Tag:Conference USA
Posted on: January 31, 2011 4:35 pm

Big 12, non-AQs lead the way in JUCO signees

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Certainly no team got more attention for going to the junior college well this year than Auburn, who rode their famous pair of JUCO transfers -- Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, arguably the best offensive and defensive players in the country, respectively -- to a perfect record and national title. The Tigers started former JUCOs at linebacker (Eltoro Freeman), cornerback (Demond Washington) and right tackle (Brandon Mosley) as well, as clear an example as you could get as to why major programs aren't going to stop looking at immediate JUCO help anytime soon.

But if a program like Auburn might sign the most influential JUCOs, which ones sign the most, period? That's the question asked and answered by this study by Jon Solomon at the Birmingham News , which tallied up every community college transfer signed in FBS football over the past four recruiting classes (give or take one or two here or there). Solomon found that the three conferences collectively bringing in the most JUCOs were all non-AQ leagues: the WAC at 17.2 signees per team per four years, the Sun Belt at 15.0 per team per four years, and Conference USA at 14.8.

At the BCS level, the Big 12 (13.8 per team per four years) is far and away the leader in JUCO signees, with the Pac-10 coming in runners-up (despite the SEC's JUCO-friendly reputation) at 11.6. (The addition of Utah won't help the future Pac-12's numbers, either; the Utes led the Mountain West in JUCOs with 22 over the four-year period studied.)

Why the Big 12? Though eight of the conference's teams finished in double digits, the runaway leader was -- you guessed it -- Kansas State, the notoriously JUCO-dependent program that lived up to every inch of its reputation by signing an FBS-most 39 junior college players from 2007-2010. Non-AQ teams took the next five slots as Memphis (35), UAB (34), Hawaii (31), Troy (29), and New Mexico State (28) were the only other schoosl to top 28 or more. The closest BCS conference team was Iowa State, with 26.

So does JUCO signing work? On the one hand, the success of teams like Hawaii and Troy -- not to mention Auburn and Oregon, who with 17 JUCOs in the four-year period actually took on seven more than their national title game opponent -- would suggest that taking on the right kind of two-year players can pay handsome dividends. The ongoing struggles of Memphis, UAB, and Bill Snyder's Wildcats -- who have gone just 12-20 in the Big 12 in this span -- would suggest, though, that it's not at all a sure quick-fix.

Posted on: January 24, 2011 2:08 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2011 2:22 pm

Super Bowl rosters, broken down by conference

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Are you an NFL general manager or other team executive? Would you like your team to win its conference and go to the Super Bowl? You, sir, clearly need to start drafting players out of the conference where the real talent is: the mighty MAC.

That's the curious lesson imparted by the active rosters of this year's two Super Bowl participants, as the MAC is more heavily represented among thosee 106 players than any conference aside from the SEC and Big Ten. The complete breakdown of players' conference affiliation is as follows, per the active rosters of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers available here and here , respectively:
SEC: 18 (Steelers: R. Clark, R. Foster, A. Madison, Ma. Pouncey, C. Scott, M. Wallace, H. Ward; Packers: C. Clifton, M. Flynn, B. Goode, H. Green, Q. Johnson, D. Lee, P. Lee, T. Masthay, C. Peprah, S. Wells, J. Wynn)

Big Ten: 15 (Steelers: F. Adams, W. Allen, T. Essex, L. Foote, J. Kapinos, R. Mendenhall, A. Randle-El, M. Spaeth, L. Woodley; Packers: B. Bulaga, A. Hawk, R. Pickett, A. Quarless, M. Wilhelm, C. Woodson)

MAC: 13
(Steelers: C. Batch, A. Brown, J. Harrison, B. Roethlisberger (pictured back in his Miami (Ohio) days), S. Suisham; Packers: D. Briggs, T. Crabtree, J. Gordy, C. Jenkins, G. Jennings, T. Lang, J. Starks, F. Zombo)

ACC: 13 (Steelers: C. Butler, J. Dwyer, N. Eason, J. Farrior, K. Fox, B. McFadden, H. Miller, L. Timmons, G. Warren, J. Worilds; Packers: R. Francois, B. Raji, S. Shields)

Big 12: 8 (Steelers: C. Hampton, T. Hills, Z. Hood, J. Scott; Packers: G. Harrell, M. Crosby, B. Jackson, J. Nelson)

Conference USA: 7
(Steelers: B. Leftwich, D. Legursky, M. Moore, E. Sanders; Packers: A. Bigby, J. Sitton, C. Wilson)

Non-FBS: 7 (Steelers: I. Redman, A. Smith; Packers: N. Collins, E. Dietrich-Smith, D. Driver, J. Kuhn, N. McDonald)

Pac-10: 6 (Steelers: K. Lewis, T. Polamalu; Packers: D. Bishop, C. Matthews, D. Nance, A. Rodgers)

MWC: 5 (Steelers: C. Hoke, B. Keisel, C. Kemoeatu, S. Sylvester; Packers: B. Swain)

WAC: 5
(Packers: J. Bush, D. Colledge, K. Hall, J. Jones, T. Williams)

Big East: 4 (Steelers: W. Gay, R. Mundy; Packers: J. Spitz, B. Underwood)

Sun Belt: 4 (Steelers: D. Johnson, S. McLendon, I. Taylor; Packers: E. Walden)

Independent: 1
(Steelers: A. Battle)
(Note that affiliations are based on 2010 league alignment: Boise State in the WAC, Utah the MWC, Nebraska the Big 12, etc.)

Some bullet points to be made about the breakdown:
  • Kidding aside, the number of MAC players represented has to be something of a statistical fluke -- does any team in the league have as many as the Packers' eight? -- but it's worth noting that both teams rely heavily on players from outside the six BCS conferences. 34 percent of the Steelers' roster hails from non-AQ (or non-FBS) teams, with the Packers' number at 43 percent. An NFL team that doesn't bother scouting smaller conferences would, obviously, be missing out on a major source of talent.
  • That said, the two conferences best represented -- the SEC and Big Ten -- are exactly the two you'd expect based on the amount of money being spent within them and overall influence within college football.
  • As with the MAC's high numbers, the oddly low numbers for the Pac-12 and Big East are probably unfortunate circumstance. Nonetheless, those leagues probably would have liked to have been represented by more than only four and three teams, respectively.
  • Yes, it's interesting that non-FBS teams enjoy more representation than two BCS leagues and have only one player fewer than a Big 12 featuring programs like Texas and Oklahoma. But don't marvel too much; as with the number of successful pro players who weren't highly-ranked as recruits being a function (in large part) of how many more lower-ranked recruits there are, the sheer numbers of players attending the dozens of FCS and Division II schools ensure that some of them will always find their way to NFL stardom.

Posted on: January 20, 2011 12:30 pm

New Badger LBs coach changing face of C-USA?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

It's the sort of news that typically flies under the radar: Wisconsin fills out its revamped defensive coaching staff by hiring a non-AQ assistant , in this case UCF defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable, to coach the Badger linebackers. Not that big a deal, right?

Not in Conference USA, where the Knight defense Huxtable spent 2010 coaching just so happened to be the best, most dominant single unit in the entire conference (Chad Morris's Tulsa offense possibly excepted). Huxtable's charges finished the year 15th in the country in total defense at just 315 yards allowed per-game, and wrapped up their season playing as well as any defense in the nation, holding high-powered attacks from SMU and Georgia to a total of 13 points.

The end result of that brilliance was a C-USA title and a Liberty Bowl championship for UCF, despite the Knight offense only ringing up 27 points of its own in those games. Depsite the loss of six senior starters on that defense, with revelatory true freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey ready for an even bigger sophomore campaign, plenty of talent still available on both sides of the ball, and -- maybe most importantly -- Huxtable in place to reprise his exquisite defensive play-calling, the Knights would have been the easy choice to repeat as C-USA champions in 2011.

Now? Well, UCF will likely be the runaway league favorites anyway. But living up to those expectations will be dramatically more difficult with a realignment of the defensive staff simultaneous to the loss of those six starters. That goes double, too, in a conference with a collection of offensive minds as sharp as SMU's June Jones, Southern Miss's Larry Fedora, East Carolina's Lincoln Riley, etc.

In the big national picture, it's just Wisconsin hiring a position coach. But for the Knights and potentially all of Conference USA, it could be a story much, much bigger than that.

Posted on: January 18, 2011 2:31 pm
Edited on: January 18, 2011 2:31 pm

Headset Reset: reviewing hires in C-USA, Sun Belt

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

"Headset Reset" is the College Football Blog's series reviewing the 22 new head coaches in the FBS and what they'll need to accomplish in their new jobs to succeed. In this edition: the four new head coaches in Conference USA and the Sun Belt .


Why him? Former Tulsa quarterback was promoted from running backs/special teams coach to maintain 10-3, top-25 status quo. For 2011, Blankenship needs to: find a replacement for departed offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who took the same position at Clemson after being passed over the Tulsa head job; the right hire could turn Tulsa's nine returning offensive starters (including quarterback G.J. Kinne and all-purpose weapon Damaris Johnson) into another double-digit win season. By 2014, Blankenship will need to have: won a C-USA title. For all of the Golden Hurricane's offensive fireworks under Todd Graham, their only league championship came back in 2005 under Steve Kragthorpe. Chances Blankenship gets what he needs? Fair-to-middling. Tulsa's points-happy brand should be strong enough to keep them near the top of the league standings (provided Blankenship doesn't blow the OC hire), but will simply promoting a position coach really be enough to get them over the hump?

DAN McCARNEY, North Texas (pictured)

Why him? Far and away the most recognizable name among the new C-USA/SBC hires, the 57-year-old McCarney spent 12 successful seasons as Iowa State's head coach before supervising the defensive lines at South Florida and Florida. For 2011, McCarney needs to: just offer some kind of hope. The snake-bitten Mean Green (4 losses in 2010 by total of 13 points) have won only 13 games in six seasons. By 2014, McCarney will need to have: found some semblance of a defense. UNT hasn't had too many problems offensively, but they won't accomplish anything until one of the nation's worst defenses is brought up to code. Chances McCarney gets what he needs? Decent. McCarney may be a little too long in the tooth (and the program may have decayed too badly) to bring back the Mean Green's early-Aughts glory days, but the old pro should have the defensive chops to at least bring UNT back to respectability.

HUGH FREEZE, Arkansas State

Why him? Former Ole Miss assistant made famous by The Blind Side was promoted from offensive coordinator after leading Red Wolves to better than 400 yards per game, vaulting them from 95th to 43rd in total offense. For 2011, Freeze needs to: get to .500. Disappointing 4-8 records the last two seasons earned Steve Roberts a pink slip, but with Ryan Aplin back at quarterback and better luck due after going 1-5 in one-possession games in 2010, there's no reason (other than a revamped offensive line) Freeze can't get the Red Wolves back to 6-6. By 2014, Freeze will need to have: established ASU as an upper-tier Sun Belt program. Getting past Troy and up-and-coming FIU won't be easy, but there's nothing stopping the Red Wolves from joining in the SBC mix. Chances Freeze gets what he needs? Good. Freeze knows his way around the Arkansas and Tennessee recruiting scenes and has a sharp offensive mind; those traits alone should be enough to get the Red Wolves back to the postseason (for the first time since 2005) sooner rather than later.

MARK HUDSPETH, Lousiana (formerly UL-Lafayette)

Why him? Before taking a job on Dan Mullen's staff at Mississippi State , Hudpseth excelled as the head coach at Division II North Alabama, going 66-20 in seven seasons. For 2011, Hudspeth needs to: right the ship. A series of near-misses at a winning season under Rickey Bustle dissolved in a 3-9 disaster in 2010; a simple step in the right direction will be enough for one of the FBS's most tradition-deficient programs. By 2014, Hudspeth will need to have: earned a bowl bid. The Ragin' Cajuns have never taken part in FBS postseason play. Chances Hudspeth gets what he needs? Not bad. There's room to be upwardly mobile in the Sun Belt, and despite a relatively bare cupboard, Hudspeth has quality head coaching experience at only 42 years of age.

Posted on: January 14, 2011 11:32 am

Tulsa names Bill Blankenship coach

Posted by Tom Fornelli

It's official.  On this Friday morning, January 14th, every single football program in the FBS now has a head coach.  The carousel has stopped spinning for now.  The latest team to name its new head coach is Tulsa, who had to replace Todd Graham after he left to take the Pitt job.  The news broke on Friday morning that Tulsa will hire Bill Blankenship to take over the football program.

If you're anything like me, you're reaction to this news may have been along the lines of "who?"  Well, let me tell you a bit about Bill Blankenship.  He served as Tulsa's associate head coach last season, but has been coaching at the school for the last four seasons.  He spent three of those seasons coaching special teams, and has also coached the running backs and wide receivers.

Blankenship also played quarterback at Tulsa, and though this will be his first head coaching job on the college level, he spent 22 years as a head coach on the high school level.  In those 22 seasons, Blankenship's high school teams reached the state championship game seven times, winning three of them, and he was inducted into the Oklahoma Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2009.
Posted on: January 10, 2011 5:44 pm
Edited on: January 10, 2011 6:00 pm

Reports: Todd Graham 'a done deal' with Pitt

Posted by Adam Jacobi

According to Fox 23 out of Tulsa, the next Pittsburgh football coach will be Todd Graham of Tulsa. Fox 23 reports that while Graham's hiring has yet to be announced, it is a "done deal" and he will depart for Pittsburgh later this evening.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette confirms this report, reporting that Graham and Pitt have come to terms on a deal and will be announcing the hiring tomorrow. It's likely that the announcement may come later today, considering the pressure such reports put on athletic officials who are being asked constantly for confirmation, but Pitt's current plan is to take care of the formalities on Tuesday.

At any rate, this report likely dismays Panther fans who had been holding out hope for Tom Bradley , the longtime Penn State assistant who was the early favorite for the job. Bradley did interview with Pitt, but obviously those talks stalled at some point. It's also entirely possible that Pitt AD Steve Pederson just plain liked Graham better as a candidate (rather than, say, getting hung up on money with Bradley), but those specifics will have to come from Pederson.

Bradley is also interviewing with Connecticut this week, as the Huskies look to replace Randy Edsall after his move to Maryland a week ago.

Posted on: January 4, 2011 10:46 am
Edited on: January 5, 2011 11:26 am

Georgia presented seniors with '7-6' plaque

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

After watching their team flail their way to a 10-6 loss to UCF in the Liberty Bowl, an awful lot of Georgia fans wondered if their favorite SEC school had bothered to take their Conference USA opponent all that seriously ahead of time.

It's probably time to stop wondering, though, assuming this small tidbit from this Florida Today column is accurate (emphasis added):
Even the Bulldogs overlooked the Knights. Oh, they won't admit that. But at their recent team banquet, the Bulldogs presented its seniors with a plaque. Etched on it was the season record -- 7-6 .

Keep in mind that Georgia entered the Liberty Bowl with a 6-6 record.

"That's part of what they do," UCF defensive back Darin Baldwin said. "They thought they were going to push us over, but we've got more heart than they do."
While we're not sure about having "more heart" than the Bulldogs, it's clear that the Golden Knights were the team with the more appropriate amount of confidence, that much we can say.

To be fair to Georgia, it's not entirely accurate to say that "they won't admit" they looked past the Knights; kicker Blair Walsh said as much after the game , claiming that his team had felt "entitled" to win a game against C-USA opposition.

But the honesty after the fact is only worth so much credit. The Dawgs would be better off next time simply giving their opponent the proper respect and focus to start with ... and maybe waiting until after the game to get the congratulations engraved.


UPDATE: OK, so maybe the engraving wasn't entirely borne out of overconfidence; a Georgia spokesperson said yesterday that the school annually adds a bowl win to the team's record on their senior plaques, with the expectation that they'll simply replace them (at the cost of $200) if the Bulldogs happen to lose the bowl game. UCF may have simply been the first team to catch wind of it.

But if you ask us: whether it's year-in-year-out policy or a one-time bout of cockiness, congratulating their players on a win they haven't won yet still certainly seems like the wrong message for Georgia to send.

Posted on: December 31, 2010 9:56 pm

Bowl Grades: Liberty Bowl

Posted by Adam Jacobi

A late touchdown gave Central Florida its first bowl victory ever as the Golden Knights beat Georgia, 10-6.

Central Florida

Offense: Sometimes winning football is pretty. And sometimes it's what Central Florida did. UCF's freshman phenom quarterback Jeff Godfrey didn't exactly set the world on fire in today's game, going 16-29 for 117 yards (a paltry four yards per attempt) and throwing two interceptions -- including one on a truly lousy fade in the end zone in the second half. But when it came down to it, UCF put together a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, complete with several 3rd down conversions, and on that drive Godfrey was more like his 2010 self, as he led the C-USA in passing efficiency. The hero of the day was Latavius Murray , who scored the lone touchdown and rushed for over 100 yards on the day. Grade: C

Defense: Hard to argue with six points allowed. Georgia had been scoring at a clip of nearly 40 points per game after A.J. Green came back from suspension, and even in its losses after Green's return, Georgia scored nearly 30 points a game. Shutting the Dawgs down like this, then, was a Herculean task and never something one would expect from a Conference USA team. But here it is and here we are. Grade: A

Coaching: First bowl win and it comes on a fourth-quarter comeback against an SEC team? That's enough for an A in our book any day. Grade: A


Offense: Aaron Murray (no relation to Latavius), Georgia's own freshman phenom quarterback, was just about as wretched as Godfrey; Murray was 21-38 for 198 yards and two of his own interceptions. More troubling was the fact that Murray was in gloves all day, and several of Murray's throws were well off-target and/or absolute ducks in the air. He got quite a bit of help from Green and Tavarres King at wideout, each of whom made some highlight-reel catches, but all in all the Georgia offense was as out of whack as Murray's throws all day long. Grade: D

Defense: Normally, allowing 241 yards, 3-10 3rd down conversions, and 10 points is more than enough to ensure victory. That's what Georgia did, and putting this loss on the defense's shoulders since the lone touchdown allowed came in the fourth quarter is pretty short-sighted. When taking the opponent into consideration -- no offense, Vanderbilt -- this was the best performance by the Bulldog defense all season long. Grade: A

Coaching: In the first quarter, Mark Richt's Bulldogs started a drive at their own 2-yard line. 95 -- 95! -- yards later, Georgia faced a 4th and inches at the UCF 3-yard line. A touchdown was nine feet away, and a first down was one foot away. Up went a field goal, and Georgia took a 3-0 lead. The Bulldogs would not treaten to score a touchdown again until the very last drive, when Aaron Murray was forced to heave a pass into the end zone as time expired. Why Mark Richt didn't go for the touchdown in the first quarter is, frankly, a mystery. That's a statement of absolutely no faith in the offense by Richt, and his players responded with their worst offensive showing of the season. Grade: F-

Final Grade

Hey, we'll take any game that ends with the ball in the air and a win in the balance. Aaron Murray's Hail Mary would fall harmlessly to the turf, but still, the two teams used all of the 60 minutes in this struggle. Moreover, UCF's win only further proved that despite what the BCS conferences maintain at every step, the difference between AQ teams and non-AQ teams erodes further every year. That's scant consolation for Georgia fans who just watched their team drop a 10-6 decision to some C-USA school with no bowl tradition, but tradition's always been an overrated factor in college football anyway. Grade: B

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com