his second season leading Rodriguez’s spread offense, and 19 of 22 starters returning, it’s not hard to think they would go 10-2 or even better this year, and be poised to build on that for Robinson’s senior season.  

The other scenario goes like this: After the team finally caved in at the Gator Bowl, everyone had had enough of the endless pressure and debate over their coach’s tenure, and the team tanks after losing to Notre Dame. For the first scenario to occur, Dave Brandon would have to commit publicly to Rodriguez for another 2-3 years, and he obviously was not prepared to do that.  Perhaps few AD’s would have been. But, obviously, we’ll never know.     

 

Feldman: Former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr does not come across well in your book. I feel like in many cases coaches often have a tense relationship with the guy who they just followed or the guy who is just following them. What was the most surprising thing that Carr did?

Bacon: Transitions are hard for every organization, and harder still for established college football programs, where tradition is sacrosanct and coaches become icons. Handling this well is the rare exception, not the rule. The coach who follows you is going to do things differently, like it or not, and if he succeeds, your critics will say he’s better than you were, and if he fails, they will say you set him up for failure. It is truly a no-win situation. On the rare occasions when it does work well, the former coach helps the new guy every way he can – including staying out of the way at important times – and the new coach pays homage to his predecessor every chance he gets. Bump Elliott and Bo Schembechler handled it almost perfectly, as did Darrell Royal and Mack Brown. (Although Texas hired three coaches between the two, Royal is still the icon in Austin.)  Coach Carr and Rodriguez, to understate the case considerably, did not. 

The most surprising thing Carr did – and it took me a while to appreciate the significance of this – was call Rodriguez on December 10, 2007, to sell him on the job, pitch Rodriguez to then-AD Bill Martin the next day, and then, right after Rodriguez was named Michigan’s next head coach on December 17, 2007, call an unexpected meeting to let his players know if they wanted to transfer, he would sign the release form – a stunning, pre-emptive vote of no-confidence. The reporting on all these events comes directly from eyewitnesses – but I still can’t explain it.  Their relationship started off badly, and only got worse.

Feldman: Have you heard from Carr or people close to him since the book came out trying to explain some of the things your wrote about that he did?

Bacon: No.  And the silence, even for the taciturn Carr, has been striking. When Coach Carr had been accused by former Michigan All-American quarterback Rick Leach, among others, of not supporting Rich Rodriguez, Carr readily found a friendly reporter that same week to send a message, on the record, in support of Rich Rodriguez.  He has not responded to anything in<span style="text-decoration: underline;">Three and Out</span>, nor have Dave Brandon or the Detroit Free Press reporters, who have not normally been noted for their passivity.    

 

Feldman: You detailed a very interesting scene in the wake of Countable Hours controversy there between members of the local media there between "old media" and "new media." I know it's often odd when media becomes part of the story. Was that dynamic brewing there for a while and how do you think that has affected coverage of a college program?

Bacon: Good catch, Bruce. First, as you point out, few journalists like to report on other journalists. But when we considered downplaying or even omitting the Detroit Free Press front page story, which claimed Rodriguez had wildly and willfully exceeded the limits on practice time, it was clear that was impossible, as it had become a central part of the Rodriguez saga – and by design, it should be noted. 

This set up the conflict you describe, which occurred the day after the story came out, when Rodriguez addressed it at a press conference.  Brian Cook, who founded MGoBlog, a powerful website, approached Mark Snyder and Michael Rosenberg of the Free Press to ask if they knew the difference between “countable’ and “uncountable” hours – the very distinction on which the rule pivots, but one never mentioned in their piece.  The argument itself didn’t amount to much, except how it underscored the growing chasm between traditional print reporting and untraditional journalists.  As someone who works on both sides, I can say both have their strengths, but during the three years I was inside the program, you could see the balance of power shift to the new guys.  They usually lack the level of access and sources traditional reporters have, but, perhaps as a result, they worry less about whom they might offend. 

As an aside, it’s worth noting that the book has been hashed out in great detail by the writers and readers of the websites devoted to sports in general and Michigan football in particular, yet in both Detroit papers only one story even addressed it, and still left out the information above. Perhaps that proves your point.  For good or ill – and perhaps plenty of both -- we are already well into a new era. 

 

Of course, what we need are reporters with both access <em>and</em> the courage to report what they’ve found – but those seem to be in short supply these days.  I was not surprised to see the person who broke the Penn State story was not a beat reporter for a TV or radio station or the sports sections in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia or State College, but a 24-year-old crime reporter from the Patriot-News in Harrisburg named Sara Ganim.  Kudos to Ms. Ganim – and shame on the rest of us.  We need to do better.   

Category: NCAAF
Tags: Arizona, Michigan
 
Posted on: January 3, 2012 3:06 pm
Edited on: January 3, 2012 3:12 pm
 

Talking RichRod, Carr, old & new media

John U. Bacon has spent years writing about University of Michigan athletics. A few months ago, Bacon released his book "Three and Out," which he wrote after spending three seasons around the Wolverines football program under Rich Rodriguez. Recently, I caught up with Bacon to talk about Michigan football, the dynamic between Lloyd Carr and Rodriguez and the climate around the program between "old" and "new" media. 



Feldman: What do you think is the biggest misconception most folks had about Rodriguez in his time at Michigan?

  Bacon: That he was a bad guy who didn’t care about tradition, the rules or his players. From everything I saw, that was far from the case – and I believe his players would agree. Rodriguez took too long to learn Michigan’s gospel, and preached it too rarely from the pulpit, but privately he hammered home the value of Michigan tradition with his team every chance he had.  The contrast was striking – and puzzling. Why not say all that when the cameras are rolling? Before his noon work out, he called down every day to make sure no players remained in the room, lest his presence be interpreted as “coaching.”  And as for caring about his players, just ask Brock Mealer, Elliott’s brother, whom Rodriguez invited to work out with the strength staff to learn to walk again after his car accident, then asked to be the first man to touch the banner when they rededicated the stadium in 2010. Part of this problem was Rodriguez’s, however, who displayed little knack for public relations. 

  Feldman: If Michigan had given Rodriguez one more season, how do you think the 2011 year would've gone on the field for the Wolverines?
 
Bacon: I can imagine two scenarios.  The first goes like this: Rodriguez lets his defensive staff go, and A.D. Dave Brandon gives him the same checkbook he gave Brady Hoke to get the best coaches out there. (Hoke’s defensive coordinator, Greg Mattison, will make $900,000 this season, more than three times the salaries of Rodriguez’s two DC’s.) With an easier schedule, Ohio State in trouble, Denard Robinson entering his second season leading Rodriguez’s spread offense, and 19 of 22 starters returning, it’s not hard to think they would go 10-2 or even better this year, and be poised to build on that for Robinson’s senior season.  

The other scenario goes like this: After the team finally caved in at the Gator Bowl, everyone had had enough of the endless pressure and debate over their coach’s tenure, and the team tanks after losing to Notre Dame. For the first scenario to occur, Dave Brandon would have to commit publicly to Rodriguez for another 2-3 years, and he obviously was not prepared to do that.  Perhaps few AD’s would have been. But, obviously, we’ll never know.       

Feldman: Former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr does not come across well in your book. I feel like in many cases coaches often have a tense relationship with the guy who they just followed or the guy who is just following them. What was the most surprising thing that Carr did?
 
Bacon: Transitions are hard for every organization, and harder still for established college football programs, where tradition is sacrosanct and coaches become icons. Handling this well is the rare exception, not the rule. The coach who follows you is going to do things differently, like it or not, and if he succeeds, your critics will say he’s better than you were, and if he fails, they will say you set him up for failure. It is truly a no-win situation. On the rare occasions when it does work well, the former coach helps the new guy every way he can – including staying out of the way at important times – and the new coach pays homage to his predecessor every chance he gets. Bump Elliott and Bo Schembechler handled it almost perfectly, as did Darrell Royal and Mack Brown. (Although Texas hired three coaches between the two, Royal is still the icon in Austin.)  Coach Carr and Rodriguez, to understate the case considerably, did not. 
 
The most surprising thing Carr did – and it took me a while to appreciate the significance of this – was call Rodriguez on December 10, 2007, to sell him on the job, pitch Rodriguez to then-AD Bill Martin the next day, and then, right after Rodriguez was named Michigan’s next head coach on December 17, 2007, call an unexpected meeting to let his players know if they wanted to transfer, he would sign the release form – a stunning, pre-emptive vote of no-confidence. The reporting on all these events comes directly from eyewitnesses – but I still can’t explain it.  Their relationship started off badly, and only got worse.
 
Feldman: Have you heard from Carr or people close to him since the book came out trying to explain some of the things your wrote about that he did?
 
Bacon: No.  And the silence, even for the taciturn Carr, has been striking. When Coach Carr had been accused by former Michigan All-American quarterback Rick Leach, among others, of not supporting Rich Rodriguez, Carr readily found a friendly reporter that same week to send a message, on the record, in support of Rich Rodriguez.  He has not responded to anything inThree and Out, nor have Dave Brandon or the Detroit Free Press reporters, who have not normally been noted for their passivity.    
    Feldman: You detailed a very interesting scene in the wake of Countable Hours controversy there between members of the local media there between "old media" and "new media." I know it's often odd when media becomes part of the story. Was that dynamic brewing there for a while and how do you think that has affected coverage of a college program?
 
Bacon: Good catch, Bruce. First, as you point out, few journalists like to report on other journalists. But when we considered downplaying or even omitting the Detroit Free Press front page story, which claimed Rodriguez had wildly and willfully exceeded the limits on practice time, it was clear that was impossible, as it had become a central part of the Rodriguez saga – and by design, it should be noted. 
 
This set up the conflict you describe, which occurred the day after the story came out, when Rodriguez addressed it at a press conference.  Brian Cook, who founded MGoBlog, a powerful website, approached Mark Snyder and Michael Rosenberg of the Free Press to ask if they knew the difference between “countable’ and “uncountable” hours – the very distinction on which the rule pivots, but one never mentioned in their piece.  The argument itself didn’t amount to much, except how it underscored the growing chasm between traditional print reporting and untraditional journalists.  As someone who works on both sides, I can say both have their strengths, but during the three years I was inside the program, you could see the balance of power shift to the new guys.  They usually lack the level of access and sources traditional reporters have, but, perhaps as a result, they worry less about whom they might offend.   

As an aside, it’s worth noting that the book has been hashed out in great detail by the writers and readers of the websites devoted to sports in general and Michigan football in particular, yet in both Detroit papers only one story even addressed it, and still left out the information above. Perhaps that proves your point.  For good or ill – and perhaps plenty of both -- we are already well into a new era. 
 
  Of course, what we need are reporters with both access and the courage to report what they’ve found – but those seem to be in short supply these days.  I was not surprised to see the person who broke the Penn State story was not a beat reporter for a TV or radio station or the sports sections in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia or State College, but a 24-year-old crime reporter from the Patriot-News in Harrisburg named Sara Ganim.  Kudos to Ms. Ganim – and shame on the rest of us.  We need to do better.   
Category: NCAAF
Tags: Arizona, Michigan
 
Posted on: December 30, 2011 5:27 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2011 9:13 pm
 

Friday Mailbag: Getting a read on Kelly's ND

Time for the last Friday mailbag of 2011. As always, send questions to me via Twitter at BFeldmanCBS.

From @FormerlyAGuest  Why are people down on Brian Kelly? Don't they remember ND getting boatraced by every good team in the Davie/Ty/Weis years?

  It's the expectations that come with the place and also with the fact that he was a "proven" head coach, not a guy growing into the job. On top of that, there was a lot of hype that this team was ready to get to 10 wins (more than even the normal ND overhype that tends to come for the Irish) and get into a BCS bowl especially since Kelly cleared star WR Michael Floyd for the season. But aside from a big win over a good Michigan State team in mid-September, it was a frustration year for the Irish with them going 3-4 against teams with winning records. Quite frankly, it's hard to look at this team and say they are close to being a powerhouse. They're a far leap from where LSU and a few others are at this point. They have some gifted players. Just nowhere near the number they need to be a real elite team.

I still am convinced Kelly is a significant upgrade over Charlie Weis and feel like he will get the Irish back to being a legit Top 20 team consistently, but I would've thought they'd been further along at this stage. I figured, at worst, they'd win nine this season. Instead, they went 8-5, getting pushed around at home vs. arch-rival USC; weren't really close to Stanford and finished with a loss to an FSU team with a patch-work O-line loaded with freshmen.

I suspect some of the digs at Kelly stem from his sideline demeanor, framed by the cameras showing him berating players and getting so red-faced. Truth be told, he's far from the only coach who has ripped a player on the sideline. It's just now the spotlight on him is brighter and more cameras are on him. It also doesn't help his cause that his team had a maddening penchant for turnovers and Red Zone problems.

The upshot coming out of the 2011 season is that you don't the sense the Irish staff feel great about the quarterback situation going into Year Three. Tommy Rees didn't seem to make much progress. The jury's still out on Andrew Hendrix, and now they lose their best weapon in WR Michael Floyd and maybe TE Tyler Eifert. You'd think they should be better with the QBs with another year more seasoning (including strong-armed redshirt Everett Golson into that mix as well), but we'll see. They missed out on five-star QB recruit Gunnar Kiel, who had ND ties so it seems that Kelly's future for ND in the next three years is tied to Rees/Hendrix/Golson. We know this: Floyd won't be easily replaced. There are reportedly some talented recruits coming to South Bend, but we'll hold off getting too fired up on that front too since we hear that every year with them.

The bright side: I do like what I see from the defense, especially in DE Aaron Lynch and the young linemen, but on the other side of the ball, it's shaky. Worse still, it seems like their two arch-rivals, USC and Michigan, are surging upward and primed for big years in 2012.


From @abellwillring  EJ (Manuel) didn't perform at the level we hoped this yr but looked very good in the clutch last night. Do you think he'll build off it?

  I do expect him and the Noles to build off that come-from-behind win over Notre Dame Thursday. I was impressed by the way Manuel kept battling after taking a pounding in the first half. The young FSU O-line looked really shaky but settled down in the second half. The other thing to really like about the outlook for the Noles offense is that two of Manuel's best targets are freshmen, WR Rashad Greene and TE Nick O'Leary.


Still, I suspect expectations will be kept in check somewhat because in recent years there's been so much hype about the Noles being back, and time and again, they've underwhelmed for one reason or another. Pollsters will be gunshy to buy them, I think. They'd have to be, no? No!?? I mean they seemed good on paper going into this year and still lost games to Wake Forest and UVa, among others.

From @NakedShort11 Can Weis turn KU around?


It's never smart to speak in absolutes when it comes to these things, but I don't like his chances to turn Kansas into a top 20 football program consistently. Or even close to that. He takes over a very bad team that was so far away from being competitive, that just getting them to a mediocre bowl game is going to be an uphill battle. 

Weis' rep for developing QBs will help, and it's obviously helped him land former ND quarterback Dayne Crist and ex-BYU quarterback Jake Heaps (both were top recruits but had struggled before losing their starting jobs.) I expect them to get better on offense, but it's the defense where they've been spectacularly inept, and Weis never was able to get a defense going in South Bend. And I just don't see him having the recruiting cache to get enough playmakers on that side of the ball to contend with OU, OK State, Texas and now TCU and WVU. His staff recruited well at Notre Dame, but that was ND, not Kansas, and his profile doesn't carry as much juice as it did when he arrived in South Bend. Kansas football doesn't have the appeal that Notre Dame does and Weis was more of a big deal 5-6 years ago then he is after fizzling out at ND and having a mediocre season in Florida. I suspect his pitch will play well to QBs and tight ends, but won't get blue-chippers at other spots that fired up, compared to some of those other Big 12 schools.

Mark Mangino did a really good job at KU. He left there with a 50-48 record and won three bowl games, including a BCS bowl. I'll be very surprised if Weis leaves there with as good a winning percentage.


From @melesse Wondering where you stand on Dooley's decision to not give freshman WR Arnett his full release? 

First, some background on what has become a messy story involving a former four-star prospect in last year's recruiting class at Tennessee: A UT spokesman says Arnett, a Michigan native who wants to transfer closer to home, is not being denied the opportunity to play at the FBS level. The school also has a policy of not releasing players to schools the Vols play against or "recruit against". O.K., that last part is interesting because you could say that would stop them from any school in the country if the want to stretch it that way. After all, guys like Arnett are "national" recruits and therefore the Vols had to beat virtually everyone to land him. Anyhow, Arnett says he wants to transfer closer to home to be near his ailing father, but some of the schools he's intrigued by--Michigan and Michigan State--Dooley won't release him to. Just MAC schools.
 

[If Arnett enrolls at a school Dooley won't release him to, he has to foot the bill for a year, which the kid says he and his family cannot afford.]

This is just the latest Dooley goof after a dud of a 2011 season. It's a PR nightmare. To say this isn't going to play well for Dooley is an understatement.  By all accounts, Dooley is playing hardball with Arnett. The kid is clearly unhappy about something there. The guy who recruited Arnett to Knoxville, Charlie Baggett, the Vols receivers coach, retired after the 5-7 season.


If a guy doesn't really want to be somewhere or part of something, do you want that person around? I'd say no, especially if he's gone to the levels of this that Arnett and his family have. Then again, Dooley's got to be feeling the pressure after a dismal 2011. Fact is, stuff like this isn't going to make landing blue-chippers any easier for him. The kid is a talented receiver and would be a significant blow if he opts to leave. The Vols WR depth chart is already pretty thin. Dooley needs to show marked improvement in 2012.

Word is Arnett will make his decision by Monday. You have to wonder if the perception of Arnett going to a mid-major program closer to his home will compel the Michigan native to stick it out in Knoxville. I imagine that is what Dooley is hoping. I don't see Dooley relenting and releasing him to the big Michigan schools. Dooley's taking the PR hit already. I'm sure rival recruiters will remind prospects of this story a lot as long as Dooley is coaching at UT. Then again, with the moves Dooley has made, you chave to wonder if that'll be more than another year or two.


From @erik_gillespie  Does Keith Price have any sort of NFL future? Or will the "not tall enough, arm strength not good enough" catch up to him?

He just finished his sophomore year and ended on an impressive note. Price has a good arm and very good feet. His size isn't good at about 6-feet, 195 pounds, but he'll get stronger and he is a guy who throws well on the move. He's as tall as Drew Brees, Mike Vick, Chase Daniel and a bunch of other QBs. Price also plays in a very good pro-style system right now. Sarkisian's staff knows how to develop a QB in terms of an NFL game. I'll be very surprised if in 2014, Keith Price isn't on an NFL roster as a back-up QB.


From @steakNstiffarms  Ducks struggle when opp has >1wk to prepare, Wisc struggles w/ great teams away from Camp Randall. Which holds true on Monday?

Well said. For both of these staffs, as much as they don't want to acknowledge outside skepticism, you want to quash it as soon as you can because all of the questions that keep coming (about both issues you point out) can become distractions and push their way into people's minds. My hunch is Oregon will win. Part of that is because the Badgers are dealing with some coaching staff transition with Chryst getting the Pitt job, and things like that, always make life a little harder even if Wisconsin had to deal with it last year when Dave Doeren took the NIU job. 


From @felimalipe RG III is a better college FB player than Cam Newton was?

I think both are fantastic QBs and franchise guys. Robert Griffin III changed the way people think about Baylor. He is awe-inspiring, on and off the field. He deserved the Heisman. Keep in mind, Baylor has one of the six worst defenses in college football this season. Four of those inept defenses were on teams that didn't win more than two games this season. The other team, Texas Tech, went 5-7. Baylor won 10 games. Baylor. 10 games.

That said, for one season, Cam Newton is the best college QB I've ever covered. What he did for Auburn and how he did it, when all of that scrutiny mounted, unlike anything any other top college football player has faced in the spotlight, was truly remarkable.
Posted on: December 27, 2011 12:36 am
Edited on: December 27, 2011 7:52 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: Year's best/worst predictions

Time to revisit some of our best and worst predictions over the past year, which will serve as a double-barrel Tuesday Top 10 list.

The Worst

1. Oklahoma to win it all: The Sooners did sustain some big blows to injury, losing standout LB Travis Lewis before the season and then top receiver (Ryan Broyles) and top rusher (Dom Whaley) later. Still, the Sooners lost at home to a four-TD underdog (Texas Tech) that didn't even get to a bowl game and then finished the season losing by 34 to rival Oklahoma State. OU ended up the season tied with Baylor for third in the Big 12.

2. FSU is back and ready to play in a BCS bowl: The AP poll went all in on FSU putting the Noles sixth in the preseason poll. I was even more optimistic last April, placing them third in a poll I turned in. Instead, FSU, went 8-4 and just 5-3 in the ACC.

3. Maryland could go 8-4: I saw the ACC's top young QB (Danny O'Brien), a quality RB (Davin Meggett) and four returning starters on the O-line and said that 8-4 "seems viable." Um, not exactly. The Terps were a disaster, going 2-10 with one win over an FBS opponent, and that team Miami was a shell of itself due to NCAA player suspensions.

4. Texas A&M is a top 15 team: I bought into the hype around the Aggies with Ryan Tannehill, some gifted receivers and backs and a more mature O-line. Things fizzled in College Station so bad that Mike Sherman lost his job as A&M fell apart in the second half of games and finished 6-6.

5. Gus Malzahn - the hottest assistant in college football: It wasn't a surprise that the Auburn OC saw the Tigers struggle mightily without Cam Newton and most of the AU O-line from 2010, but you had to figure he could've gotten in on UNC or even the Kansas coaching vacancies, no? No? A video of an interview his wife gave certainly didn't help his cause. Regardless, from here it looks like Arkansas State was very fortunate to scoop him up.

6. Nebraska is going to win the Big Ten: The Huskers beat two top top 15 teams - No. 11 and No. 12 Penn State (those were the rankings when they met), but still only finished third in the Legends Division and were also blown out twice, once by Wisconsin, 48-17 and once at Michigan, 45-17.

7. Notre Dame will win 10 games and make the BCS: Once Brian Kelly signed off on embattled star WR Michael Floyd not missing any games, I figured the Irish had more than enough firepower to roll through their schedule. Trouble was, the team was far too mistake prone, committing 26 turnovers and had an underwhelming 8-4, going 2-3 against teams that finished with winning records this season.

8. At worst, Tennessee will go 7-5: Of course, it didn't help that the Vols lost QB Tyler Bray for half of the season and their best weapon, WR Justin Hunter for most of the season, but losing to that bad Kentucky team playing with a WR at QB to miss even becoming bowl eligible was indicative of a miserable season in Knoxville for the 5-7 Vols.

9. Clemson will struggle again and Dabo Swinney may be forced out: I figured new OC Chad Morris would help a lot but ultimately the Tigers would stumble too many times. Oh, they did have some problems in the second half of the season, losing three of their last five games but still thumped Va. Tech to win the ACC.

10. UCF would be a borderline Top 25 team: After watching the Knights win 11 games last season and beat Georgia in a bowl, I thought they'd have another strong season. So strong in fact that I had them as my No. 4 BCS bowl buster candidate behind Boise State, Houston and TCU. The Knights didn't even finish .500 in C-USA play, going 3-5 and 5-7 overall. They played six road games and lost all six.


The Best

1. Michigan will be a top 25 team this year: Brady Hoke inherited a team with 20 starters back and one of the top playmakers in the sport in Denard Robinson. Hoke was also smart enough to bring in Greg Mattison to shore up the defense.

2. Florida will not be ranked: I was surprised to see the Gators ranked in the top 25 given the fact that they had a dramatic transition in schemes and so much uncertainty on both sides of the ball. They also had to deal with back-to-back games against the best two defenses in college football, against Alabama and LSU. End result: 6-6, winning just one game in their final seven against FBS opponents.

3. Arkansas State will make a lot of noise in the Sun Belt: Well, I didn't buy that the Red Wolves were going to win the Sun Belt as ASU D-line coach Chris Kiffin told me they would before the season, but I bought in that first-year coach Hugh Freeze would lead the program to its first winning season since 1995. They ended up doing a lot more than that, winning the league and going 10-2.

4. Tony Levine -- fast-rising assistant coach: The former Minnesota wideout may never have been an offensive or defensive coordinator, but he's long been regarded as one of the top special teams coordinators in college football. He also had been a huge help for Kevin Sumlin in a variety of roles, so when A&M hired Sumlin, it shouldn't have been that big of a surprise that UH would turn to Levine, who has always been well-respected by those inside the Cougars athletic offices.

5. Mississippi State isn't a top 20 team: The Bulldogs lost a bunch of key pieces to their defense, in addition to DC Manny Diaz and that would be too much to overcome in the loaded SEC West. End result: 2-6 in SEC play.

6. Mike Locksley will be the first head coach fired this season: A brutal mix of on and off-field issues led to New Mexico canning Locksley before the end of September.

7. Georgia will win the SEC East: I wasn't sold that South Carolina, preseason No. 12, should've been the favorite in the lesser division of the SEC. I was sold that the Dawgs had the best QB, a good mix of young and old and the most manageable schedule (no LSU, Alabama or Arkansas) to emerge from the East. Of course, things got even harder for Carolina after standout RB Marcus Lattimore was lost for the season with a knee injury.

8. WVU to a BCS bowl: Despite all of the drama for this program in the off-season, I was pretty convinced Dana Holgorsen would spark a dramatic improvement for this team offensively. And, he did. They went from 78th in scoring last season to No. 19 this year en route to making it to the Orange Bowl.

9. Texas will be better, but not that much better: After going 5-7, Mack Brown made significant changes to the Texas coaching staff. I expected the moves to help but still was skeptical UT would be better than the fourth best team in the Big 12. They weren't. They went 7-5 and finished sixth in the conference but at least they were able to beat arch-rival Texas A&M. Then again, UT finished off the regular season with a loss to Baylor.

10. Urban Meyer to get the Ohio State job: Truth is, this one was pretty obvious. I floated that Meyer could be the next OSU head man at the end of 2010 before Jim Tressel was really in hot water. Then, once Tressel was forced out, Meyer became just about everyone's frontrunner for the Buckeye vacancy.
Posted on: December 22, 2011 8:49 pm
Edited on: December 22, 2011 8:53 pm
 

Barkley return setting USC up for a big 2012 run?

For Matt Barkley, the lure of NFL riches was simply outweighed by the chance to return to USC to win a BCS title after enduring two seasons low-lighted by an NCAA's post-season bowl ban.  And despite what the NFL economics may suggest, Barkley deemed it as having "unfinished business."
 
"When you look at the team that we have coming back," he said, "and see how the story lines up--from us going through the darkest points of USC's history and now how we're on the rise, I feel like this lined up perfectly and feel like it is something I couldn't have turned down."
 

Barkley made his announcement just about 10 feet from the spot where less than two years ago, he calmly fielded questions about USC's future a few minutes after hefty NCAA sanctions rocked the Trojans program. On that June, 2010 afternoon, Barkley spoke about how fortunate he still felt to get to play at USC and what a "privilege" it is.


No doubt, USC coach Lane Kiffin must feel pretty fortunate too these days: "Many times guys who are thinking about leaving for the NFL asks themselves, 'Am I really ready?' But this wasn't about that," Kiffin said. "Matt is ready to leave for the NFL. He is ready to play right now, but he wants to come back, and it's not just to blow away the records, it's for something more than all that. 

"No one is going to have the story he can have. Think about it: He grows up a USC fan. Comes here after they go to seven straight BCS bowls. He probably think he's gonna go to three more and then he's leaving for the NFL. Instead, the coach leaves. The AD leaves. The school president leaves. The sanctions come. . . .  This could be really remarkable.


"He can really have a legacy and go down as the greatest Trojan of them all." 

With Barkley, the leader of this year's 10-2 Trojan team that finished the 2011 regular season with a flourish that included a win at No. 4 Oregon, USC figures to be a pre-season top-five team, and perhaps No. 1 overall. Barkley will have quite a talented cast around him, including the country's best receiving duo in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee; along with a 1000-yard back in Curtis McNeal. USC's left tackle Matt Kalil, a likely top 10 draft pick, did opt to jump into the NFL draft but the rest of the offensive line returns. In addition USC also gets back standout safety T.J. McDonald, who announced he was coming back for his senior season earlier this week; the Trojans' top two tacklers were both freshmen linebackers (Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey) and the Pac-12's best CB, Nickell Robey was just a sophomore.  The team also redshirted four blue-chip defensive linemen and just signed two junior college all-Americans on defense. On top of that, the Trojans schedule sets up quite well with Oregon and Notre Dame having to visit the Coliseum in 2012. But it's the return of Barkley that transforms the group from a top-25 team to a serious national title contender.

In 2011, Barkley blossomed, especially in the last two months of the season, throwing 29 TDs and just four INTs as USC went 7-1 over its final eight games as the team averaged 40 points per game. 

  The notion that USC could be a legit national title contender less than two years after the NCAA sanctions  were announced may seem vexing to many. The Trojans did lose a handful of players who were allowed to transfer per NCAA rules and Seantrel Henderson, the No 1 offensive line recruit in the country two years ago, backed out of his commitment to USC in the wake of the NCAA sanctions. 

Truth be told, the real teeth of the sanctions are likely to grind at USC after 2012, when the effect of losing 30 scholarships over three seasons (that part of the penalties begin with this recruiting class) start to really take hold, affecting the team's depth and their margin for error in recruiting. Lane Kiffin and his staff has been very strategic in trying to map out a structure in their roster building to keep positions well-stocked and this is a program that did not have a lot of seniors. Kiffin's decision to redshirt 19 scholarship players this season, a lot more than usual at USC, is part of his plan to cope with the long-term stress of the sanctions. 

In the short-term, the return of Barkley is huge for this program and on Thursday afternoon, USC sure was in celebration mode. The Trojans had all six of their Heisman Trophies out of their cases flanking a podium that stood in front of a large Christmas tree. A portion of the USC band was on hand to perform. Some of the USC Song Girls stood off to the right of the podium. Despite all of that, and the "unifinished business" mindset, Barkley and Kiffin, though, were quick to try and downplay the notion that 2012 now sets up as a "National Championship of Bust" season. 
 
"I didn't say a word about the national championship out there or the Rose Bowl or the Heisman," Kiffin later explained. "It's just about the team getting better every day, us getting to work and also challenging Matt to keep improving. . . . This is a really special college student-athlete story. And for us to be a part of this story is unbelievable for everyone involved."

 
Category: NCAAF
Tags: USC
 
Posted on: December 21, 2011 8:54 pm
Edited on: December 22, 2011 5:25 am
 

Mora: UCLA really needs a culture change

I had a chance to visit with new UCLA coach Jim L. Mora Wednesday afternoon. As you probably have heard, the former NFL head coach isn't a big fan of one of the Bruins' football traditions, the one where the players "go over the wall" and skip practice as they did right after their pre-practice stretching period on Tuesday in keeping up with something the upperclassmen of the program have been organizing for years in Westwood. It became obvious in the first 45 seconds of my sitdown with him that Mora is determined to change some things around the underachieving program and he didn't mince words.

"We'll honor the traditions here at UCLA that lead to us representing UCLA on the football field the way it deserves to be represented. Look at a guy like Troy Aikman or Kenny Easley or Maurice Jones-Drew and those great players, and we want to represent that history," Mora said, as he pointed to some of the pictures of Bruins greats on the walls surrounding him in his office. "There are also some traditions that are counter to that, and in my humble opinion, skipping practice is counter-productive to winning and its counter-productive to what we want to be as a football team.

"I'd heard about it but that has never been a part of my world. I've never been on a football team that would skip practice.  I think it is disrespectful to the coaches. I think it's disrespectful to your teammates. I think it's disrespectful to your athletic director and I think it's disrespectful to the men that came before you.

Asked if someone tried to explain the tradition to him, Mora shot back, "I don't care about the explanation. All I know is that guys left practice unexcused. And it will not happen again. That is the last time that someone will go over the wall and be allowed back inside the wall.

"(UCLA athletic director) Dan (Guerrero) and I talked about how this football program needed 'a culture change,' and if that wasn't the case, I wouldn't be here. And that action by those players right there is indicative of the fact that it does need a culture change. It's my job to change it. It is not going to be easy. It is not going to happen over night. It's going to involve in a lot of hard work, but that is the task."

I'll have more on my visit with the new Bruins coach in the blog in a few days.



Category: NCAAF
Tags: UCLA
 
Posted on: December 21, 2011 7:52 pm
Edited on: December 21, 2011 7:57 pm
 

Levine taking over full time at Houston

Interim Houston coach Tony Levine, Kevin Sumlin's right-hand man at UH, has been hired to take over the program full time as the Cougars next head coach, a source has confirmed Wednesday afternoon to CBS. 
 
  The 39-year-old Levine, a former wideout at Minnesota, has been running the UH football program after Sumlin left to become the head coach at Texas A&M earlier this month.


Over the past four years, Levine had proven to be one of the country's best special teams coaches. Since he got to UH in 2008, Levine's teams have returned eight kickoffs for TDs and blocked 18 kicks. That's fourth-most in the country in that time. He's also been Sumlin's assistant head coach for what has become a very hot program these days. 


Levine also been UH's inside receivers coach for the Cougars' record-breaking offense since coming to Houston when Sumlin was hired. A source told CBS that the UH brass was intrigued about hiring from within, in a similar fashion to the way Boise State has continued to develop its program over the past 15 years.


In addition to working under Sumlin, Levine has also learned under John Fox, Bobby Petrino and Tommy Tuberville in his time in college and the NFL. 
 
Category: NCAAF
Tags: Houston
 
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com