Tag:Virginia Tech
Posted on: June 3, 2011 2:46 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2011 9:44 am
 

CBSSports.com College Football 100: 40-31

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.

40. BRADY HOKE, head coach, Michigan. In the modern era of college football (a nebulous concept, but one defined here as "since the inception of the Heisman Trophy"), every Michigan head coach has stayed for at least nine years, with the exception of two: Gary Moeller, who coached for five years but resigned after an arrest for assault and battery in 1995, and Rich Rodriguez, who coached three years and was run out of town last January. Past them, Michigan has been a picture of stability over the years, and the concurrent success is no accident.

With that Rodriguez firing, though, the message from Michigan seems to be, "We'd like it if you stayed a while, but we'll tell you when to get comfortable." That's the power of high standards of success, and while Brady Hoke probably has a pass on getting results for the first year, he probably doesn't have that pass for two. Ohio State won't be reeling forever, after all, so this turnaround job that Hoke performed at San Diego State and Ball State prior to that needs to happen again, real quick. If Hoke makes progress down that road in 2011 -- and especially if he beats Ohio State -- he can start getting comfortable right away, and everything in Ann Arbor will be back to its normal, stable self. -- AJ

39. MATT BARKLEY AND ROBERT WOODS, dynamic quarterback/receiver tandem, USC. There's not a lot for USC fans to look forward to this year. They're out of the Pac-12 title race and can't go to a bowl game for the second straight season. But that's not a reason to stop watching, as the Trojans have one of the best quarterback/wide receiver duos in the country in Matt Barkley and Robert Woods. The latter was named Pac-10 Offensive Freshman of the Year and was on just about every freshman All-American team after racking up a USC record for all-purpose yards. (And in case you didn't know, USC has had a few pretty good freshman play in their illustrious history.)

Then there's Barkley, the golden-haired signal caller who is one of the top quarterbacks in the country and someone many have pegged as a top 10 draft pick if he comes out after the season. Entering his third year as a starter, much is expected of him after posting 26 touchdowns against 12 interceptions last year. The Barkley-to-Woods connection was among the best in the nation last year and should be one to watch as they hook up for more than a few touchdowns in year two. -- BF

38. BRANDON WEEDEN AND JUSTIN BLACKMON, equally dynamic quarterback/receiver tandom, Oklahoma State. For all Barkley's and Woods' succes, there wasn't a quarterback-wide receiver combination in the nation quite as devastating as Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon last season. The duo hooked up 111 times for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns, as both players seemingly emerged out of nowhere and became nationally recognized names. Blackmon then surprised a lot of people at Oklahoma State and around the country when he decided to come back to Stillwater for another season, and now the two are ready to perform an encore.

The question is whether or not they'll be able to. Blackmon may have snuck up on some teams last season, but you can be sure that he'll be the focus of a lot of opposing defense's film sessions this season. It also won't help that Dana Holgorsen is in Morgantown rather than Stillwater. So it won't be easy, but if these two can match -- or maybe even improve on -- the production they had last season, this might be the season in which the Cowboys finally break through for that elusive Big 12 title.

37. ISAIAH CROWELL, running back, Georgia. We gave the most important incoming freshman in the SEC -- and maybe the country -- his own special weekend breakout entry. Read it here.

36. GUS MALZAHN, offensive coordinator, Auburn. No matter how many times you read it, the list of losses from Auburn's national title teams remains staggering: the Heisman-winning quarterback, the nation's best defensive lineman, six other offensive starters including the top two receivers, seven other defensive starters including the top two linebackers. With all due respect to head coach Gene Chizik (and his smashing successes in the recruiting and team-building departments), nearly all the hope Auburn has of retaining its top-25 perch and position near the top of the SEC West standings rests in Malzahn and his spotless offensive track record. If anyone can take what's left at Auburn (which does include some highly-talented pieces, like running back Michael Dyer and potential breakout receiver Trovon Reed) and fashion an attack that can still keep SEC coordinators up at night, it's Malzahn.

Malzahn's influence can be felt outside of just his impact on the Plains, though. Even as some major programs (like Michigan and Florida) revert to more conservative, pro-style schemes, the runaway success of up-tempo spread offenses like Malzahn's and Chip Kelly's has encouraged teams like Pitt and West Virginia to follow their fast-paced lead. College football offenses seem to be gravitating towards those two opposite poles -- pounding pro-styles and lightning spreads -- and Malzahn's tremendous accomplishments are a major part of explaining the move towards the latter. -- JH

35. THE NCAA's 2011 CELEBRATION RULE, scourge of all that is fair and good in this world, NCAA rulebook. We know it's coming; it's only a matter of the who and where. From the moment a player heads towards a clear endzone, every head coach out there will have his heart skip a beat hoping his player won't do something stupid like ... celebrate? No, thanks to a new NCAA rule, fumbles near the end zone won't be the thing players, coaches and referees will be on the lookout for this season ... it'll be a celebration.

The rule -- actually passed last year but taking effect starting this season -- says that if an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty is committed during live play (say, a high-step into the end zone), instead of 15 yards assessed on the extra point or kickoff, the touchdown will be negated. The points will be taken off the board and the ball will be placed 15 yards from the spot of the foul. Remember the Reggie Bush somersault into the end zone? Though already illegal, if this rule had been in effect before, Bush would have been left with nothing to celebrate in the first place. So here come the pins and needles as everyone, fans and coaches alike, hope an 18-year old won't celebrate. Should be a fun season ... unless it's not. -- BF

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34. STEPHEN GARCIA, quarterback, South Carolina. Strange as it may sound, it's true: the Gamecocks are the legitimate SEC East preseason favorite. They have arguably the league's best running back in Marcus Lattimore. They have inarguably the league's best receiver in Alshon Jeffery. They have an experienced, well-coached defense that just added the nation's No. 1 overall recruit at defensive end. With massive advantages like those, you'd expect the fifth-year senior, third-year starting quarterback to be the final piece of a championship puzzle--and maybe not just a conference championship, either.

But the bad news -- or is it the good news? -- for Carolina is that that quarterback is Stephen Garcia. There's no doubt anymore; if Garcia behaves himself over the summer, he will be the Gamecocks' starting QB again this fall. That means he might uncork a whole season like his 17-of-20, three-touchdown masterpiece in Carolina's 35-21 2010 upset of No. 1 Alabama, and bring home the 'Cocks' first-ever SEC title. It also means he might get suspended the Saturday morning of the biggest game of the season or fumble four times in a loss to Vanderbilt. Because he represents the team's best chance of capitalizing on its best chance yet to claim a championship, Steve Spurrier and Co. will just have to take the good with the bad. How much of each Garcia gives them could (or maybe will) singlehandedly determine who represents the East in Atlanta. -- JH

33. THE ACC'S SEPTEMBER 17th, nonconference opportunity, ACC. When the ACC expanded in 2004-2005, the hope was that adding Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College and a championship game would raise the football status of the supposed "basketball conference." But thanks to a poor bowl record and a total lack of national title contenders over the past decade, the conference has quickly become the butt of many college football jokes. The conference produces nearly as much NFL talent as the SEC, but with such little impact on the national scene, it's assumed the ACC just can't hang with the other BCS conferences.

Well, if the ACC is going to make a statement in 2011, September 17 is their chance. Most notably, it is the date of the aforementioned Florida State-Oklahoma showdown. But the Seminoles are only one of five ACC teams hosting a major non-conference showdown that day. Clemson welcomes defending champion Auburn to Death Valley for a rematch of last year's 27-24 overtime thriller. The Miami - Ohio State showdown in Coral Gables has much less star-power than before, but that might only benefit the Hurricanes. In addition, Maryland hosts West Virginia and Georgia Tech looks for redemption from last year's upset against Kansas. The Seminoles and Tigers may take a loss, but Miami, Maryland, and Georgia Tech all have shots to win their non-conference game. If the strongest argument against the ACC is how they stack up against non-conference opponents, the conference can silence those critics with a strong showing on the third Saturday in September. -- CP

32. TAYLOR MARTINEZ, quarterback, Nebraska. It takes a lot of self-confidence for a grown man to unironically adopt a nickname like "T-Magic," but fortunately for Nebraska fans, Taylor Martinez isn't lacking for that confidence--nor for freakish athleticism. The freshman quarterback conjured up memories of Eric Crouch and Tommie Frazier as he ran for 965 yards and 12 touchdowns while throwing for 1631 yards and 10 more TDs. That's even taking into consideration a right ankle injury that bothered Martinez throughout the second half of the season, keeping him out of two games and limiting him in others. A healthy, more experienced T-Magic for the entire 2011 campaign could be quite the weapon.

However, as both Martinez and Denard Robinson demonstrated just last year, football is not a sport that caters to the health of smaller quarterbacks with heavy rushing workloads. The defenses in the Big 12 are no picnic for opposing QBs, but they're even more physical in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, the once-rocky relationship between Martinez and head coach Bo Pelini seems to have healed to some extent. Certainly, there aren't any reports of Martinez missing practices, and he had the chance to transfer this off-season but didn't. Once that first player-coach fight happens, contentment is usually relative and impermanent, but it seems like much more of a 2010 problem than a 2011 problem, and that's bad news for the rest of the Big Ten. -- AJ

31. BRYAN HARSIN, offensive coordinator, Texas. Earlier in the Top 100 we featured Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert. Well, if Gilbert is going to have a big impact on college football this season, odds are it will have a lot to do with his new coach, offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. Okay, so technically Harsin is the co-offensive coordinator, but I really don't think Mack Brown fired Greg Davis and then brought Harsin in from Boise State so he could share play-calling duties with Major Applewhite. No, Harsin will be grooming one current Longhorn quarterback and one former Longhorn quarterback.

Because if there's anything that Harsin proved himself able to do in his time at Boise, it was produce good signal-callers. Harsin's biggest influence at Texas this year will be to help Gilbert increase his touchdown passes and significantly reduce the turnovers. Over the last three seasons at Boise State, Harsin helped Kellen Moore throw 99 touchdowns to only 19 interceptions. He also put together an offense that averaged about 43 points per game the last three years, and while the defenses in the Big 12 are a bit better than the ones Harsin saw in the WAC, if he can get within reach of numbers like that with the Longhorns in just one season, the rest of the college football world will likely cower in fear. -- TF

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 and 50-41. You can also keep up with the 100 by following us on Twitter.
Posted on: June 1, 2011 2:33 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2011 9:55 am
 

CBSSports.com College Football 100: 60-51

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.

60. PHIL KNIGHT, head honcho/sugar daddy, Nike. He just might be the most passionate college football fan in the country worth $12 billion or more. Actually, Phil Knight is one of the most passionate college football fans in the country, period. The co-founder and chairman of Nike, Knight has an imprint on the sport unlike just about any other individual. In addition to Nike having contracts with all but a handful of schools, Knight has given millions of dollars to Oregon (his alma mater) and Stanford (where he went to grad school) athletics.

Knight has been ingrained as the poster boy for Oregon football the past few years, despite trying to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible. There's good reason for his status as one of the most powerful boosters in the country, though, whether it be having an athletic department official personally report news of a Duck recruiting commitment or listening in to play calls in his suite during games. His reach, through Nike, is even impacting college football fashion choices. While the Ducks have made the leap to BCS contender every year, they're also at the cutting edge of uniform design, and that's slowly filtering down to other Nike programs like Arizona State. Phil Knight might not be the most powerful person in college athletics ... but he certainly comes close. --BF

59. MICHAEL FLOYD, wide receiver, Notre Dame. At this point we don't even know if Michael Floyd will be playing football for Notre Dame this fall. After he surprised a lot of people in South Bend and decided to return for his senior season, Floyd was busted for a DUI - his third alcohol related offense since coming to Notre Dame. He could have been kicked out of school but survived the notorious ResLife board, though he's still under suspension from his head coach, Brian Kelly. Kelly has said that Floyd will either play every game for Notre Dame this season, or he won't play any, and that decision will have a huge impact on the Irish this year.

Odds are, Floyd is going to play. The fact is that he's one of the most important members of the Notre Dame offense, and his presence on the field could be the difference-maker between another 8-5 season and a possible return to the BCS for the Golden Domers. Floyd is one of the most dynamic wide receivers in the country, and may be the best red zone receiver in college football. His 28 career touchdown catches are a Notre Dame record and, if he plays, he'll likely break the school's records for yards and receptions as well. -- TF

58. MARQUEIS GRAY, quarterback/wide receiver (?), Minnesota. MarQueis Gray is something of an enigma in Minneapolis; the high school Army All-American quarterback was a recruiting coup for Tim Brewster and Minnesota back in 2008, but since then Gray has mainly spent his time at wide receiver for the Gophers, taking a backseat to the now-departed Adam Weber. Gray has lined up at quarterback a few times in his first couple years on the field, but it's usually been to execute a running play of some kind, as Gray's passing has been mostly disastrous--he's completed just 8 of 23 attempts thus far, and that includes a 5-of-6 performance against Ohio State. Take that out, and it's a surreal 3-of-17. (Only one interception in those 23 passes though, so at least when Gray misses, he misses everybody.)

Still, it's hard not to be tantalized by Gray's prospects as a quarterback. He has the size (6'4" and a strong 230) to play under center at the next level, his arm strength is legitimate, and he's plenty fast. All in all, he has such physical skills that Brewster had to get him on the field one way or another, and that's how his first two years played out at receiver. But at some point, someone with Gray's potential has to turn "on the field one way or another" into "on the field and leading his team," and if Gray can't make significant progress on that front in 2011, new head coach Jerry Kill's first season is going to be a long one. -- AJ

57. DORIAL GREEN-BECKHAM, wide receiver, Hillcrest High School (Springfield, Mo.).  The nation's top high school football player according to MaxPreps analyst Tom Lemming, Dorial Green-Beckham is appropriately one of the most sought-after high school players in the country, if not the most sought-after player in the country. With his combination of speed and size, Green-Beckham has drawn comparisons to Randy Moss. Perhaps it's no surprise that one of the best photos in the MaxPreps database (at left) is of the star receiver is him making a leaping, one-handed grab.

Green-Beckham is considering schools closer to home, such as Missouri and Oklahoma, along with several SEC schools. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound receiver does not have a timetable as to when he'll choose a school, but he is looking to make his choice known on Signing Day so this will be a process that lasts until February. Recruiting has taken a back seat for Green-Beckham at the moment, though, as his younger brother Darnell is going through treatment for leukemia. As Dorial and his entire family goes through this grueling ordeal with Darnell, it's an important reminder of life outside of the game of football. -- BF

56. CHARLIE STRONG, head coach, Louisville. When Strong finally got the tap to join the head coaching community, his peers were elated and Louisville fans were excited to see what the heralded defensive coordinator could do with the Cardinals. He was brought in to fix what Steve Kragthorpe had broken, and in one season he was able to deliver the program's first bowl win since the Bobby Petrino era. The 2010 team was loaded with veterans on defense, and anchored by Bilal Powell's 1,405 yards of downhill running.

With Powell and many starters gone from last year's squad, Strong will have to deliver a repeat performance with less tools in the shed. To make matters worse, his team was decimated by injury this spring. The plague got so bad for the Cardinals that the spring "game" was changed to a scrimmage; the only way to practice with the offensive line became sunrise sessions that worked with the class schedules of the few healthy lineman. The second-year head coach maintained a positive outlook, but was honest about the obstacles he faced with the already-inexperienced team this spring. The coaching challenge for Strong is even greater in 2011--unfortunately, after 2010's success, the expectations might be even higher. -- CP

55. E.J. MANUEL, quarterback, Florida State. The revival in Tallahassee has been one of the most prominent offseason stories in the ACC. Jimbo Fisher's first season at the helm brought an Atlantic Division title, a Chick-Fil-A Bowl win over SEC runner-up South Carolina, and their first 10-win season since 2003. Already pegged as the favorite in the ACC, and possibly a national title contender, the expectations are back at Florida State. And much of the weight of those expectations falls on the shoulders of quarterback E.J. Manuel.

Manuel is no stranger to leading the Seminoles. Frequently over the last two seasons he has stepped in for the oft-injured Christian Ponder. But the appearances near the end of 2010 (against Clemson, Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game, and then the Gamecocks in the bowl game) showed a more mature and dangerous playmaker than Florida State fans had seen before. Manuel kept himself composed on the biggest stage, being called on at the last minute in both situations to step in and lead the offense. He didn't have a fantastic spring, but Fisher is confident in his starter's ability to lead this team all the way to the top. Now the pressure is on Manuel to prove him right. -- CP

54. HARVEY UPDYKE, accused tree poisoner, Dadeville, Ala. No, "Al from Dadeville" isn't about to suit up for his beloved Alabama Crimson Tide, isn't about to steal any signals from his hated Auburn Tigers, isn't about to do anything to impact events on the field. But his (alleged) destructive actions will resonate throughout the season off the field, as college football learns to confront not only its increasingly rabid fandoms, but the Internet soapboxes and radio call-in echo chambers that help turn the healthy love of a favorite team into something toxic. If 2011 proves to be the year where the sport takes a legitimate step towards hooliganism, Updyke will have been the tipping point.

And of course, that goes double in the state of Alabama. Updyke isn't in any way representative of the Tide fanbase as a whole, nor that of the Tide's rivals on the Plains; the outpouring of support from Tuscaloosa after the poisoning announcement (and -- though in a situation so much more serious the two perhaps shouldn't be mentioned in the same paragraph -- from Auburn after the tornado tragedy) is far more typical of the majority of the state's football fans. Still, the same mad passion for college football that helped make Alabama the sport's epicenter the previous two seasons also unquestionably helped spawn the likes of Updyke. As the Tide gears up for another potential title run, the specter of "Al from Dadeville" -- and the potential for harm its school spirit-gone-wrong represents -- will continue to linger over the Iron Bowl ... and all of college football. -- JH

53. TOM O'BRIEN, head coach, N.C. State. In his fourth year since arriving at N.C. State from Boston College, O'Brien was able to deliver just the Wolfpack's second season since 1994 with at least nine wins. His team even came within one victory of the ACC Championship Game berth, then made up for that disappointment with an impressive 23-7 victory over West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl. For the time being, O'Brien could do no wrong. Wolfpack fans said their goodbyes to baseball-bound star quarterback Russell Wilson, and O'Brien began focusing on repeating the success from 2010.

Then in late April, Wilson decided that he wanted to come back to college football. That's when O'Brien stood strong on his word and made one of the more unconventional (and possibly influential) coaching decisions in recent memory. He stuck by junior quarterback Mike Glennon as his starter, and Wilson was granted a release from his scholarship. With one year of eligibility remaining, Wilson could end up being the final piece to a BCS team looking to get to the next level, or he could end up the next Jeremiah Masoli--a round peg trying to quickly fit into a square hole. Glennon, meanwhile, could be the star gunslinger he was thought to be as a recruit, or maybe the three years on the sideline behind Wilson have made him rusty. There are many different endings to the Wolfpack's 2011 story, but it all started with O'Brien's decision to let Wilson walk out the door. -- CP

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52. DAN PERSA, quarterback, Northwestern. Persa had quite the eventful five seconds last November 13. He threw a game-winning touchdown to Demetrius Fields in a 21-17 win over Iowa, then came down awkwardly on his right leg and ruptured his Achilles tendon, ending his season. And it was a stellar season, at that; Persa was in the top 10 nationally in passing efficiency, and at the time of his injury he was leading the Wildcats in rushing yards by a substantial margin. Northwestern would go on the finish 0-3 after Persa's injury (although that might have more to do with the 163 points they gave up in those contests than anything else).

Fortunately, Persa's rehab is on track, and he's probably going to be back under center for Northwestern come this September. Achilles injuries are tricky, though, and Persa's mobility is probably going to be affected to some extent. Doubtless, Pat Fitzgerald would like to rush his quarterback less anyway, seeing as how Persa's 2010 workload was more necessity than luxury, but that means someone in Northwestern's backfield is going to have to step up in 2011. Mike Trumpy, perhaps? They're probably hoping so in Evanston. -- AJ

51. TOMMY TUBERVILLE, head coach, Texas Tech. Not every red Raider fan was thrilled with the idea of replacing Mike Leach with Tommy Tuberville last season. It was kind of like Tech had traded in its Ferrari Enzo for a Ford Focus. There's nothing wrong with the Focus, as it'll get you where you want to go, gets nice mileage and is extremely dependable ... but it's not a Ferrari. Still, in 2010 at least, it's not as though the Texas Tech offense became a replica of Tuberville's conservative Auburn teams; the Raiders still finished seventh in the country in passing yards and 23rd nationally in points-per-game.

The problem -- as is normally the case in Lubbock -- was a defense that allowed over 30 points a contest. Tuberville got to where he is as a head coach by coaching defense, and as he enters his second season in Lubbock, we should start to see the defense improve. And if that starts to happen, fans may have to adjust to a less active scoreboard, but they may start seeing a lot more wins as well. Tuberville's track record at Texas A&M, Miami, Ole Miss and Auburn shows that Tech is going to be a better team long-term with him at the helm, a difference the Raiders should start seeing in 2011. -- TF

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




Posted on: May 26, 2011 2:04 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2011 9:57 am
 

CBSSports.com College Football 100: 90-81

By the Eye on College Football bloggers

To celebrate the 100 99 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.

90. T.Y. HILTON, receiver/returner, FIU. Every so often, a player rises up from the lower rungs of college football to make a credible run at the Heisman Trophy: Garrett Wolfe at Northern Illinois, Steve McNair at Alcorn State, Gordie Lockbaum once upon a time at Holy Cross. And if that's happening this year, the smartest bet is on Hilton, the reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year and leader in all-purpose yardage.

But if Hilton does make a splash nationally, it won't be for his accolades, statistics, or even team success (though Hilton led his Golden Panthers to their first bowl berth and conference title last season, and could repeat the feat). It'll be for his electric playmaking, on full display in last year's Little Caesar's Bowl, when his 89-yard kickoff return for touchdown and 4th-and-17 conversion keyed a thrilling Panther comeback. Put a few more of those types of plays on SportsCenter (particularly in an early-season Friday night visit to Louisville), and the sky -- or more specifically, New York -- might be the limit. -- JH

89. LOGAN THOMAS, quarterback, Virginia Tech. Since joining the ACC in 2004, the Hokies have won four conference championships and four Coastal Division titles. The league's expansion might have expected to highlight Florida State and Miami, but it has been the Hokies who have most often represented the conference on the national stage. But for the last four years of that run, the Hokies were had ACC Player of the Year Tyrod Taylor. Now Taylor is gone, and it's Thomas who's set to take his place.

The redshirt sophomore has already impressed coaches and teammates with his performance in spring practice, and the hopes are high for his first season as the Hokies starter. Standing at 6-foot-6, Thomas often looked like the big brother as Taylor tutored him throughout last season. With quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain now assuming the play-calling duties, the offense will run through Thomas. Tech has many of the pieces in place to defend their ACC championship, but they'll need Thomas to settle in quickly to get it done. -- CP

88. AT&T PARK, temporary home stadium, Cal. For the first time since 1923, the California Golden Bears will play their home games somewhere other than California Memorial Stadium. As the university enters the final stages of their $321 million retrofit and renovation project, the Bears will play their home games at AT&T Park in San Francisco - home of the Giants. The setup for football won't be entirely foreign for the venue -- it's the home of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl -- but it will be an inconvenient trip for players, students and fans so used to their home games in Berkeley.

With four critical, winnable home games on their Pac-12 slate (highlighted by visits from USC and Utah), how well the Bears adapt to their new surroundings could well determine the trajectory of Jeff Tedford's Bears tenure. After four seasons with no fewer than four losses and no league finish higher than fourth, Tedford needs a big year to avoid a make-or-break 2012 season, and given the Bears' rigorous road schedule (at Oregon, at Stanford) that simply won't happen if Cal spits the bit at AT&T Park. The stadium could be Tedford's sanctuary; it could prove to be his house of horrors. -- CP

87. VICTOR ANDERSON, running back, Louisville. In 2008, Anderson rushed for 1,047 yards and 8 touchdowns, numbers good enough for him to be named the Big East Rookie of the Year. But nagging injuries over the last two seasons have prevented Anderson from recapturing that freshman form. Now, for the first time since that promising campaign, Anderson is 100 percent healthy.

Just in time, too, for Charlie Strong's second season as Cardinal head coach. With very little chance to prove himself in 2010, some believed that sophomore Jeremy Wright might replace the dominant Bilal Powell as the 'Ville's starting running back. But after one of his best springs since stepping on campus, Anderson has reclaimed the greater share of snaps in the Cardinals' backfield. There will be a lot of pressure for Strong to repeat the success of 2010, and he's already shown his affection for the rushing game. If the Cardinals are going back to the postseason again, they'll need 2008's Anderson (or better) in 2011. -- CP

86. CASE KEENUM'S KNEE, body part, Houston quarterback. The coronation of college football's newest passing king looked to be in serious jeopardy last fall when Keenum, a senior, suffered a season-ending ACL tear during an ill-advised attempt at a tackle against UCLA. Keenum had been on pace to set NCAA records in career yards and touchdowns before the injury, but there's no progress to be made there on the sidelines.

Fortunately for Keenum, he was granted a sixth year of eligibility this January, meaning not only does he have another shot at setting those NCAA records, but he's 636 yards and three touchdowns closer. At this point, the biggest obstancle in Keenum's way is his own health. His rehab's on track so far, and he's going to be doing 7-on-7 drills with his receivers to get that all-important timing down, but how is he going to respond physically and mentally to this setback? Can he still set those records? Will his knee allow him to? -- AJ

85. LSU AT ALABAMA, potential Game of the Year, SEC. In a division where as many as four or five teams can have realistic dreams of a top-10 season and a trip to Atlanta, there's no shortage of "Game of the Year" candidates. Pair off any one of Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Auburn and Mississippi State -- a group featuring three of the last four national champions, a fourth team coming off a Sugar Bowl berth, and a fifth coached by a man with two national title rings himself -- and you're going to get not only a potential classic, but the game that could decide the outcome of the nation's hands-down strongest division.

But even taking into account the South Carolina-Georgia-Florida round-robin in the East, the single game most likely to produce the SEC's 2011 champion will be played between the Tide and Tigers on Nov. 5. Both teams will bring wicked defenses, explosive athletes, powerful running games (at least, if we're right about Spencer Ware) ... and potentially shaky quarterback situations that could derail either team's title dreams. It all collides head-on in Tuscaloosa, and whatever the result, the SEC season won't be remotely the same in its aftermath. -- JH

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84. MARCUS COKER, running back, Iowa. The breakout star of the 2010 Insight Bowl was true freshman tailback Marcus Coker, who ran for 219 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries in Iowa's 27-24 win over Missouri. Coker busted out several highlight-reel plays, including a 62-yard touchdown sprint and a 35-yard gain in which Coker plain ran over senior safety Jarrell Harrison at the point of attack.

Coker -- who probably would have redshirted were it not for a slew of injuries in front of him on the depth chart -- is now the unquestioned workhorse in the Iowa backfield after the departures of every other tailback with even one down of experience. He's clearly got the physical gifts to make it work (and a talented, veteran line in front of him), but will Coker's bruising style of play hold up through an entire season in the Big Ten? --AJ

83. DANNY O'BRIEN, quarterback, Maryland. When 2010's ACC Rookie of the Year takes the field for his sophomore campaign this fall, in some ways it will feel as new as last September when the Kernersville, NC native took the conference by storm. After leading the Terrapins within a game of an Atlantic Division title, head coach Ralph Friedgen was fired, and offensive coordinator James Franklin took the head coaching job at Vanderbilt. O'Brien's favorite receiver, junior Torrey Smith, took his 1,055 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns to the NFL.

Now O'Brien returns with expectations to repeat last year's success in College Park. But this go-round he has a new head coach (Randy Edsall) and new offensive coordinator (Gary Crowton). Luckily, neither coach is lacking in experience, and there should be plenty of learning opportunities for the sophomore gunslinger. Now O'Brien must seize control of those opportunities to keep Maryland --as Terps fans expect -- in the Atlantic Division hunt. -- CP

82. DECLAN SULLIVAN, late student videographer, Notre Dame. Though Notre Dame's 2010 campaign finished on a high note on the field, the season had already been irreparably marred by the tragic October death of Declan Sullivan. Sullivan lost his life when the scissor lift he was on while filming an Irish practice toppled over in high winds. (At right, that's a picture of Oregon's D.J. Davis wearing Sullivan's photo on his handwarmer as a tribute.) Notre Dame was fined for the accident and has since taken steps to make sure it never happens again, filming practice by placing cameras at different angles around the field rather than putting students on top of lifts.

It's a practice that a lot of schools would be smart to adapt, and it's one example of how Sullivan's legacy -- we desperately hope -- impacts the 2011 season and beyond. Whether it's discontinuing the use of lifts, using better equipment to reduce the risk of injury, closer supervision of player workouts, even more regular medical check-ups for stressed-out coaches, college football must do a better job of ensuring the safety of those involved with it. The lesson from the Sullivan tragedy is that those in charge must be proactive in making the necessary changes; even if the number of deaths from lift incidents stops, forever, at one, that one is still far, far too many. -- TF

81. WILL LYLES, scouting service director, Houston, Texas. The man who runs Complete Scouting Services has become the face of one of the NCAA's latest, biggest targets: scouting services. These alleged "street agents" associated with different scouting services came under fire earlier this spring when it was revealed that Oregon paid Lyles $24,000 for his services before signing coveted recruit Lache Seatrunk. Since then, the public has slowly learned more and more about the scouting service industry.  

What they have learned is that Oregon is not the only school that uses them.  In fact, many schools pay scouting services for DVD's, measurements, and other information that may help in recruiting.  But the dollar amounts in some cases do not exactly fall in line with "standard prices."  Lyles is currently being investigated by the NCAA for his ties to Seastrunk, LaMichael James (also at Oregon), and Patrick Peterson (formerly of LSU).  If the NCAA decides that Lyles helped lead them to their respective schools, he would become a booster and thus a walking violation of NCAA rules. If (or when) the NCAA crackdown on scouting services takes its next step, it will be because of the spotlight on Lyles. -- CP

Check back tomorrow at Eye on CFB for Nos. 80-71 on the countdown, click here for Nos. 100-91, or follow us on Twitter for the latest updates on the 100 ... and everything else college football.



Posted on: May 17, 2011 3:19 pm
 

Clemson season ticket sales still on the decline

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

How much do college football fans really care about recruiting?

The answer is supposed to be "a freaking ton," but the evidence at Clemson suggests it's still a much bigger deal for a team's diehards than their rank-and-file supporters. Dabo Swinney's Tigers pulled in one of the nation's best and most surprising classes this past Signing Day, but per the Charleston Post and Courier that excitement has yet to transfer to the box office:
Football season ticket sales are down six percent from this point last year at Clemson, according to associate athletic director Katie Hill.

The decline is traced to a number of factors including effects from the recession, the slow economic recovery and perhaps fans' dissatisfaction following the program's first losing season in 12 years.

Of the season tickets Clemson has already sold, Hill estimates the number is down 10-15 percent from 2007-08 levels.

"I still think the economy has got us," Hill said. "It's probably a variety of things, depending on the ticket buyer. … It can be dissatisfaction, it can be any of those reasons.

"But it's not over."
A point for the "economy" argument over the "losing season" argument, the Post and Courier notes, is that Virginia Tech has seen a similar decline this offseason despite having won the ACC championship last season.

But unlike the Tigers, the Hokies are losing several stars from that title team and had their usual good-but-not-eye-popping recruiting class. And the economy has done little to dent ticket sales at Clemson's rivals in the SEC. Down the road in Athens, for instance, it's been years since season tickets failed to sell out, and a smattering of single-game tickets for the Bulldogs' season opener against Boise State sold out quickly despite Georgia's disastrous 6-7 finish a year ago.

In short, no, the economy isn't helping. But we have to think that after 2010's 6-7 debacle, the bigger problem is an understandable lack of faith from Tiger fans in the direction of Swinney's program--faith that may take more than one excellent recruiting class to restore.

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: May 2, 2011 6:13 pm
Edited on: May 2, 2011 6:19 pm
 

What I learned this spring: ACC Atlantic

Posted by Chip Patterson

With all six spring games completed, we wrap up spring practice in the ACC Atlantic Division.

BOSTON COLLEGE: One of the things that became increasingly evident this spring was how much the Eagles have riding on running back Montel Harris going into the 2011 season. Harris tore his lateral meniscus in Boston College's ACC finale against Virginia and missed the rest of the season after undergoing surgery. Even missing the last game, Harris finished second in the ACC with 1,242 yards. After one carry in Boston College's spring game (which really is more of an offense-defense scrimmage), Harris was taken out for "precautionary measures."

All spring, the Eagles' foremost concern has been the health of their prized running back, as it should be. Boston College's muddled quarterback situation does not provide a whole lot of confidence in the passing game. Chase Rettig has likely emerged spring as the starter, taking significantly more reps near the end of the practice than Dave Shinskie, and Mike Marscovetra. Rettig emerged as a freshman in 2010 and finished the season as the starter. But his 6 touchdowns to 9 interceptions on the season hardly secured him the gig for 2011. But after completing 20-of-29 passes for 182 yards in the spring game, popular belief is that Rettig will be the starter in the fall. Boston College's greatest asset still is their defense, which will be highlighted once again by Kevin Pierre Louis and Luke Kuechly, who was recently got named to the Lott Trophy Watch list.

CLEMSON: With Kyle Parker off with the Colorado Rockies for good, this spring was the time for former backup Tajh Boyd to take command of this team. The obstacle he faced heading into practice was doing it with a brand new offensive coordinator. Since taking over under Todd Morris' new system Boyd has been consistent in his effort and leadership, just inconsistent on performance. In the Tigers' spring game Boyd looked out of rhythm with his receivers, completing only 8 of 24 passes for 114 yards. Head coach Dabo Swinney hopes that Boyd will be pushed by backup quarterback Cole Stoudt, but Boyd has been the man in charge of Morris' new offense - which is reportedly only about 60% installed.

The new up-tempo offense could benefit the Tigers in the ACC, particularly with the athletes they have at the skill positions. If the spring game was any measure, Clemson should see a significant increase in their play count per game. The scheme has proven to put up big numbers, but it relies about as evenly on the run game as the passing game. Luckily the Tigers are well equipped at running back. Andre Ellington returns after collecting 686 yards and 10 touchdowns in just eight games of action before suffering a season-ending toe injury. Sitting out of spring drills, Clemson fans got a good look at his backups and - what should be - a very deep running back position. Demont Buice (18 carries, 102 yards), Roderick McDowell (12 carries, 100 yards), and D.J. Howard (11 carries, 97 yards) all had strong showings in the spring game and should make for an interesting competition once camp opens in the fall. Defensively one big surprise was the emergence of Corey Crawford. The 6-5, 275-pound early enrollee has raised eyebrows all spring, and figures to already be a part of the defensive end rotation in the fall. Wearing Da'Quan Bowers' No. 93, Crawford appears to be taking the responsibility of upholding the legacy of Bowers and the late Gaines Adams.

FLORIDA STATE: Without a doubt, the Seminoles exit the spring as a favorite to repeat as Atlantic Division Champions in 2011. With the talent returning from last year's squad and the rise of junior quarterback E.J. Manuel, head coach Jimbo Fisher has Tallahassee buzzing once again about brining the ACC title home to where it started. Florida State won in the inaugural ACC title game in 2005, and the closest they have come since then was last year's 44-33 defeat to Virginia Tech.

The hype set the bar high, but spring practice posed a different set of challenges for Fisher and his staff. The Seminoles had seven starters miss practice due to injury, so the coaches used much of the spring to sort out depth issues. The offensive line is a bit of a concern for Fisher, as they have had to do some shuffling in order to fill out the line and establish some depth. The coaches were pleased with Manuel's spring as a whole, but the junior quarterback struggled in Florida State's well-attended spring game. Fisher has said that he is mostly concerned with Manuel's development as a leader at this point, and did not seem to think much of his spring game outing.

"He was frustrated but I got more out of him today because we struggled and he didn't have a good day," Fisher said following the game. "At the end of the day we had a chance to make plays and we made a few plays."

Many of the injuries were on the defensive end, but with all of those players getting back to 100% before training camp it should not play a major factor in the Seminoles' readiness for the season. If there is any "red-flag" from spring practice it would be a fear of complacency. There were several early practices that led Fisher to criticize his team's speed and toughness. Florida State cannot afford to be slow-starting in 2011 if they truly plan on competing for a National Championship. With Oklahoma visiting Tallahassee on Sept. 13, the Seminoles need to be competing in midseason form from the first day of camp. If Florida State is "going through the motions" at the beginning of the season, the Sooners will be a rude wake-up call after Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern.
 
MARYLAND:
There will be no surprises this year with sophomore quarterback Danny O'Brien. After being named the 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year, O'Brien's development has not been slowed due to the coaching changes at Maryland. In fact, the new system installed by former LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton has the players feeling like there could be even more passing in 2011. O'Brien took advantage of the vanilla scrimmage coverages in the spring game, completing 16 of 23 passes for 199 yards and a pair of touchdowns. New head coach Randy Edsall is very excited about the rotation of wide receivers taking shape, with Ronnie Tyler, Kevin Dorsey, and Quintin McCree all having strong springs.

With defensive coordinator Don Brown leaving to take the position at Connecticut, Maryland's defense has spent most of the spring trying to learn a new system. Edsall promoted assistant coach Todd Bradford to the position in mid-February, and the newness of the change seems to still be setting in for the players. Brown's system carried lots of blitzing packages and multiple looks, the players say Bradford's relies more on coverage responsibility. Maryland's defense is experienced, but they are still a little slow getting on the same page at this point.
 
NC STATE:
What I learned this spring is that head coach Tom O'Brien's word at N.C. State is firm and unwavering. O'Brien told Russell Wilson that if he wanted to be the starting quarterback in 2011 he needed to stay with the team instead of playing minor league baseball in the offseason. Even when Wilson, an All-ACC quarterback and 2010 Champs Sports Bowl MVP, asked O'Brien if he could return in August - O'Brien said no. So now the reigns are officially in the hands of Mike Glennon, the highly-recruited younger brother of former Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon. Glennon, a redshirt junior, checks out on paper as a strong candidate for the Wolfpack starting job. The only thing that he lacks is actual game experience. The problem is that with Wilson's departure to continue football elsewhere (as opposed to sticking with professional baseball) will have an effect on the fan base's expectations from Glennon. Glennon did not have a great outing in N.C. State's shortened spring game (inclement weather), and it will be important for his confidence to get some early wins in the fall.

N.C. State lost leading rusher Mustafa Greene to injury during spring practice, but he is expected to be back in time for fall practice. Greene emerged as the answer to one of the big question marks in 2010, and he will be leaned on to help Glennon get comfortable in the starting position. This year it has been the wide receiver position that was not addressed this spring, as T.J. Graham leads a crop of wideouts that lack experience in game situations. Wolfpack fans are hoping for another Greene-type situation out of the position next fall. The linebacking corps will be strong point once again for N.C. State, led by Terrell Manning and Audi Cole. Cole moves over to Nate Irving's position of middle linebacker, and while the transition has not been easy the coaching staff seems pleased with his progress and potential heading into the new season.
 
WAKE FOREST:
We knew that Wake Forest had a long way to go to improve on last year's frustrating 3-9 season. With spring practice in the books, the Demon Deacons still are a ways away from the squad that was competing among the ACC elite a half-decade ago. Head coach Jim Grobe often mentioned how inexperience played a factor in 2010's struggles, with the Deacons having to start several freshman (especially on the defensive end) throughout the season.

"I think last year we were a soft group of freshmen, and now we're just a crusty group of sophomores,"Grobe told the Winston-Salem Journal. "I know coaches are worried about playing too many sophomores but for me, we're light years ahead of where we were last year with these guys."

Offensively, the Deacons will hope to get running back Josh Harris going behind a more experienced offensive line. The talented sophomore broke out against Virginia Tech (20 carries, 241 yards, two touchdowns) and in the season finale against Vanderbilt (18 carries, 138 yards, one touchdown). But inconsistent production during the regular season have left Wake Forest fans looking for more out of the running back from Duncanville, TX. Harris led all rushers in the spring game with 85 yards, but missed many of the workouts due to injury. If Harris can't get the ground game going there will be a lot of pressure on quarterback Tanner Price to make plays with his wide receivers, which doesn't appear very threatening at this point.
Posted on: April 26, 2011 3:00 pm
Edited on: April 26, 2011 3:04 pm
 

What I learned this spring: ACC Coastal

Posted by Chip Patterson

With all six spring games completed, we wrap up spring practice in the ACC Coastal Division.

DUKE: Head coach David Cutcliffe exits his fourth spring practice with the Blue Devils with as much optimism as ever, but knows that the 2011 Blue Devils have some work to do before kicking off the season against Richmond on Sept. 3.

"A successful day," Cutcliffe said after the spring game. "But I told them this is just the beginning. In college football now, [you have] the remainder of the spring term to work on weights and conditioning. And a summer that's going to very important to a young team."

Almost two-thirds of the Blue Devils roster is made up of freshman and sophomores. While youth can easily breed optimism, there is also a realistic expectation that this group needs to put in more work on the fundamentals this summer. Duke does have the benefit of returning both pieces of their quarterback rotation from 2010. Junior Sean Renfree will remain the starting quarterback, coming off a pleasantly surprising 3,131 yard, 14 touchdown season. Sophomore Brandon Connette will continue in his role as a run-first quarterback in rotation with Renfree, but the spring has shown some improvement in Connette's passing game. Defensively, we didn't learn much about Duke this spring due to widespread injuries across the unit. If anything the injuries made a talented Blue Devils offense look spectacular at times. Duke will likely not be able to escape a similar bowl-less fate in 2011, but at least now they have the athletes on the roster to remain competitive.

GEORGIA TECH: Georgia Tech set out to improve defensively this spring and try to focus on special teams. The good news is that the Yellow Jackets defense finished spring practice looking much better than the offense. Which might actually reveal more issues with the offense than it does compliment the defensive improvement. At different times this spring, both Tevin Washington and Synjyn Days have struggled in scrimmage situations against the first-team defense. Both quarterbacks have struggled to find a rhythm, and as head coach Paul Johnson said, they have been "running for their lives" on the field.

The defense was highlighted this spring by players like defensive end Jason Peters and inside linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, who entered spring practice as a backup. Nealy, a redshirt freshman, has seen time with the first-string this spring due to injuries to Julian Burnett and Daniel Drummond. He has made the most of the opportunity, capping off his spring by leading the Yellow Jackets in tackles during their annual T-Day game. Paul Johnson also wanted to increase the mistakes in the special teams after last season. Unfortunately that is not completely solved as Georgia Tech's kickers combined for misses from 28, 47, and 49 yards in the T-Day game.

MIAMI: Miami's spring has been much publicized due to the arrival of new head coach Al Golden . Therefore it should come as no surprise that we learned just as much (if not more) about Golden's vision for the Miami football program this spring than we did about the actual players on the roster. In following the Hurricanes this spring one word stands out to describe Golden's brief time at Miami: demand.

Golden demands that Miami play, practice, and think at a fast pace. He demanded that the Hurricanes get in better shape, and instituted a rigorous winter conditioning program. He demanded that players need to earn starting positions, and that is obvious with the unusually fluid final spring depth chart.

But will all these demands and the implementation of a new attitude around Miami catch on in time for the 2011 season? There are still plenty of question marks on the field, most notably the ongoing quarterback battle between Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. The Hurricanes have a stable of running backs and a solid offensive line that should provide stability to the offense, and take some pressure of whichever signal-caller ends up as the starter. If nothing else, Golden has brought hype back to "The U." More than 300 former players showed up for the Hurricanes' spring game in Ft. Lauderdale, a who's who of active and retired NFL players.

Something else I learned from Miami this spring? I really need to get a Michael Irvin alarm clock.



NORTH CAROLINA: - While several former North Carolina defenders are preparing to hear their name called this weekend in the NFL draft, many of the stars from 2010's defense are still in Chapel Hill preparing for next fall. If anything, the spring showed us that the heart of of the Tar Heels' defense will be on the defensive line. The Tar Heels will be able to rotate 8-9 defensive lineman, highlighted by Quinton Coples, Jared MacAdoo, and Donte Paige-Moss. Much of the depth and added experience on the defensive line is due to the suspensions of Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn forcing players into positions unexpectedly before the season started. One of the things that makes North Carolina's line especially dangerous is the ability of several players to play multiple positions. Both Coples and MacAdoo are able to play inside or out, and that versatility can benefit a team when injuries hit during the long season. One of the biggest surprises on the already deep defensive line has been the play of junior college transfer Sylvester Williams. Williams has been building buzz since he arrived in Chapel Hill, and could end up challenging Jordan Nix for a starting defensive tackle job by next fall. North Carolina's secondary is a concern once again, making it even more important for the defensive line to put pressure on the quarterback to prevent opposing wide receivers from getting space down the field.

Offensively much of the focus will be on quarterback Bryn Renner, who is taking over for four-year starter T.J. Yates. Renner showed promise at times this spring, but he is still getting accustomed to his new role as leader of the offense. Thankfully he'll have Dwight Jones and Erik Highsmith to throw to, and an experienced offensive line to give him time to operate. Ryan Houston was a touchdown machine in 2009, but after redshirting last season and undergoing shoulder blade surgery this summer the depth at running back will be a concern heading into the fall.

VIRGINIA: Earlier this year, head coach Mike London made headlines by pulling in yet another unexpectedly strong class on National Signing Day. Unfortunately, these small victories will take some time before they translate into more marks in the "W" column for the Cavaliers. This spring did not answer many of the questions that existed near the end of last year's four-win season. Defensively, the Cavaliers return seven starters from a unit that finished only better than Duke and Wake Forest in both scoring and total defense. Improvement from those numbers will be necessary considering the lack of offensive firepower.

Virginia rotated through four different quarterbacks during their spring game (Michael Rocco, Ross Metheny, Michael Strauss, and David Watford), but no candidate stood out among the group. The offensive line has been porous, and the Cavaliers still lack an answer at running back as well. What did I learn about Virginia? Greener pastures may lie in their future, but unless someone steps up to make the Cavaliers a threat on offense they will have a difficult time keeping up with opponents in 2011.

VIRGINIA TECH: Not to drone on about new quarterbacks, but when a sophomore takes over for the ACC Player of the Year it is going to turn some heads. Logan Thomas has looked impressive this spring, grabbing most of the positive notes out of Blacksburg across the last several weeks. He finished spring practice as the star of the spring game, throwing for 131 yards and two touchdowns while also leading the Hokies in rushing with 46 yards on just five carries. However, Thomas' impressive performance did showcase some depth issues for the Hokies on offense. With starting running back David Wilson away with the track team, backup running backs Daniel Dyer, Josh Oglesby, and James Hopper struggled against the Hokies' defense in the spring game. Last season head coach Frank Beamer had the benefit of three NFL-caliber running backs to choose from, right now it looks like Wilson is the only competent option. The backup quarterbacks did not fair well either, with second-string Ju-Ju Clayton completing just three of his ten passes, and tossing two interceptions.

Defensively, Virginia Tech's returning talent seems charged up by the 40-12 lashing they took from Andrew Luck and Stanford in the Orange Bowl. The competition on the field has been aggressive, and defensive coordinator Bud Foster has not backed down from calling his team's performance in that game "unacceptable." Players to keep an eye on heading into the fall include linebacker Tariq Edwards and defensive end James Gayle, who was voted the spring defensive MVP. For those still curious, wide receiver Danny Coale did punt in the spring game and is still considered in the running for the job come fall.
Posted on: April 18, 2011 5:06 pm
 

Va. Tech WR Danny Coale competing for punter

Posted by Chip Patterson

There have been several reasons to keep your eye on spring practice in Blacksburg.  The defending ACC Champions have been adjusting to live without Player of the Year Tyrod Taylor, with touted signal-caller Logan Thomas getting adjusted to the new position.  You have the storyline of the explosive David Wilson assuming a running back position that was shared for most of the 2010 season.  You have a defense that will be looking to reload and bounce back from a season that was uncharacteristic at times for the Bud Foster era.

But what about the search for a starting punter?

The open compeition on the special teams unit includes Scott Demler, Ethan Keyserling, Grant Bowden, Connor Goulding, and starting wide receiver Danny Coale.

Coale broke out last season for the Hokies, finishing second on the team in receptions and receiving yards.  But with the position open, Coale has expressed serious interest in getting back into the kicking game.

"I was just kind of thinking to myself there wasn't a set punter," Coale said. "There has been (a set punter in the spring for Tech) in the past. I've punted in the past and I really enjoy it. Punting is something I love. I've done it since I was little. My dad taught me how to do it, so once I kind of realized there's an opportunity, I wanted to try it and give it a shot. It's been a lot of fun. Hopefully, I'll be able to do it at some point. I don't know."

For three seasons at Episcopal High School, Coale took care of both the kicking and punting as well as being the primary return man for both.  Coale may not be the primary man for the job, but he has just as much college punting experience as the rest of the compeittion (none).  He has always fooled around punting before practices, but this spring is the first time he has taken the opportunity seriously.  

"Everybody asks if I'm serious, and I am," said Coale explained recently. "I'm completely serious. I don't know if I need to get a punting shoe or what I need to do to let everybody know I'm serious. Maybe the one-bar (helmet cage design) across the front."

I don't think that adding Coale to that aspect of special teams will have any "Beamer Ball" mystique, though it doesn't hurt to have that talent stuffed away on your roster.  Coale may be serious, but he is obviously utilizing this opportunity to have a bit of fun as well.  As a senior, Coale will need to be one of the leaders of a young offense - as well as a big play threat for Logan Thomas.  Last season Coale stepped up down the stretch for the Hokies, pulling in a 40+ yard reception in 4 of the final 5 games.  When things get tough for the first-time starter, he will need Coale to get out of tough spots.  

If he can't, then Coale might have to stay on the field to punt.  Not exactly the "win-win" Frank Beamer is looking for if you ask me.   
 
 
 
 
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