Posted on: November 22, 2011 10:11 am
Edited on: November 22, 2011 10:45 am

Tuesday Top 10: Fastest-rising assistant coaches

As we reported Monday afternoon with the report about Rich Rodriguez getting the Arizona job, tis the season for coaching changes. Expect a lot more vacancies to spring up in the next few weeks. A few of them will get filled by first-time head coaches. This week's Top 10 list examines some of the best up-and-comers to keep an eye on:

1. Gus Malzahn, Auburn, OC: The former Arkansas high school coach's rep sky-rocketed last season as Auburn rode Cam Newton to the BCS title. Things have been much, much tougher this year without Newton or most of last year's offensive line. The offense that was fifth nationally in scoring and sixth in total offense has plummeted to 78th and 93rd, respectively. But things should get a lot better next year as almost all of their key guys figure to be back. But will Malzahn? He is paid very, very well at Auburn, getting a reported $1.3 mil per year, and won't leave for just any coaching job, but word is that UNC's vacancy could be tempting.

2. Kirby Smart, Alabama, DC: Nick Saban's program has spawned a handful of future head coaches (FSU's Jimbo Fisher, UF's Will Muschamp and Tennessee's Derek Dooley among them), and Smart figures to be the next one up. Then again, Bama OC Jim McElwain, who could've also been on this list, will likely get some looks this winter too. Bama's defensive prowess will be quite a selling point for Smart. The Tide leads the nation in: rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense and scoring defense. That's quite a mouthful. The one downside for the former Georgia DB is that Saban is so hands-on with Alabama's defense it's perceived that the head coach is more responsible for the unit's success than most head coaches.

3. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin, OC: One of the more anonymous "top" assistants in college football, the 46-year-old Chryst, a former Mike Riley assistant, has done a terrific job for the Badgers for years. This season, he's put together an offense that has produced two Heisman candidates in QB Russell Wilson and RB Montee Ball. The Badgers are fifth in the country in scoring and 10th in rushing under the former Wisconsin QB.

4. Manny Diaz, Texas, DC: A first-year UT assistant, Diaz has proven to be the most effective of all of Mack Brown's new on-field coaches, turning a defense that had to replace most of the secondary into one that is 11th in pass efficiency D and 26th in scoring D. Last year, the Horns were 46th and 49th in both of those categories. Texas also has jumped from 31st against the run all the way up to No. 8. Diaz provided a similar boost at his previous stop, Mississippi State in 2010. The Miami native would be even higher on this list if his team was doing better than a 6-4 mark. But don't blame the defense. It's only a matter of time before Diaz is running his own program.

5. Chad Morris, Clemson, OC: Like Malzahn, Morris is a former high school coach who is cashing in on an up-tempo offense that has pumped life into a big, previously underachieving college program. As I detailed in a Stats That Matter a few weeks back, Morris learned a lot from Malzahn and has done wonders for young QB Tajh Boyd. Morris also has done wonders for Dabo Swinney's job security. The Tigers are 12th in the nation in passing, 18th in total offense and 21st in scoring. A year ago, before Morris arrived, they were 78th, 88th and 86th in those carries. With a handful of openings likely to come this winter in his native state of Texas, expect Morris' phone to be ringing.

6. Garrick McGee, Ark. OC: The Hogs are hot, having scored at least 44 points in their past three SEC games. McGee, a former OU QB, has learned well under Bobby Petrino, one of the game's sharpest offensive minds. Arkansas is No. 3 in the nation led by its potent offense, which had to deal with the loss of record-setting QB Ryan Mallett, a great tight end D.J. Williams and then, on the eve of the season, RB Knile Davis yet the Hogs still pile up the points. If McGee and the Hogs can light up the vaunted LSU defense on Friday, the young coach's stock will really rise.

7. Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State, DC: Yet another Youngstown guy making it big in college coaching. Narduzzi and his boss Mark Dantonio have done another great job producing a ferocious defense. MSU is No. 3 in the country in total defense; No. 5 in scoring; No. 5 in pass efficiency defense and No. 10 against the run. Impressive? No doubt. But what really is amazing is that coming into this season, the Spartans lost four of their top five tackles from last year, including star LB Greg Jones.

8. Bud Foster, Va. Tech, DC: The Hokies again have a top-10 defense. Yawn. Foster seems to do this on an annual basis. This season, Tech has had to overcome a bunch of injuries to key guys in its front seven, but regardless of that, the Hokies are 10-1 and leaning on Foster's stifling defense. Trouble is, for all of Foster's success and the respect he has, the 52-year-old has been passed over many times for head coaching jobs and you have to wonder if he'll ever get his shot to run his own program.

9. Tony Levine, Houston, Special Teams Coordinator: Even though most head coaches get hired after being offensive or defensive coordinators, keep an eye on the 39-year-old Levine, a former wideout at Minnesota, who has proven to be one of the country's best special teams coaches and has learned under Kevin Sumlin, John Fox, Bobby Petrino and Tommy Tuberville in his time in college and the NFL. Since he got to UH in 2008, his 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. Having also been UH's inside receivers coach for the Cougars' record-breaking offense the past four seasons or exhibiting the organizational experience of being a director of football operation (Louisville) also won't hurt his cause either.

10. (tie) Frank Wilson, LSU, RB coach/recruiting coordinator: A New Orleans native, Wilson has emerged as arguably the nation's top recruiter. He has found and reeled in studs at Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Tennessee and now at LSU, but the guy has proven to be a lot more than just a recruiter. No assistant may be more respected by his players. And he has proven he knows how to run a program and be a leader. Back when he was 27, he took over a downtrodden high school program in New Orleans and turned the place upside down. In one year, the team GPA jumped from 1.5 to 2.5 and his team knocked off Louisiana powerhouse John Curtis HS with its first district loss in 25 years. By Wilson's third season at the school, they were playing in the state title game.

10. (tie) Tom Herman, Iowa State, OC:  The Mensa guy I wrote about last week had a big Friday night helping lead the Cyclones to the biggest win in school history, upsetting No. 2 Oklahoma State in double-overtime, 37-31 boosting ISU to 6-4. Iowa State's numbers on offense this season are far from head-turning: 44th in total offense and 75th in scoring, but remember this is a guy who produced top 10 offenses at Rice just a few years back and helped that program get to its first bowl game in over a half-century. Like Morris and Levine, if he gets a long look when a few of these jobs in the Southwest open up.
Posted on: November 21, 2011 5:31 pm
Edited on: November 21, 2011 8:34 pm

Arizona hires Rich Rodriguez as coach

Rich Rodriguez will be the next head football coach at Arizona, athletic director Greg Byrne has announced on his Twitter account.

He's expected to bring several of his assistants from Michigan and West Virginia with him to Tucson.

The 48-year-old Rodriguez, who was fired after three seasons at Michigan, had spent the past season working as a college football analyst for CBS. At Michigan, he went 15-22. Before his turbulent stint in Ann Arbor, he coached his alma mater West Virginia to a 60-26 record in seven seasons. His final three seasons, he led the Mountaineers to top 12 finishes and two BCS bowl games.

Rodriguez will take over an Arizona team that is 3-8. The school fired Mike Stoops at midseason.
Posted on: November 18, 2011 12:26 pm

Friday Mailbag: Honoring BC's tackling machine

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

From @kcflatlander Why doesn't Colin Klein get any pub for Heisman consideration?

There are three big reasons for that: first, Klein was completely off the radar before the season. No one knew or expected much from him outside of perhaps some folks in the state of Kansas. 

Second, he plays at a program that is far from a national name and gets obscured by having so many other Heisman hopefuls in his region. Going into the season, there were four such candidates at the Oklahoma schools alone. Then, Robert Griffin III at Baylor really flashed onto the Heisman picture in a big way over the first month. Klein and K-State really didn't start to get much notice until October. 

The third point is that for a QB to have a decent shot of getting into the Heisman race, he needs to either put up gaudy passing stats or play at a glamour program or, if he's a running QB, needs to put up big rushing numbers like an elite back to go with some highlight-reel runs. Klein's rushing totals are impressive. He's run for 1,009 yards (good for 26th in the nation) and has 24 rushing TDs. That last stat has prompted some Klein supporters to try and draw comparisons to Tim Tebow, who won the Heisman in 2007. The problem with that is Klein's passing numbers aren't close to Tebow's. 

Klein has a passing efficiency rating of 127 (ranking him 69th nationally) and a 10-5 TD-INT ratio. Tebow's rating was 172.5 (No. 2 in the country) to go with a 32-6 TD-INT mark, and his numbers came against tougher defenses in the SEC. Even if you use Denard Robinson's run last year, Klein's numbers are lacking. Robinson was in the top 20 in passing efficiency, was virtually a one-man offense and he still didn't win or get invited to NYC for the ceremony, and he plays at one of those few true glamour programs.

In reality, the off-the-radar guy I think deserves consideration in anything framed around the "Most Outstanding Player" talk in college football but has no shot at the Heisman is BC linebacker Luke Kuechly. He's leading the nation in tackles by three a game, which is a huge margin relatively speaking. But he plays defense and plays for a 3-7 team. Unfortunately, there is only so much a linebacker can do, even a great one. Kuechly's about the set the ACC career tackles record this weekend and it's fitting the team he's going to do it against, Notre Dame. His background is certainly worth sharing here though:

 was a 6-3, 220-pound linebacker at Cincinnati's St. Xavier High, a program that won a state title his junior year. He had a 4.0 GPA. He also was a lacrosse standout. "I kept telling every coach that came though here, this kid is special," St. X coach Steve Specht told me a while back. Ohio State though didn't offer Kuechly. Nor did Notre Dame or most of the top programs in the midwest. Duke was his first offer. The Blue Devils staff had a theory why other teams weren't sold: Kuechly, who wears glasses off the field, looked kinda, well, nerdy. And, he was soft-spoken. Coaches wants to see a guy who looks like Brian Urlacher, not like he could be writing computer programs. 

In his senior year, St. X was playing its rival St. Ignatius. Specht spotted Notre Dame defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta in attendance. "I'm here to see #3," Tenuta told Specht.

"My #3 (Kuechly)?" Specht asked.

"No, I'm here to see the other #3," replied Tenuta, referring to Dan Fox, a similarly-sized linebacker the Irish already had offered.

Kuechly caught a touchdown in the game and was all over the field on defense, but St. X lost in overtime and despite Specht's post-game-lobbying, the Irish still weren't interested. Kuechly opted to sign with Boston College. He was named the Eagles starting middle linebacker in his first game and has not come out of the line-up since. This year, Kuechly leads the nation in tackles for the second consecutive season and, at the very least, should take home the Butkus Award, honoring the country's top linebacker.

From @TheCBurns   Will Kevin Sumlin be coaching at Houston next year?

I'd be shocked if Sumlin is back at UH in 2012. The timing is too good for Sumlin not to make his leap to a bigger program now. The Cougars have a good shot to go to a BCS bowl this year. His QB Case Keenum is a senior and moves on after this season. Sumlin's name can't get much hotter than it is right now. There are some very intriguing jobs that are or are about to come open, which figure to court Sumlin: UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and UNC. My hunch is he ends up in the Pac-12 in 2012.

From @ixcuincle  will urban meyer coach in the near future?

  Yes, I'm convinced the temptation to get back into coaching is too great for Meyer. He was able to recharge his batteries for a year, spend some time with his family but knowing that one of the few jobs (Ohio State) that he sees as elite is open will drive him back to the sideline. I realize there have been some reports floated that it is a done deal. I'm told by a source those reports are premature, but look for him to be running the show in Columbus very soon.

From @
jhclay  in 07 everyone was against UGA for title as did not win div/conf even though #3 and top 2 lost. But now everyone wants Bama?

First, I'm not so sure that "everyone" wants Bama. There's a lot of people who have been vocal about Alabama not getting another shot at LSU. One of the reasons you hear is that viewers were bored by the lack of offense in a game where there wasn't a single touchdown. However, keep in mind pollsters are voting for the second-best team. They're not supposed to be doing so as programmers, seeking out potentially the most entertaining match-up.

There are some differences between that Georgia team and this year's Alabama squad. That was a two-loss Georgia team that had been blown out in the middle of the season by Tennessee by three TDs. No one has blown out Alabama. The Tide has the best defense in the country and hasn't allowed more than 10 points since September. They also have a potent running game, led by the best back in college football, Trent Richardson. They have one of the better wins of the season, crushing Arkansas 38-14. They also went up to State College and blasted Penn State. 

Another noticeable difference between 2007 UGA and 2011 Alabama is, at that point, the SEC hadn't been that far along on this run of BCS titles. That benefit of the doubt that the league is going to get wasn't really there. The run of five BCS titles in a row carries a lot of weight. To a lesser extent so does the fact that Bama just won a national title two years ago. That's still fresh in people's minds. The Dawgs, meanwhile, had gone unranked the previous season in the Coaches poll and had been upset by WVU in the Sugar Bowl the year before that.

From @
jasongrant19   please discuss the disaster that is ole miss football.

It is stunning how quickly that program has fallen apart in the past two years. To go from back-to-back Cotton Bowls and then to four wins and now to a year where they're looking at 2-10 is remarkable. Ole Miss has had some clunker teams over the years, and in the two years I was around Oxford, the Rebels were really mediocre, but those teams were at least competitive in most games. This team has been thumped by Vandy and La. Tech and lost by double-digits to a horrible Kentucky team. 

Houston Nutt walked into a decent set-up when he arrived at Ole Miss: lots of young talent that actually had plenty of SEC experience because those guys were forced into action probably sooner than they should'v been.  Dexter McCluster, Mike Wallace, Shay Hodge, Cassius Vaughn, Kendrick Lewis and Jonathan Cornell and some really good linemen became the nucleus of good, fast team. Nutt also inherited a gifted transfer QB (Jevan Snead) who was sitting out but poised to take over the offense as the program's best QB, by far, since Eli Manning left Oxford. Having that triggerman was crucial. You see how awful the program has been without it. That bunch of players that Nutt inherited had been coached hard by the previous staff. Nutt came in, eased up, threw them a bone and they responded well. 

The problems started to come because Nutt didn't recruit as hard as the old staff. You're able to get away with not recruiting as hard at Arkansas than you can at Ole Miss. His first few classes were huge, but loaded with misfires and guys who never made it to Oxford or didn't last long. He also allowed MSU to take over the recruiting in the state in his first few years. Eventually that caught up with him, as did the eased-up, players' coach mentality inside the program. The team had lost whatever edge was there in the early years of Nutt's tenure. Whoever replaces him will inherit quite a challenge. There is some talent, especially in a nice group of young receivers, but there are major questions about the QB and throughout the rest of the depth chart, especially on the lines. There also are APR issues the new coach is going to have to be very mindful of because they've had so much attrition the past few years there. It looks like this team has been mailing it in on the field so if you're the next coach you better hope they haven't been mailing it in off the field too by not going to classes.

Frrom @DatBoiMattyP Will you consider Geno Smith a top 5 QB next season?

  It really depends on which of junior QBs opt to return to college football for 2012. Remember, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Matt Barkley and Landry Jones all have another season of eligibility remaining. The only ones I think of that quartet who may return to college are Griffin and Barkley.

Smith has had a good season in his first year in Dana Holgorsen's system which was a radical change from what he'd run previously at WVU. Smith's fifth in the country in passing yards (350 per game) and has a stellar 24-5 TD-INT ratio. The team has also soared from 78th in scoring last season to 16th. I expect a big jump from Smith again with more experience in the system and with added seasons from an already dynamic group of receivers who all are expected back in 2012: Tavon Austin, Steadman Bailey and Ivan McCartney. Smith will come into the season as a legit Heisman contender, not a darkhorse guy.

The other top QBs for 2012: Clemson's Tajh Boyd; Arkansas' Tyler Wilson, Oregon's Darron Thomas, ASU's Brock Osweiler, Georgia's Aaron Murray, Iowa's James Vandenberg and Washington's Keith Price. Other young QBs closing in on that group: TCU's Casey Pachall, Illinois' NateScheelhasse, VTs Logan Thomas, FSU's E.J. Manuel and OSU's Braxton Miller.

From @DukeBlogMKline  probably not getting any DukeFB questions but how do you assess progress in year 4 of Cutcliffe. Closer or as far away as ever?

I realize the Blue Devils are in a 5-game losing, but Cutcliffe has things getting better in Durham. It's just that things had been so dismal there for so long, it's going to take a lot of time. Consider this: the current senior class at Duke has won 15 games in the past four years and they'll leave the school as the winningest group of seniors since 1997.

This program still doesn't have the depth to handle the wave of injuries that have hit. Some 20 players in their two-deep have missed at least one game this year. The bright side is Duke will return almost every significant player in the program save for one OT and a safety. They also redshirted most of their freshmen class. Team speed has definitely been upgraded. The Blue Devils should have a decent shot at getting to a bowl game in 2012.
Posted on: November 16, 2011 3:29 pm
Edited on: November 17, 2011 1:33 pm

Stats That Matter: The Mensa man making things go

For the latest Stats That Matter I caught up with a guy who is arguably the "smartest" coach in college football. Hyperbole? We'll get back to that later in the article.

In his third year as Iowa State's offensive coordinator Tom Herman's O is hardly wracking up gaudy numbers. The Cyclones are 59th in total offense and 85th in scoring, but they are 5-4. Not bad for a team that had only five starters back on offense and was picked to come in second-to-last in the preseason Big 12 media poll.

  Herman's big on preaching to his players about trying to win "the double positive," he explains of his biggest stat barometer.

"If you win the turnover battle and the 'explosive' game, stats say you win the game 97 percent of the time. We preach that to our kids daily. I think I read a study a few years ago about it and it's certainly held up in all of my years as a coordinator. I think there's maybe been one game where we lost them both and still won the game and that happened this year against Northern Iowa."

In that game, the Cyclones had three more turnovers and less explosive plays than UNI. They needed to score a TD in the final minute to beat the FCS team, 20-19. (Herman, by the way, defines "explosive plays" as any running play over 12 yards and any pass over 16.) 

Their four losses this season all came in games where ISU had less explosive plays than its opponent this year: Texas (5-12); Baylor (8-13); Mizzou (8-15) andTexas A&M (6-12). They had the same number of explosive plays against Iowa (6-6) and lost the turnover battle (3-1) but still managed to eek out a 44-41 win in overtime.

It is always interesting to talk with coaches such as Herman who work at the smaller programs (relatively speaking in terms of conference worth), especially when it comes to things like the explosive play component. The challenge at a place like Iowa State is that your often lining up against teams with better athletes, which means your margin for error shrinks because the defense can win more one-on-one battles, pursue better, close faster and turn plays that figure to be 20- and 30-yard gains into eight-yard and six-yard pick-ups.

  "Last year, I read a stat where we were the only team in 1-A not to have a pass over 40 yards," Herman said. "This year we've made an effort, not only as a play-caller and game-planning to say 'Hey, we've got to find a way as coaches to manufacture these things, whether that means through 'trick' plays or formations or whatever the case may be. We've got manufacture them as coaches but at the same time we've to preach to our guys, especially since the perimeter guys, the wide receivers are so involved in the pass aspect but also in the explosive runs where a great block by a wide receiver can turn an eight-yard run into a 20-yard run.' We really preach our downfield blocking.

"I talked ad nauseam during two-a-days about it. If you look at the teams that are getting 40-yard pass plays or more, they're not always chucking the ball 50 yards downfield. They're throwing the intermediate passes and getting the ball to their great athletes and they're making a guy miss or getting a great block. In our second game against Iowa, we had a 57-yard pass. I think it was the longest pass at Iowa State since 2004, and it came on a tunnel screen. We caught the ball one yard from the line of scrimmage. At Iowa State, the more you can recruit kids that can be dynamic with the ball in their hands, the more of those plays you're gonna get."

That 57-yard pass play came thanks in large part to the skills of Aaron Horne, a 5-9, 175-pound JC transfer from City College of San Francisco, who followed his QB Steele Jantz and arrived in Ames last off-season. "It was blocked great at the point, the two O-linemen did a great job of getting out and getting the play started," explained Herman. "I think (Horne) made one guy miss and took the play exactly where it was designed to go and was off to the races."

The turnover component of the Double Positive has been even more vexing for Herman and his colleagues. ISU is 110th in the country in turnover margin. Last year they were 30th, losing just seven fumbles and throwing 10 INTs. Through nine games, they're closing in on twice as many fumbles (12) as they had in 2010.

"The fumbles have been absolutely frustrating," he said. "We have 3rd-and-12 and we convert it against Kansas and our wide receiver fumbles going across the 50. Another time, we're on the 8-yard line going in. It's the 17th play of our drive that started at our minus-4 and we fumble it. I never once felt like we weren't in control against Kansas yet the score said different because we turned the ball over three times and all three were on the plus side of the 50 going in. 

"The crazy thing is we do ball-security drills every day. On the back of our shorts--and I got this from the Houston Texans--it says 'Protect the Ball.' In every meeting room there is a sign that says 'Protect the Ball.' Two years ago, we were doing the exact same ball security drills (when Herman was the OC at Rice) and I think we finished in the (top 10) in the country in turnover margin. (The Owls were seventh nationally.) But this year we've had an issue with fumbling. We've pulled our hair out trying to figure new improved ways to drill ball-security. It sounds like a cop-out answer, but it just happens. And you don't want to engrain it too much because you don't want to paralyze the kids so that they play scared. You don't want it to become a self-fulfilling prophecy either. It's a line we have to walk but it's our job as coaches to get it rectified."

If there is a way to find that solution, there's a good chance Herman would be the guy to figure it out. And, this gets us back to that "smartest" guy in coaching thing. Herman is literally a member of Mensa, the largest and oldest high IQ society in the world. O.K., technically, Herman might not be a member any more. He doesn't remember the last time he paid the organization's dues. And truth be told, he was pretty sheepish when I brought it up.

"That and a dollar will buy me a cup of coffee," he said of the Mensa membership, which he explained he qualified for after taking a test right around the time he was graduating from college at Cal Lutheran in 1997 at his mom's prodding. She said 'Take the test. If anything else it'll look good on a resume.' 

To qualify he had to score high enough on it to grade out in the top 2 percent of humans on the planet, he said. Herman likened the Mensa test to more like the LSAT than the SAT, saying it's heavy on "logic" questions. "There is a difference between intelligence and knowledge. These [IQ-type tests are trying to gauge your] ability to think and ability to learn and logically deduce answers from problems."

Herman, who grew up in Simi Valley, Calif., said he did get accepted into some Ivy League schools but since he was the only child of a single mom and didn't want to be a few hundred thousand dollars in debt after graduated. Instead, he opted for UC Davis and later transferred to Cal-Lutheran, where he was an all-league wide receiver.

His education as a coach has been on-going. He credits his time as a graduate assistant at Texas, working for Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis for a big role in his learning the game.

  "The best thing that ever happened to me was as a GA I worked with the offensive line for two years," Herman says. "I got to learn protections and how things are blocked. Everybody can draw up routes to get people open, but how does that tie-in to the protection and where the QB is hot? We've changed quite dramatically from what Coach Davis was simply because we didn't have the players of a what Texas can have." Herman's also picked up a lot from his time visiting with other coaches and is a big fan of Brian Billick's book, Developing an Offensive Game Plan. "That book changed my life in terms of quantifying everything you do offensively and putting a number and a goal to it."

The numbers Herman's offenses put up while at Rice caught a lot of people's attention in coaching circles. As the Owls emerged as an unlikely offensive juggernaut, setting almost 50 school records in his two years in Houston. Herman helped Rice win 10 games in 2008. That season the Owls went to their first bowl game in 54 years. Since coming to ISU, he's had to shift his scheme around quite a bit. At Rice he had a potent triggerman (Chase Clement), a record-setting receiver (Jarrett Dillard) and a dangerous tight end/H-back (James Casey), so they threw the heck out of the ball. At Iowa State, he inherited a gifted running back (Alexander Robinson, who ran for over 2,100 in two season with Herman before graduating) and a good Big 12 O-line.

"We were light years different at Rice," he said. "Here, we didn't try to fit a square peg into a round hole. While we have never wavered from being spread, no huddle and shotgun, we're going to have to run the ball. We became a run-first team as we slowly improve at the wide receiver position."

Even though Herman is goals-driven when it comes to numbers, he maintain he's tries to keep it in context:

"Our job is to score more one point than the defense allows," he says. "If our defense is playing great, then we're going to manage the game to the point where we don't screw it up on offense, so we don't lose the game. If our defense is struggling or the other offense is on a roll and it looks this could be a high-scoring game, then the playbook opens up a little bit. You start adjusting your mindset. We don't get hung up a whole bunch on rush yards, pass yards or even points per game. We've got five wins and that's probably three more than the guys in Vegas would've told you we'd probably have before the start of the year.

  "I think at a place like Iowa State it's important to just really manage the game and see how the game is unfolding and then tweak your play-calling to what you need."

So far, that seems to be working out pretty well for the Cyclones.
Category: NCAAF
Posted on: November 15, 2011 12:24 pm
Edited on: November 15, 2011 4:07 pm

The Tuesday Top 10: Best Freshmen

1. Sammy Watkins, Clemson, WR/KR: There was hype around the five-star recruit, but no one could've imagined Watkins would be quite this much of a difference-maker this soon. He's been everything for Clemson. "He is a true freshman who plays like a senior," says Tiger OC Chad Morris. "He is such a student of the game." Watkins is fourth in the nation in all-purpose yards and tied for fifth in receiving touchdowns.

2. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina, DE: The biggest freak in the class, the former No. 1 overall recruit has been a force for a nasty Gamecock D-line, racking up five forced fumbles, five sacks and eight TFLs. Two of those FFs directly led to Melvin Ingram touchdowns. Hard to imagine Clowney being anything other than a three-and-out guy.

3. DeAnthony Thomas, Oregon, WR/KR/RB: After an up-and-down debut against LSU where the LA youth football legend had two fumbles but also flashed his blazing speed, the 5-9, 173-pound x-factor has quickly proven to be a great fit for the Ducks offense. Thomas is 16th in the country in all-purpose yards, averaging 150 per game to go with his 12 TDs.

4. Marqise Lee, USC, WR: Most people expected his old HS teammate George Farmer to be the rookie that generated the buzz among the newcomers this year for the Trojans. Instead, it's been Lee, a guy many figured would get switched to safety. The explosive 6-1, 190-pound Inglewood native has emerged as quite the weapon opposite another former Serra High star, Robert Woods, catching 25 passes for almost 300 yards and four TDs in the past three games for USC. I really try to avoid having two players from the same school on the Top 10s or else LB Dion Bailey, the team's leading tackler would be on here too.

5. Gio Bernard, UNC, RB: Only UCONN's Lyle McCombs has run for more yards among freshmen this season and Bernard (1,012 yards, 11 TDs) is averaging over than a yard more per carry than the Husky RB and has twice as many rushing TDs.

6. Isaiah Crowell, Georgia, RB: I was tempted to pick Malcolm Mitchell as the top Dawg freshman, but for as dynamic as he's been he's missed a bunch of games with a hamstring injury, while Crowell continues to pile up yards and give QB Aaron Murray a lot of support. Best thing about Crowell's impact: he's played in seven SEC games and gone over 100 yards in four of them.

7. Anthony Chickillo, Miami, DE: The Canes defense has struggled mightily after having been rocked by injuries and the NCAA suspension. Chickillo, a third-generation UM player, has been one of the biggest bright spots and is going to be a cornerstone for the rebuilding effort in Miami. He has started seven games, has made 34 tackles to go with 5.5 TFLs and four sacks.

8. Aaron Lynch, Notre Dame, DE: Notre Dame has been lacking impact D-linemen for a while, but they have a couple of young studs in South Bend now. Stephon Tuitt, who has started three games is another one, but for this list Lynch gets the nod. The guy is relentless and has lived up to his spring hype, notching four sacks and a team-best 11 QB hurries.

9. Brett Smith, Wyoming, QB: Going into this season it was fellow freshman Adam Pittser, a former Elite 11 QB that was the one people figured would take over the offense. Smith wasn't even ranked among the top 100 QB recruits, but the Oregon native has been very impressive for the Cowboys who are quietly having a nice season at 6-3. They've won three of their past four and Smith's thrown seven TDs and zero INTs to go with four more rushing TD and more than 200 yards on the ground.

10. (tie) Malcolm Brown, Texas, RB: UT is loaded with first-year studs and if WR Jaxon Shipley hadn't been banged up he probably gets a spot on here too. Like Crowell, you have a former blue-chip back who has made an impact early at a program that really needed a RB to step up. The bad news is he's battled turf toe problems that have limited him and Texas really missed him last week against Mizzou. Still, you had to be impressed with him running for over 100 yards in three of his previous five games before being sidelined.

10. (tie) Timmy Jernigan, FSU, DT: The Noles have a strong group of first-year players with TE Nick O'Leary, RB Devonta Freeman, WR Rashad Green and 17-year-old OT Bobby Hart, but I'll go with Jernigan who has really come on as FSU's gotten on a roll. Jernigan has 6 TFLs to go with 2.5 sacks and 3 QB hurries.

Posted on: November 14, 2011 12:37 pm
Edited on: November 14, 2011 12:54 pm

Is the competition for Keenum really that soft?

The question was aimed at the notion that Houston's prolific Case Keenum's staggering stats should not vault him over other top players in Heisman consideration. I have Keenum fourth, but things have bunched up considerably in the top six in the past two weeks with Trent Richardson and Andrew Luck both not producing grand performances on their big stages of the season. Meanwhile, the Cougars QB keeps producing jaw-dropping statlines, as does fast-rising Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden.

So I decided to do a little number-crunching in hopes of better sorting things out by seeing who is playing the weakest competition and who isn't. As expected, the Cougars' slate is quite tasty. They're averaging a nation's-best 55 ppg, but what is holding Keenum's Heisman candidacy back some is this: UH has played 10 games. The toughest defense they've faced was La. Tech, which is ranked 57th in scoring D. Seven of the 10 defenses were ranked 90th or worse. Yikes.

However, when you look at the other elite QBs it doesn't get much better. Boise State's Kellen Moore, whose Heisman hopes took a hit when BSU lost at home last weekend to TCU, has faced one defense in the top 40. That would be Georgia, which is 12th in the country. Six of the nine defenses Moore has faced are 70th or worse. Again, that sounds bad, but just how bad is it really?

Going up to the bigger school QBs, it actually doesn't get that much better. In fact, Weeden's competition, at least defensively, appears softer than what Moore has dealt with. Oklahoma State has only faced one defense in the top 40 (No. 28 Texas). Seven of the 10 defenses Weeden has faced are 70th or worse. Of course, you could argue, as I'm sure fans of from the bigger programs would, that since the teams in the Big 12 are facing better talent on a regular basis, their numbers would and do suffer since it's relative.

Andrew Luck also has only been up against one top-40 defense, and that just came last Saturday when his team got beat by Oregon (No. 33 in scoring defense). Eight of Stanford's 10 opponents are 83rd or worse statistically.

Despite the fact that he plays in the same conference, and has been lost a little in the shadow of Luck and NCAA sanctions, USC's Matt Barkley, whose numbers rival the Cardinal star, actually stacks up pretty well statswise: he's played four top-40 defenses (No. 17 Utah; No. 39 Cal; No. 27 Notre Dame and No. 25 Stanford). Barkley, though, has also had the luxury of facing four defenses ranked 102nd or worse.

Similarly, another QB of a two-loss team who seems to have drifted off the radar some is Wisconsin's Russell Wilson. Two recent losses by his team are the reason for that. Still, Wilson is on pace to shatter the NCAA record for passing efficiency at 201.6. (The record is by Hawaii's Colt Brennan at 186.0.) Wilson has faced three top 40 defenses, including two in the top 20. He's faced four defenses ranked 100th or worse, although let's say it's really five since he also beat South Dakota, a 6-4 FCS team.

Overall, I'm not sure any of this should torpedo Keenum's chances. As I said the other day, I think he at the very least deserves to be in New York for the Heisman ceremony. He and Moore have always seemed like default candidates: great college players, who will put up the big numbers but get pushed aside when the more high-profile players get their chances on the bigger stages. Usually, those big stars shine and make the decision easier for Heisman voters but in the past two weeks that hasn't happened.
Posted on: November 11, 2011 11:36 am
Edited on: November 11, 2011 12:33 pm

Friday Mailbag: On the Penn State scandal

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

From @ajohnymous  Is the PSU thing the biggest CFB scandal of all time? Biggest sports scandal?

Yes, I can't think of a bigger college scandal. As I wrote earlier this week, we in sports throw around the term "scandal" for things like the free tattoos mess at Ohio State or Reggie Bush and his family getting taken care of, those things are nothing compared to the damage that has allegedly been done by Jerry Sandusky to so many children. SMU got the NCAA's death penalty and even the circumstances around that and the shocking nature of it all pale in comparison to this.


In Sandusky, you had a guy who had meant so much to the Penn State program and then you start reading about what he has allegedly done for years and years, turning so many children into victims, it's disgraceful. But there were also so many people in positions of leadership there that buried their heads in the sand. This is one of those situations where there really is so much blame to go around. It is so tragic.

Adding to that, is you have this iconic figure in Joe Paterno. For all of the wonderful things Paterno did for Penn State and that community--raising millions for the school library, graduating such a high percentage of his players, he always seemed to epitomize doing things "the right way" yet people will never forget this week. That he was fired for his role in not doing enough. That when he first learned that Sandusky, this monster was such a danger to little boys, he did not do enough. 

  There has been a lot of debate about exactly what Paterno was told and when about his former long-time assistant. But what I can't get beyond is, as soon as the 28-year-old graduate assistant, Mike McQueary comes to Paterno's home that Saturday morning in 2002, and even if he only says these words: "Sandusky... 10-year old boy... showers... Friday night... Penn State football offices..."  you have to be so disturbed and outraged that you have to press for more details.
And, no one ever looked for that 10-year old boy?

Remember Paterno testified that he did receive "the graduate assistant's report at his home on a Saturday morning. Paterno testified that the graduate assistant was very upset" and reported to his AD that his assistant had witnessed "Sandusky in the Lasch Building showers fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy." Remember Paterno is the most powerful man at that school and yet Sandusky, almost a decade later, was still allowed to be around the Penn State football complex as recently as this month? How was that possible?

The school's handling of the situation only seemed to stoke the volatility of the whole thing this week.  You had Penn State president Graham Spanier's statement of "unconditional support" for AD Tim Curley and the other top school official after they'd been charged with perjury and failure to report suspected sexual abuse of a minor.  You had the school issuing its statement that, while Paterno would have his regularly scheduled Tuesday press conference, questions about anything other than the weekend's game were off-limits, which indicated how little Penn State PR grasped the magnitude of the story around them. Even in the wake of the Board of Trustees announcement that Paterno was out immediately as the school's head coach, when word got out that McQueary was still going to be allowed to coach in this weekend's game, it only fed into more outrage because people couldn't grasp how the guy who had actually witnessed the heinous act and ran and called his father was allowed to coach, yet Paterno wasn't. 

We are talking about such a proud fanbase and a school whose identity is so tied into one man in Paterno that has only added more fuel to this story on top of all that.
Earlier Friday morning after I re-tweeted a link to an interview on Good Morning America with one of the victim's parents, the link was titled "PSU victim's mother speaks" a Penn State grad asked me: 

"Why does it say "PSU victim's" Shouldn't it say Jerry Sandusky's victim?"

I didn't label the initial tweet, but while Sandusky is at the root of all of this, given how Penn State mishandled this for so long after there was an eye witness a decade ago, this is more than just Sandusky that victimized people there.

From @michaelgraham  How is Gene Smith still the AD at Ohio State?

  Gordon Gee and Ohio State have stood by Smith as he's botched almost every aspect of that investigation for the past 11 months. Both of them have really stumbled all over the place. Remember that "poster child for compliance" comment from Gee? Smith's close connection to power brokers at the NCAA, though, seems to help Ohio State in getting a favorable verdict down the line.

  Despite all of the school's public proclamations, OSU did get hit with the dreaded Failure to Monitor charge by the NCAA Thursday and Gee, the school president, did chastise Smith for failing to ensure that its now-banished booster Bobby DiGeronimo didn't keep his distance from the Buckeye players and the program. But Gee seems adamant about keeping Smith in spite of his handling of things in the past year.

From @NAFOOM  pecking order for open HC jobs? PSU, Ole Miss, FAU, tOSU, Zona all I can think of right now.

You left out Tulane and New Mexico. The merits of coaching jobs will vary depending on which coach and his background is doing the gauging because familiarity is a big key often in a guy's success at a program. 

I'll rank the current vacancies this way: Ohio State, Penn State, Arizona, Ole Miss, FAU, Tulane, New Mexico.

Ohio State - Yes, it has the ongoing NCAA investigation but still has top-notch facilities and history.

Penn State - The cloud of what has happened around this program will linger for a very long time.

Arizona - Improving facilities, solid but not great football history, close to fertile SoCal recruiting base.

Ole Miss - In a big league with some solid JC recruiting talent nearby but still in a conference where you're far from the legion of heavyweights in the SEC fighting the uphill battle. And it'd be easier to win the Pac-12 at Arizona than it would win the SEC at Ole Miss.

FAU - Nice new stadium in a small league but surroundied by lots of talent.

Tulane - Shaky support where you wonder how committed the school is to football but there is some good recruiting in the area.

New Mexico - In a better league than FAU but doesn't have the recruiting base near by.
    From @VLOHokie how come VT's David Wilson, the Nation's leading rusher isn't getting any Heisman talk? 

Wilson is terrific. I mentioned this Thursday night on our Inside College Football show on CBS Sports Network: Wilson won't win the Heisman this year but he is deserving of consideration to get to NYC for the ceremony. He's been consistently outstanding. The biggest thing working against him is he's done it a bit off the radar. Va. Tech's really not been able to get people's attention nationally this year. The Hokies have only played one ranked team all season, No. 13 Clemson and they lost 23-3 at home. Wilson did put up nice numbers (123 yards) but he had a fumble that set up the Tigers first score. If they'd won that game, things for Wilson might be a little different but it didn't happen.

From @ TimValenzuela  Bruce, will USC be a contender for the Pac 12 South title next year when they get off their postseason ban? Enjoy your work.

Even if Matt Barkley and Matt Kilil both leave early for the NFL, USC has the personnel in place to be a favorite in the South in 2012. I suspect Kalil is gone. I think with Barkley it's 50-50 right now. He's going to school with his siblings. He's close to home and it seems like he loves being a college kid. Plus, the appeal of getting to take USC back from the NCAA sanctions after having been one of the faces of the program as it deals with all of that stuff in the rebuilding effort would be tempting I imagine.

With Barkley, this would be a BCS title contender considering the bulk of the young O-line returns, and Robert Woods and an impressive group of young receivers comes back. The defense should continue to improve as well. They're basically starting all freshmen linebackers now. The best DB, Nickell Robey, is just a sophomore and they're redshirting a bunch of blue-chip D-linemen.

Without Barkley, it'll be an interesting battle between Jesse Scroggins, Cody Kessler and Max Wittek. All three came to USC as big-name recruits but the drop-off from the three-year starter running the show would be significant. My hunch is it'd be the difference between a BCS title contender and a borderline top 20 team.

From @chucktodd actual football? How is Miami 10 point dogs?

FSU is home and has been more consistent over the past month. Miami's defense has been very shaky. The Canes do have two wins over teams that were ranked when UM faced them (No. 17 Ohio State and No. 22 Ga. Tech) and that's two more ranked wins than FSU has this season. Then again, those two games were at home. The Canes also have lost two of their three road games this year.

From @KBourgeois43  RichRod to Tulane, any chance?

I doubt it. Just of the jobs that are already open (Arizona and Ole Miss) Rodriguez may be able to get a better job than Tulane. And, even if he doesn't get one of those two, many other better jobs will come open soon. I also wouldn't be surprised if UCF comes open at the end of the year and if Rodriguez can't get Zona or Ole Miss, I could see him being a good fit there in Orlando.

From @BruningCollin   Due to PSU, My cynicism is at an all time high. Longer tenure in the SEC? Mike Sherman at a&m, or Gary Pinkel at Mizzou?

Pinkel. He's done a lot more with Mizzou than Sherman has at A&M. Sherman's going to have to really step things up to ensure that he's at A&M beyond 2012.
Posted on: November 4, 2011 6:13 pm

Another huge game Saturday for an Alabama school

A few years ago I met Will Hall at a coaching clinic in Arizona. Most of the guys there coached at big-time programs. The baby-faced Hall had to be the most unassuming guy in the room. He's about 5-8, 160 pounds. We ended up talking about Mississippi high school football for about an hour. Later that night I found out that Hall was actually a great college player. He'd even won the Harlon Hill Trophy, which is the Heisman for D2 football in 2004 while he was a QB at North Alabama.

Lost in all of the craziness of the game of the year down here in Alabama, Hall's team, West Alabama, is primed for a huge Saturday themselves. Hall, the first-year head coach at the D2 program, has his team playing for its first Gulf South Conference title in 40 years against the No. 2 team at that level, Delta State.

When I called Hall Friday afternoon, he was riding the team bus to Mississippi. The bus had stopped around the midway point of the four-hour trip to conduct its Friday walkthrough at Madison Central High School. It may sound kinda bizarre, but that is life in small-college football. It helped that Hall's dad coaches at Madison Central.

The former great player is proving to be quite the coach. Three years ago he arrived at West Alabama as offensive coordinator of a program that has just two winning seasons since 1975. Hall, a protege of UL-Lafayette head coach Mark Hudspeth, overhauled the system, putting in a no-huddle shotgun, spread option attack that incorporates a lot of formations and personnel groupings. The results have been head-turning.

West Alabama is 7-2. UWA just beat Terry Bowden's North Alabama team that is loaded with D1 transfers. More impressively is that UWA is on this run despite having lost their starting QB to a torn ACL in Week 3. Hall turned the offense over to a 5-7, 149-pound freshman named Kyle Caldwell, who the coach maintained was the best high school quarterback in the state of Alabama last year. "He's very fast," says Hall. "He's a 4.5 guy and he's got a great arm and is a coach's son. He's just very short. But he's about 5-9 in tennis shoes."

Caldwell has thrown 11 TDs and just four INTs and leads the conference in passing. Not bad for a guy who was supposed to redshirt and is looking a lot like the way his coach used to play.

UWA's star on offense is Matt Willis, arguably the top JC running back in the Mississippi junior college ranks in 2010, who didn't qualify for Division I football. The 5-9, 210-pound Willis, the state Player of the Year last season, has already run for over 1100 yards. "He is an SEC guy," said Hall.

Not only is a conference title hanging in the balance, but so is a bye week in the first-round of the D2 playoffs.

Category: NCAAF
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