Tag:Manti Te'o
Posted on: December 11, 2011 11:24 pm
Edited on: December 11, 2011 11:24 pm
 

Manti Te'o returning for senior season

Posted by Tom Fornelli

It's safe to say that Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly found himself with a giant smile on his face Sunday night. Linebacker Manti Te'o made the announcement that he'd be returning to Notre Dame for his senior season instead of leaving to enter the NFL draft.

Te'o was projected to be a first round pick in the draft if he did decide to leave early, but instead made an impromptu announcement about his decision while in Newport Beach, California for an awards ceremony in which he was a nominee. His father confirmed the news to the Chicago Tribune via text message.

Which is very good news for the Notre Dame defense in 2012. The unit finished 34th in the country in yards against per game in 2011, and was 28th in scoring defense, and now its leader will be returning for another year. Te'o led the Irish in tackles (111), tackles for loss (12) and sacks (4.5) during the regular season.

Te'o's return is even more important when considering that the Irish defense will lose 6 starters to graduation this year, including the entire secondary.
Posted on: October 29, 2011 1:08 pm
Edited on: October 29, 2011 1:08 pm
 

Brian Kelly apologizes to his players

Posted by Tom Fornelli

It's been a rough week for Notre Dame and Brian Kelly. Following Notre Dame's loss to USC last weekend, amidst a barrage of USC players saying that the Irish quit, Kelly promised that this week would not be fun for his players. The Irish held long practices all week, but on Thursday Kelly made some comments that bothered his players more than the extra work.

"You can see the players that I recruited here," Kelly said on Thursday after practice. "You know who they are. We've had one class … that I've had my hand on. The other guys here are coming along. But it's a process. It can't happen overnight. They're getting there. We're making good progress." 

As you'd expect, the players on the Notre Dame roster who Kelly didn't recruit didn't exactly enjoy hearing these comments, and even took to Twitter to vent. All of the tweets have since been deleted, but players like Trevor Robinson, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Manti Te'o tweeted about Kelly's remarks.

Te'o tweeted "playin for my bros and that's it!!!"

Well, on Friday players reportedly addressed Kelly about his comments in an effort to clear the air, and Kelly apologized to his players for the remarks.

Whether there are still some tension between the players and their coach remains to be seen, but the best way to heal any divide in the locker room would probably be a win against Navy on Saturday afternoon.
Posted on: July 5, 2011 12:45 pm
 

Bednarik Award Watch List also released

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The Maxwell Football Club is best known, of course, for the eponymous best-player-in-the-country award whose Watch List was posted on this very blog just a few minutes ago. But the organization also hands out the annual Bednarik Award, given annually to the nation's best defensive player (since we all know no one's going to vote a defensive player as the best in college football, no matter how good he is). The 2010 recipient was LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson.

So the Club also released their Watch List for the Bednarik today, featuring the 65 players listed below in alphabetical order. The team with the best mathematical odds of snagging the award? Alabama, leading the way with five Watch List members, though none of them number among the three 2010 Bednarik semifinalists included below. Those players are Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o (pictured) and Florida State defensive end Brandon Jenkins.

Without further ado, the list:

Ray Ray Armstong, Jr., S, Miami
Ryan Baker, Jr., LB, LSU
Mark Barron, Sr., S, Alabama
Jake Bequette, Sr., DE, Arkansas
Brandon Boykin, Sr., CB, Georgia
Nigel Bradham, Sr., LB, Florida State
Tanner Brock, Jr., LB, TCU
Vince Browne, Sr., DE, Northwestern
Vontaze Burfict, Jr., LB, Arizona State
Tank Carder, Sr., LB, TCU
Morris Claiborne, Jr., CB, LSU
Quinton Coples, Sr., DT, North Carolina
Jared Crick, Sr., DT, Nebraska
Vinny Curry, Sr., DE, Marshall
Lavonte David, Sr., LB, Nebraska
Alfonzo Dennard, Sr., CB, Nebraska
Tony Dye, Sr., S, UCLA
Donnie Fletcher, Sr., CB, Boston College
Jerry Franklin, Sr., LB, Arkansas
Stephon Gilmore, Jr., CB, South Carolina
Zaviar Gooden, Jr., LB, Missouri
Casey Hayward, Sr., CB, Vanderbilt
Dont'a Hightower, Jr., LB, Alabama
Jayron Hosley, Jr., CB, Virginia Tech
Jaye Howard, Jr. DT, Florida
Delano Howell, Sr., S, Stanford
Bruce Irvin, Jr., DE, West Virginia
Brandon Jenkins, Jr., DE, Florida State
Coryell Judie, Sr., CB, Texas A&M
Mychal Kendricks, Sr., LB, Cal
Dre Kirkpatrick, Jr., CB, Alabama
Jake Knott, Jr., LB, Iowa State
Luke Kuechly, Jr., LB, Boston College
Robert Lester, Jr., S, Alabama
Travis Lewis, Sr., LB, Oklahoma
Brandon Lindsey, Sr., DE, Pitt
Mike Martin, Sr., DT, Michigan
Chris Marve, Sr., LB, Vanderbilt
Jonathan Massaqoui, Jr., DE, Troy
Tyrann Mathieu, Soph., CB, LSU
T.J. McDonald, Jr., S, USC
Chase Minnifield, Sr., CB, Virginia
Roosevelt Nix, Soph., DT, Kent State
Donte Paige-Moss, Jr., DE, North Carolina
Shaun Prater, Sr., CB, Iowa
Kheeston Randall, Sr., DT, Texas
Kevin Reddick, Jr., LB, North Carolina
Greg Reid, Jr., CB, Florida State
Kendall Reyes, Sr., DT, Connecticut
Xavier Rhodes, Soph., CB, Florida State
Keenan Robinson, Sr., LB, Texas
Shayne Skov, Jr., LB, Stanford
Sean Spence, Sr., LB, Miami
Alameda Ta'amu, Sr. DT, Washington
Keith Tandy, Sr., CB, West Virginia
Kenny Tate, Sr., S, Maryland
Bruce Taylor, Jr., LB, Virginia Tech
Devin Taylor, Jr., DE, South Carolina
Manti Te'o, Jr., LB, Notre Dame
Danny Trevathan, Sr., LB, Kentucky
Courtney Upshaw, Sr., LB, Alabama
Prentiss Waggner, Jr., S, Tennessee
Korey Williams, Sr., LB, Southern Miss
Billy Winn, Sr., DT, Boise State
Jerel Worthy, Sr., DT, Michigan State

Posted on: June 6, 2011 2:45 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2011 9:43 am
 

CBSSports.com College Football 100: 30-21

By the Eye on College Football bloggers

To celebrate the (now fewer than) 100 days remaining until the first Saturday of the new college football season, this is the CBSSports.com College Football 100: our countdown of the 2011 season's 100 most influential players, coaches, administrators, venues, or any other related
things in college football. It's like that other "most influential" list, but, you know, more important. Also: it's supposed to be fun. Enjoy.

30. LAMICHAEL JAMES, running back, Oregon. Granted, it was just Oregon's spring game. But Duck fans had to like the fact that LaMichael James had only three carries (lest he gets hurt) and that one of them went for a touchdown--your simple, run-of-the-mill, back-and-forth 67-yard "scamper" as the Oregon media described it. The run was almost par-for-the-course for the reigning Doak Walker Award winner, but that's the thing about James: when you're a threat to score just about every time you touch the ball, 67-yard touchdowns happen sometimes.

On top of setting his sights on a host of Oregon and Pac-12 rushing records this season, James hopes to help lead Oregon back to the BCS championship game and finish what the team came so close to doing last year. The Ducks have to replace several offensive linemen, but that might not be a big issue for James, who can hit the tiniest of holes in split-seconds. Speed is the 5-foot-9, 190-pound back's greatest asset, considering he moonlights on Oregon's track team and anchors the 4x100 relay team (among other things). James will leave the track behind soon though, moving on to playing a game of "catch me if you can" and blowing past defenses come fall. A second trip to New York as a Heisman finalist -- and possibly more -- seems likely. -- BF

29. LUKE KUECHLY, linebacker, Boston College. The ACC has produced several dominating defenders in the last couple of years, but few have demanded the attention from day one like Kuechly. Tapped to replace Mark Herzlich in the BC linebacking unit in 2009, Kuechly stepped in and set an NCAA freshman record with 158 tackles on the season. When the two were on the field together in 2010, Kuechly led the nation with 183 tackles and was named a unanimous All-American by pretty much anyone with a publication.

Entering his junior year the expectations are as high as ever for Kuechly. He is widely considered a first-round draft pick in 2012, but will need another impressive season to cement that status. The good news for Eagles fans is that head coach Frank Spaziani and the rest of the staff believe that Kuechly has done nothing but improve. But with a much younger defense alongside him in the huddle in 2011, Kuechly will need to provide more than individual statistics to help Boston College get back to the postseason. The good news is the mere presence of the 6-foot-3, 235-pound playmaker on the field is a tactical advantage, with the opposition always having to keep an eye on No. 40. Considering the potential for Kuechly in 2011, it won't just be the opposition--we'll all have our eyes on No. 40 this fall. -- CP

28. BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, title tilt, Indianapolis. For years and years, the Big Ten stood apart from the rest of FBS college football in one very unfortunate aspect: it was the only conference that did not employ either a full round-robin conference schedule or a conference championship game. In other words, only in the Big Ten could two teams potentially go undefeated in conference play (or otherwise tie for the conference championship) and have no way to break the tie on the field. In fact, that's not just a pointless what-if; it actually happened in 2002, when Iowa and Ohio State both ran the table in Big Ten play. Iowa had one blemish on its non-conference record and OSU didn't, so the Buckeyes went to the BCS Title Game and won. But Big Ten fans had (and still have) the right to feel cheated out of what would have been an excellent conference championship game.

No more, no more, as the Big Ten is going to be invading Indianapolis and the Lucas Oil Dome every December from now until 2015, settling the age-old controversy on whether being a Legend or Leader is better (more on that in a little bit). Purists are understandably chafed that the Big Ten--the conference that couldn't get more arctic or physical without literally employing polar bears as offensive linemen--is deciding its conference championship in a dome, but watching a game in horrible weather is miserable, and misery in the name of purity is still misery. It's good to see Jim Delany's still got something of a heart. -- AJ

27. THE SMURF TURF, home field, Boise State. It's rare for the actual field to be a school's most recognizable feature, but that's certainly the case for the love-it-or-hate-it blue turf at Boise State's Bronco Stadium. The only blue artificial turf in the world, it's rumored (though not confirmed, alas) that migrating birds sometimes mistake it for a giant lake and try to land on it. Like the birds that may or may not land flat on their face, opposing teams seem to nose-dive when they play on the turf, going 2-77 against the Broncos there since 1999.

Perhaps most impressive is the fact that the home team is perfect in conference games, going 40-0 on the Smurf Turf during WAC play. This is Boise State's first year in the Mountain West and they aim to keep that mark going, but it won't be easy. Looming large on the schedule is a game against departing MWC power TCU in the middle of November. The Horned Frogs aren't expected to be quite as good as they were last year (or in the teams' 2009 Fiesta Bowl meeting) but they do figure to be the Broncos' biggest road block to another BCS game -- and possibly even the national title game -- if they get by Georgia in their opener. With plenty of returning starters back from last year's 12-1 squad, don't be surprised if Boise proves unbeatable on the blue turf once again. -- BF

26. MIKE SHERMAN, head coach, Texas A&M. When Sherman was hired at College Station before the 2008 season, replacing Dennis Franchione, it wasn't exactly the kind of move that had Aggie fans celebrating impending national championships. A 10-15 mark through his first two seasons didn't help matters, and Sherman found himself on the hot seat even after signing a seven-year deal. That seat only got warmer when the Aggies started off the 2010 season 3-3 ... and then a funny thing happened. Sherman finally pulled the plug on Jerrod Johnson and went with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, and after that all Texas A&M could do was win. The team finished the year 9-4 after losing to LSU in the Cotton Bowl, but by then the Aggies had already picked up their first share of the Big 12 South title since 1998.

So it's safe to say that Sherman's seat has cooled considerably in 2011. Of course, while he may not have come to College Station with the highest of expectations, now that Aggie fans have a taste for winning again, Sherman's biggest task will be to keep that momentum going. To do that he's going to have to make sure his defense continues to improve. After finishing dead last in 2008 and 2009 in the Big 12 in points-against, the Aggies rocketed up to second in the conference last season, allowing only 20.3 points per-game. If Sherman can continue leading the Aggies to improvement on both sides of the ball, as he did last season, the Longhorns won't be the only team from Texas to worry about in the Big 12 championship race. -- TF

25. MANTI TE'O, linebacker, Notre Dame. During his time in South Bend, Charlie Weis seemed to have a lot of success recruiting offensive players. On the defensive side of the ball, while Weis brought in some solid players, the game-changing playmakers you need to win were never seemed to be among them. That is, until Weis went to Hawai'i and landed Manti Te'o. Weis may be gone, but the "Hawaiian Hitman" remains and Brian Kelly is thrilled to have him. The biggest factor in Notre Dame's strong finish in 2010 was a defense that shut down opposing offenses, and Te'o was the driving force in that unit.

Through his first two seasons Te'o has racked up 192 tackles (129 of them in 2010) and 14 tackles-for-loss. Te'o can be counted on to fly to the ball on every play, and while he's not as polished in pass coverage, he can stuff the run with the best linebackers in the country. What should scare offensive coordinators this year is that with the stockpile of talent Notre Dame has built on its defensive line the last few years, Te'o should be free to seek and destroy all season long. And if that's the case, it may not be long until Notre Dame is back on a BCS stage -- with Te'o the face of its success -- and college football fans are forced to hate the Irish again instead of just laughing at them. -- TF

24. LES MILES'S COJONES, coaching decision-makers, LSU. Since Les Miles took over for Nick Saban at the Bayou Bengal helm in 2005, it's no secret that LSU has won its fair share of thrillers. But it's not just the selective memory of the charmed 2007 run talking; over Miles's six seasons, LSU has gone a stunning 22-9 in games decided by seven points or less. Since we're talking about games potentially decided by a single bounce of the ball, most teams' records in these situations naturally yo-yo back and forth year-to-year--look at Iowa's rise-and-fall over the past few seasons, for instance. But not LSU. Aside from a 2-2 mark in 2008, Miles has finished above .500 in this category ever year of his Baton Rouge tenure.

The majority of observers (including many within his own LSU fanbase) have chalked this up to blind luck, and sometimes--as in Tennessee's 13-players-on-the-field penalty that saved the Tigers from themselves last season--they're right. But Miles also hasn't gotten nearly enough credit for the ballsy, go-for-broke, correct decisions that have often turned the tide in such games. While it's easy to note how fortunate Miles was when last year's botched fake field goal pitch against Florida bounced straight into his kicker's arms, it overlooks the fact that playing for a game-winning touchdown is by far the superior choice to settling for a long-distance field goal that would only tie the game even if good. If Miles ignores the criticism and continues to let his cojones do his thinking for him, expect another year of success for the Tigers in the dying minutes--and given how much talent his team will wield, potentially another run at a crystal football. -- JH

23. TODD MONKEN, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State. Last season the Cowboy offense averaged 44.9 points and 537.6 yards per game. That, to keep the superlatives to a minimum, is rather good. Then Dana Holgorsen left Stillwater to become the head coach-in-waiting at West Virginia, and Monken was hired to replace him. Those are some high-octane shoes for Monken to fill, especially considering he hasn't been a play-caller since 2004, when he was working a previous stint in Stillwater for Les Miles. Since then, Monken followed Miles to LSU for a couple of years and then went on to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

So there's going to be an adjustment period, but the good news is that Oklahoma State still plans to run the same system it ran under Holgorsen. Unfortunately Monken won't have the same command of the playbook right off the bat that Holgorsen did, but he does at least have Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon to help cover him. Still, if Monken doesn't get the handle of things quick enough, Oklahoma State's top-10 season could already be "over" (and the immense potential of another year of the Weeden-Blackmon connection "wasted") by the time things are firing on all cylinders.-- TF

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22. "LEGENDS" AND "LEADERS," division names, Big Ten. One of the most dramatic changes in college football this year is the realignment of the Big Ten to a 12-team, two-division conference. Not only does that bring the aforementioned Big Ten Championship Game into existence, but it also introduces new and different conference tensions into play. Michigan and Nebraska as hated rivals? It sure could happen. Ohio State being more concerned with Wisconsin than the Wolverines? If a division title's on the line, absolutely.

But good lord, those names. It's one thing to deal with them over the course of an off-season, when they only come up once a month or so or whatever. Imagine what happens when they become part of the daily conversation. The derision will be deafening. Newscasters won't want to use them. Every time there's a slow moment in a football game, odds are pretty good that some bored color commentator is going to roll his eyes and casually call the division names stupid, and fans will laugh along with them. The Big Ten should be celebrating a brand new era and all of everything else that goes along with Nebraska's entry into the conference, and now instead it's going to have to defend the indefensible "LEGENDS" and "LEADERS" constantly. It's not too late to scrap them and just go with an admittedly imperfect-but-close-enough East-West nomenclature, right? Yeah, it's boring, but boring is good. It lets the on-field product speak for itself, and Big Ten football certainly can do that, right, Mr. Delany? Right? -- AJ

21. URBAN MEYER, television analyst/coaching free agent, ESPN. As we knew already and as Meyer spelled out for us just a few days ago, the most successful head coach of college football's previous decade won't be coaching anywhere in 2011. He'll be living the good life as a talking head at the "Worldwide Leader," offering what we hope will be pointed analysis and sharp X's-and-O's from one of the sport's shrewdest coaches.

But the shadow he'll cast over the college football coaching market will reach far longer than anything he does as a TV analyst. By specifically saying he won't be coaching "this fall," Meyer has all but announced he'll be looking for a new gig for next fall--meaning his name will be dropped into every conversation about currently vacant jobs (ahem), jobs that become vacant during the season, and even jobs that seem like they might become vacant if Meyer would show an interest. Like a prized NBA free agent, Meyer's influence is sure to be felt keenly in the narrative of the 2011 season ... even if he's not on the sidelines for a minute of it. -- JH

The 100 will continue here on Eye on CFB tomorrow. Until then, check out Nos. 100-91, 90-81, 80-71, 70-61, 60-51, 50-41 and 40-31. You can also keep up with the 100 by following us on Twitter.



Posted on: May 12, 2011 4:11 pm
 

Eye on CFB Roundtable: preseason top 25

By Eye on College Football Bloggers

Each week, the Eye on CFB team convenes Voltron- style to answer a pressing question regarding the wild, wide world of college football. This week's topic:

We've already talked about No. 1, but the end of spring has also meant a revision of the rest of the preseason top 25, like our colleague Dennis Dodd's. What teams do you feel like might deserve a better ranking at this stage (or one at all)? What teams do you feel like might be ranked too highly?

Jerry Hinnen: There always seems to be one team from the SEC that comes from outside the preseason polls and surprises--think Mississippi State last year, Ole Miss in 2008, etc. But Dennis's 25 already includes every SEC team but Ole Miss, Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, and I'm not sold on any of those teams as poll material. (There's a case to be made for the Vols, but only if Tyler Bray takes a major step forward, and his 5-for-30 spring game suggests that step may not be imminent.)

So I'll look elsewhere for a sleeper and mention how much I like San Diego State. The Aztecs have absorbed some heavy losses in their pair of NFL-bound wideouts and, of course, the head coach-offensive coordinator pairing of Brady Hoke and Al Borges. But Ronnie Hillman is an All-American running back waiting to happen, and senior Ryan Lindley is easily the best MWC quarterback this side of Kellen Moore. Together, they're one of the nation's best RB-QB combos, and new OC Andy Ludwig (the man behind Utah's undefeated 2008 attack) should know how to get the most out of them.

Defensively, the Aztecs should be much more comfortable in the second year of Rocky Long's unorthodox 3-3-5 scheme, and the schedule also offers the opportunity for two huge statement wins since TCU and Boise State travel to San Diego. Put it all together, and I don't think the departures of Hoke and Borges will be nearly enough to stop the program's momentum towards the polls.

Bryan Fischer: One team I think is a bit under the radar is Georgia. The Dawgs get the other division favorite, South Carolina, early in the schedule--that could be key if the Gamecocks are breaking in Connor Shaw, who has all of 33 passes to his name. I'm concerned about Georgia's running game but they have a good quarterback and the defense should be markedly improved in year two under Todd Grantham.

West Virginia is another team that can really make a move. They lose a lot from last year on defense but should be solid nevertheless. They might have one of the best offenses in the country with Geno Smith running the show and get their big non-conference game against LSU at home.

Chip Patterson: I agree with Bryan that West Virginia is a team that could cause some problems this fall. Dana Holgorsen might have done the coaching job of the year in 2010 with Oklahoma State's offense; the Cowboys did not return a single offensive lineman and his scheme resulted in the third-most productive offense in the nation anyway. Now he gets a stable full of athletes that, in many people's opinions, have been underperforming under Bill Stewart. Smith is the type of quarterback who can be a threat in Holgorsen's spread, especially once he gets familiar with the reads and changing plays at the line of scrimmage. The toughest challenge on the Mountaineers' slate is an early-season battle with LSU in Morgantown (as Bryan mentioned). I think that game is winnable, and could give them confidence headed into the back-loaded conference schedule.

Virginia Tech, though, is a huge question mark in my opinion. While I'm not sure whether they will end up higher or lower than 17, there's as much of a chance of them finishing the season unranked as getting to 10 wins. Their schedule does set up extremely well, with Clemson, Miami and North Carolina coming to Blacksburg and Florida State, Maryland and N.C. State avoided completely. But Logan Thomas needs to prove himself in a game situation, and running back David Wilson will have to work without Darren Evans or Ryan Williams to compliment him. Even if the Hokies finish the season strong, the eye test does not have them as "Top 20 good" just yet.

Adam Jacobi: After the first, oh, eight teams, I've got some major concerns about nearly every team on the list. Spring is the season for questions, of course, but it's like, "Michigan State at 11? Really? Wisconsin at 12? Really? Arkansas at 13? Really?" But you look at that list, and yeah, that's about right.

The one team that stands out to me is Notre Dame, who sort of creeps in under the radar at 19. I don't expect that sterling recruiting class to make much of an impact in Year 1, but there's a lot of talent coming back for Brian Kelly to build on. They have options at quarterback with Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees, the passing game basically only lost tight end Kyle Rudolph (who was injured for the second half of the season anyway), and four of five starting linemen return. The defense, meanwhile, is still led by Manti Te'o and returns its top eight tacklers. There's some retooling to do up the middle of the front seven, but the leadership and experience are there for the D to take a big step forward this year.

Lastly, I really like the Irish's schedule. The only truly worrisome game is the season finale at Stanford; the rest of the games are winnable. That's not to say the Irish are definitely going 11-1 in the regular season -- that's not happening without a ton of luck -- but it's a nice very-best-case scenario.

BF: I think the top 10 is pretty much standard for everyone. Sure, you can change the order and move teams around, but you can't argue with those 10 teams much.

After that, I have an issue with Auburn at 15. I know they're the defending champions, but they lost a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, and the Tigers have a very tough schedule where they could take some losses. I'm also not sold on Utah after watching them collapse down the stretch last year, and they've had a ton of guys sit out this spring with injuries. I'd swap them in the rankings with USC -- who has depth issues but also has Matt Barkley and Robert Woods throwing the ball around -- or UCF.

AJ: Here's something I want to know -- what do you do about Ohio State if you're a voter? Do you ding them since the Buckeye Five are suspended for five games? Do you un-ding them when they come back? How many spots does Jim Tressel's situation cost them? What's the protocol here?

Tom Fornelli: I would have them lower on my rankings, personally. Losing some of your best players and your head coach for five games is a big deal, even if those games are against MACifices that shouldn't prove much of a test to the Buckeyes. Either way, those players and Tressel aren't there to start the season, so we should treat Ohio State as if they're not there. And do you see Ohio State being a top-25 team with Joe Bauserman?

JH: Disagree. I don't think there's a "protocol" on how to deal with the Buckeyes' current (unprecedented) situation as it relates to preseason polls; your guess is as good as mine is as good as anyone else's. But I don't think dropping them out of the top 25 all together is fair. Until we hear otherwise from the NCAA, the Buckeye Five and Tressel won't miss any more than the first (mostly winnable) five games. Dropping them entirely -- under the mere assumption Tressel, Pryor, et al are a dead team walking -- seems to put the cart before the horse.

TF: Seriously, though, I need somebody to explain to me why Arizona State is suddenly the cool team to vote for. Do people just really like their new uniforms? Is Vontaze Burfict sitting over their shoulders as they fill out their brackets? This is a team that won six games last year, with those six wins coming against Portland State, Northern Arizona, Washington, Washington State, UCLA and Arizona. Arizona is the only impressive win on that list, and it was a one-point victory in double overtime. This is a team that may have a lot of returning starters this year, but they're returning starters from a team that wasn't exactly a world-beater last season. Also, after losing quarterback Steven Threet to injury, the guy who has to lead that returning-starter-filled offense is still new.

JH: You didn't even mention their plague of torn ACLs this spring. I wish I could disagree -- the Sun Devils have had a ton of bad luck the last couple of seasons -- but they strike me, too, as a prime candidate to disappoint.




Posted on: March 24, 2011 1:48 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Notre Dame

Posted by Tom Fornelli

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Notre Dame, which started spring practice on Wednesday.

Spring Practice Question: Can Notre Dame finally establish a running game?

When it comes to the way that Notre Dame finished its 2010 season, there are a lot of positives to talk about. Four straight victories against teams like Utah, USC and Miami that came as a bit of a surprise considering the Irish did it without starting quarterback Dayne Crist and starting tailback Armando Allen.

Instead the team was led by backup quarterback Tommy Rees, and a defense that played better than any unit the folks in South Bend have seen in quite a while.

So, it's no surprise that going in to the spring, the questions most people seem to be asking about Notre Dame have to do with the quarterback competition and the defense. Does Tommy Rees have a chance to keep the starting job? Will someone else emerge to replace both Rees and Crist? Can this defense maintain its late-season play, and can Manti Te'o get even better?

All are good questions to ask, and will definitely have a large impact on where Notre Dame goes in Brian Kelly's second season. Still, these aren't questions that can really be answered this spring. For the second year in a row, Dayne Crist is coming off of knee surgery and will be limited in the spring. Te'o is coming off of knee surgery as well, and won't be at full-speed either. So while we may see hints of things to come in those two areas, the answers will not come until later this summer.

One area that not many people are talking about, and also played a huge role in the late season turnaround that will definitely have a huge impact on the Irish in 2011 as well, is the running back position.

Since Charlie Weis replaced Tyrone Willingham in 2005, the running game that Notre Dame was once built upon has disappeared. The team hasn't had a featured tailback that could produce or be counted on since. Armando Allen had the talent, but through his first three seasons the results were inconsistent, and he was marred by injuries.

After having his senior season end early due to an injury, Allen is no longer in South Bend, though it turns out that Allen's absence may have been a blessing in disguise. With both Allen and Dayne Crist out, Brian Kelly placed a greater emphasis on the running game over the last month of the season.

The best friend that both a quarterback and a defense can have is a good running game. It takes pressure off of the quarterback, and time off of the clock, which allows a defense to rest on the sidelines.

The majority of the work replacing Allen went to Cierre Wood and Robert Hughes. Wood ran for at least 80 yards in four consecutive games, while Hughes played a large role in Notre Dame's victory over USC. Of course, like Allen, Hughes is gone. That leaves Cierre Wood as the team's top option, and this spring the Irish hope to find out whether he's ready to carry the load full-time.

The team feels he can, but Wood still has a bit to learn. While it's hard to deny the talent and explosiveness that Wood holds, he did show a tendency to dance a bit with the ball during his first season. There's no doubt that two words will be drilled into Wood's brain this spring: "north" and "south." If Wood can learn to hit the hole instead of dancing around and trying to run away from everybody, he definitely has the speed to break some huge runs for the Irish this season.


More Notre Dame

Wood won't be alone, however, as Notre Dame has other backs behind him on the depth chart. Jonas Gray is a senior that hasn't had much of a chance to prove himself during his first three years, but the Irish would like to see the 230-pound running back take on the role that Robert Hughes had last season, and be a short-yardage back. There's also Cameron Roberson, who redshirted in 2010, but has a lot of the qualities that Kelly and company are looking for.

He has the size to run between the tackles, and though he doesn't have great speed, he is a north-south runner. If Wood and Gray fail to meet expectations, Roberson could see himself climb up the depth chart.

Then there's Theo Riddick. Riddick came to Notre Dame as a running back before being moved to wide receiver. He could be the best running back that the Irish have on the roster, and Brian Kelly has hinted about moving him back to the position in 2011.

Which back will emerge as the team's starter, nobody knows yet. What we do know is that Brian Kelly saw how important having an effective ground game could be for his team at the end of last season, and that he'll look to keep it going in 2011.

It'll be up to one of these players, or maybe all of them, to see that it does. After all, it could be the difference between another lackluster season in South Bend, or waking up those echoes they talk so much about.
Posted on: February 22, 2011 2:19 pm
 

Heisman talk should talk about defense

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Pop quiz, hotshot: who had the higher (public )* vote total in the 2010 Heisman Trophy balloting, Stanford fullback/linebacker Owen Marecic or DaQuan Bowers, Nick Fairley and Patrick Peterson ... combined?

Since we're asking the question in the first place, you can probably guess that the answer is Marecic, who collected three first-place votes and 16 points, while arguably the three best defenders in the country totaled just one confirmed second-place nod and a smattering of third-place votes. This post isn't about Marecic (though we would like to take a moment to condemn his attention-seeking supporters like David Whitley , who decided that thanks to Cam Newton, they were justified turning the voting for "most outstanding" into a holier-than-thou morality play), since the question that needs answering isn't Why did Marecic get so much support? but Why do even the best defenders in college football get so little Heisman love?

It appeared things might be changing in 2009, when Ndamukong Suh finished fourth , coming as close as any defensive player since Charles Woodson to claiming the award. But after a year in which even a Lombardi Award- winner playing for the national champions couldn't get more than a few token mentions, it appears that defenders aren't actually any closer to full Heisman citizenship.

That point was driven home by the 2011 Heisman watch list released today by popular Heisman-tracking site Heisman Pundit. No one will argue that superstars like Andrew Luck or LaMichael James don't deserve their status as front-runners, or that superb skill-position talents like Alabama tailback Trent Richardson and Oklahoma State wideout Justin Blackmon haven't earned their spots on the list. But of the 22 players mentioned by Heisman Pundit, every one is a running back, quarterback, or wide receiver. Given the Heisman's track record, yes, those are probably the 22 most likely candidates for the coming season, but shouldn't the conversation surrounding the game's "most outstanding" player at least consider those guys on the other side of the ball?

So in that spirit, we offer five defensive players that deserve to enter 2011 as part of the Heisman talk, our own defense-only "Watch List":

Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska: The senior ably filled Suh's shoes as the central anchor for one of the nation's best defenses in 2010, and will likely begin this fall bearing "the country's best defensive tackle" billing.

Mark Barron, S, Alabama: Barron's already been dotting All-American teams for two seasons, and as the highest-profile player on a loaded Tide defense that should keep Nick Saban and Co. in national title contention throughout the season, he'll have plenty of opportunity to put his name in the Heisman hat.

Tank Carder, LB, TCU: Like Barron, Carder (pictured) should benefit from being the best, most-recognized player on a defense itself widely recognized as one of the nation's best; his MVP performance in the Rose Bowl defeat of Wisconsin won't hurt him, either.

Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon: The only defender to ever win the Heisman did so not only blanketing receivers at corner, but returning punts and kickoffs for highlight reel-touchdowns; if Harris can continue doing the same for Oregon as the Ducks win a third straight Pac-12 title, he'll draw his fair share of attention.

Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame: A wildcard, but if the Fighting Irish (and specifically, the Fighting Irish defense) take the quantum leap forward many expect, the former five-star recruit and budding star could find himself the media-friendly face of the Irish's latest "Return to Glory."

Honorable mention: Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State; Quinton Carter, S, Oklahoma; Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall; Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College.

*The Heisman only makes official the ballot totals for the top 10 vote-getters, but the site StiffArmTrophy.com compiles all available public votes, including (in this case) those few cast for Peterson, Bowers, or Fairley.
 
 
 
 
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