Posted on: December 7, 2010 4:45 pm

Vandy to cut candidate list, as they should

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Thanks to the Jon Gruden panic at Miami, the Bill McCartney escapades at Colorado , etc., the coaching search at Vanderbilt has flown mostly under the radar to date despite it being the only vacancy this offseason in the SEC (barring Dan Mullen' s hypothetical departure at Mississippi State ). That doesn't mean the Commodore brass hasn't been doing their due diligence. In fact, as this report from the Tennessean indicates , they've been extremely diligent. According to the report, the full alphabetical list of coaches contacted or coaches whose agents have been contacted by the 'Dores --and it may not be comprehensive -- is as follows:

Troy Calhoun , head coach, Air Force
Dave Doeren , defensive coordinator, Wisconsin
James Franklin, offensive coordinator, Maryland
Al Golden, head coach, Temple
Todd Graham , head coach, Tulsa
Gus Malzahn, offensive coordinator, Auburn
Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, Stanford
Don Treadwell,
offensive coordinator, Michigan State
Shawn Watson, offensive coordinator, Nebraska

If that seems like a lot of candidates, Vandy Vice Chancellor of Athletics David Williams agrees with you :
Williams said he will select three candidates — maybe four — from the first round of interviews to become finalists. There would then likely be a second round of interviews.

The cut could come as early as today or as late as next week.

"What I'd prefer to do is probably take more than three to the second round, but to get this thing done, three is probably the optimal number," said Williams, who has declined to comment on candidates during the search process.
We already know a few names on the above list that won't reciprocate enough interest to make the cut -- Calhoun, Malzahn, possibly Golden -- and even though Williams said the frequency of offensive-minded coaches on the list is "just how it's gone," add that frequency to the 'Dores hopeless struggles on offense the last few years and it's easy to see Vandy leaning in that direction.

This could lead the 'Dores to Roman, who's coming off of two incredible seasons with the Cardinal, has first-hand experience dealing with the Stanford-like academic requirements at Vandy, and even got some measure of name-recognition following his nomination as a Broyles Award finalist.

But before they can settle on one candidate, the 'Dores have to settle on three or four. It's time for Williams to make that call.

Posted on: December 6, 2010 7:20 pm
Edited on: December 6, 2010 10:10 pm

Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien wins Unitas Award

Posted by Adam Jacobi

The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given annually to the nation's top senior quarterback, announced its 2010 winner today. Wisconsin signal-caller Scott Tolzien , who led the Badgers to an 11-1 record and a berth in the 2011 Rose Bowl, won the award today.

[Check out the rest of the awards and nominees here.]

Now obviously, the pool for this award is always going to be diluted on account of it being limited to senior quarterbacks, and the tendency of high-level QB prospects to declare for the draft before their senior season only further weakens the available list of candidates. Tolzien won this award over a rather tepid list of finalists: Andy Dalton , Colin Kaepernick , Christian Ponder , and Ricky Stanzi.

Or, more to the point, Tolzien wasn't up against Cam Newton , Kellen Moore , Andrew Luck , Ryan Mallett , Dan Persa , or Brandon Weeden. And that's good for Tolzien, because his statistics and the context surrounding them are totally underwhelming. While Tolzien led all seniors with a 169.80 passing efficiency and 74.8 completion percentage, he was hardly the focal point of the offense or the main engine getting it into the end zone; Tolzien recorded just 16 passing touchdowns, compared to his team's otherworldly 46 rushing touchdowns (of which Tolzien had none). Tolzien's total yardage accounted for just 42.6% of Wisconsin's yards, which compares rather unfavorably to Colin Kaepernick's 57.7%. And yes, Wisconsin is ranked higher than Nevada and was involved in more blowouts in which Tolzien's services weren't needed ... but TCU just so happens to be ranked even higher than Wisconsin, was involved in many blowouts of its own, and Dalton's total yardage was still 51.6% of his Horned Frogs' total yards. Also, keep in mind Tolzien was facing a defense with eight men in the box basically all the time, thanks to Wisconsin's thundering ground game. That's a luxury Dalton and Kaepernick didn't enjoy, and they still outperformed Tolzien in every category except passing efficiency, where Tolzien's lead is utterly marginal.

Beyond this year, though, Tolzien's numbers scarcely fit the typical profile of a Unitas Award winner. Beginning in 1995, when noted option enthusiast Tommie Frazier won the award with Nebraska, the average passing touchdown total of the Unitas winner has been 32.5 TDs ... or basically twice that of Tolzien and his 16 touchdowns. The only winner in that timespan with fewer than seven more touchdowns than Tolzien was (no surprise) Frazier, and even he threw for 17 TDs his senior year.

It just seems, like John Clay inexplicably being named a Doak Walker finalist, as if Tolzien is being given this award in lieu of a team award, since Wisconsin is ranked fourth and hooray for that. And it's not as if Tolzien had a bad season, either; his performance against the Iowa defense, especially when he drove the team down the field for a touchdown in the third quarter with only Montee Ball healthy (and Ball lining up at wideout since Nick Toon was out, no less), was really a fantastic display of passing. But by and large, there's just no way Tolzien was a more deserving recipient of this award than Dalton or Kaepernick.

Posted on: December 5, 2010 5:43 pm

Big Ten has no plans to expand further right now

Posted by Tom Fornelli

For the moment, it seems, Nebraska and twelve teams are enough for the Big Ten.  

The conference presidents and chancellors all got together for a pow-wow on Sunday afternoon to discuss the possibility of further expansion to the conference, and it seems that at the moment, everything is fine just the way it is.

Here is the press release that the conference released on Sunday.

This time last year, the COP/C believed that the time was right for the conference to explore the possibility of conference expansion and Commissioner James E. Delany was asked to provide recommendations for consideration over the next 12 to 18 months. The Big Ten began a thorough, deliberate evaluation and on June 11, 2010, the COP/C unanimously approved an application for membership from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Since that announcement, the conference has been actively engaged in incorporating Nebraska, both academically and athletically, into the fabric of the conference and all parties eagerly await the completed integration which will take effect in July, 2011.

During today’s meeting it was decided that it was appropriate to focus completely on conference affairs at this time. “We have been thoroughly engaged in the process since last December,” said COP/C Chair and Indiana University President Michael McRobbie. “Following detailed discussions at today’s meeting, my colleagues and I can report that we believe that this process has reached its natural conclusion. We are pleased with the addition of Nebraska and look forward to working with our colleagues there in the years ahead.”

Although the conference will continue to monitor the intercollegiate landscape, it will not be actively engaged in conference expansion for the foreseeable future and does not expect to be proactively seeking new members.

All of which is just a fancy way of saying that right now there don't seem to be any schools that the conference wants right now.  The key phrases come in that final paragraph of the release where it says things like "for the foreseeable future" and "does not expect."  Which just means that Notre Dame still doesn't want to party with them.

Still, should that change at some point in that foreseeable future, then you can bet that the Big Ten will look over the idea one more time.  And if Notre Dame comes to the Big Ten, then that means the conference will be looking for a 14th member as well.
Posted on: December 4, 2010 10:01 pm

Nebraska takes big lead, gives it all away

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Through the first 18 minutes of the Big 12 Championship, it looked like Nebraska was well on its way to a dominating victory in its Big 12 swan song. The Cornhuskers defense was completely stifling Landry Jones and the Oklahoma offense.  Through its first five possessions, the Sooners had punted three times and turned it over on downs twice.

Meanwhile, for Nebraska, Roy Helu Jr.was busting out for a 66-yard touchdown run, Alex Henery was hitting a 53-yard field goal that could have been good from 200 yards, and Rex Burkhead was doing what Taylor Martinez couldn't.  Completing a pass, and a touchdown pass at that.  It was 17-0 'Huskers with just over 12 minutes left in the second quarter.

Since then, however, it has been just about all Oklahoma save for a Henery field goal to end the half.  Landry Jones finally found his groove, throwing a 49-yard touchdown to Kenny Stills to get things started. Nebraska began turning the ball over, and Oklahoma soon scored ten more points to tie the game at 17-17.

Nebraska was able to re-take the lead just before halftime with a field goal to make it 20-17, but make no mistake about it, even though Nebraska has a three-point lead, Oklahoma seems in control of the game at the moment.  If Nebraska wants to turn things around in the second half, it needs to stop turning the ball over, and Taylor Martinez needs to get his act together.

Martinez completed only 3-of-10 passes for 58 yards, and 36 of those came on a gutsy fourth and 1 call.  Unfortunately, after the conversion, Martinez would make the mistake of throwing back across the field after scrambling and get picked off in the end zone.

If he doesn't get his act straight in the second half he may find himself on the bench shortly, because while the Nebraska defense has played well through the first 30 minutes, the Oklahoma offense has too much talent and is going to find a way to put more points on the board.
Posted on: December 3, 2010 10:46 am

DeMarco Murray expected to play

Posted by Tom Fornelli

During the week leading up to the final Big 12 Championship Game one of the biggest questions facing the Oklahoma Sooners was whether or not running back DeMarco Murray would be available to the Sooners.  Murray was hurt last Saturday against Oklahoma State when he took a helmet to the knee, and never returned to the game.

Through the week Bob Stoops has had some doubts about his running back's availability, but optimism seemed to reign, and for good reason.  On Thursday night Stoops announced through a press release that Murray was able to practice on Thursday and is expected to play against Nebraska.

Which is big news for the Oklahoma offense.  Murray is not only the team's leading rusher with 1,053 yards and 14 touchdowns, but he also plays a large role in the passing game as well, as he has 64 receptions for another 535 yards and 5 touchdowns as a receiver out of the backfield this season.  He's also the school's all-time leader in in touchdowns (64) and all-purpose yards (6,498) while returning kicks to boot.

So I guess what I'm trying to say here is that he's kind of important to Oklahoma, so it'll be nice for the Sooners to have him around against a tough Nebraska defense on Saturday.
Posted on: November 30, 2010 5:52 pm

Cotton Bowl takes Texas A&M

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The first major bowl domino to fall has fallen, as the Cotton Bowl has announced via Twitter that Texas A&M has accepted an invitation to play in the Jan. 7 game against an SEC opponent to be named later.

The announcement doesn't come as much of a surprise: our J. Darin Darst had the Aggies pegged for Arlington in this week's edition of CBS's bowl projections. Their likely opponent? LSU , which would set up a matchup of two of the country's most explosive defensive lineman in Drake Nevis and Von Miller and a pair of thunderous running backs in Stevan Ridley and the red-hot Cyrus Gray . A&M might have a sliught leg up thanks to their familiarity with the Cowboys Stadium setting; the Aggies have already played their twice the past two seasons in nonconference matchups with Arkansas .

With the Cotton having made its decision, the other top-tier Big 12 bowls look likely to fall in line with the rest of Darst's projections, if Oklahoma defeats Nebraska in the Big 12 title game: the Sooners to the Fiesta , the Huskers to the Alamo , Oklahoma State to the Holiday , and Missouri to the Insight . A Huskers victory could send the Sooners to San Antonio, or cause other shake-ups down the line.

Posted on: November 30, 2010 11:13 am
Edited on: November 30, 2010 11:37 am

DeMarco Murray's status improving for Saturday

Posted by Chip Patterson

On Monday morning, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops was uncertain about the availability of leading rusher DeMarco Murray for the Big 12 Championship Game against Nebraska on Saturday.  Murray took a helmet to the knee in the fourth quarter of Oklahoma's division-clinching win against Oklahoma State and did not return.  The medical staff did not feel like the injury was serious, but there was still doubt as to whether he would be able to take the field against the Huskers in Dallas.  However Stoops' tone changed after seeing Murray in practice on Monday, and things appear to be looking up for the Sooners most dangerous offensive threat.

“DeMarco is much improved from (Sunday),” Stoops said following Monday's practice. “We'll see as the week goes. I don't want to say something until it's for sure...But it's looking positive right now.”

Murray's importance to the Oklahoma offense cannot be understated.  A dual-threat running back, Murray constantly forces matchup problems for opposing defenses with his ability to catch out of the backfield.  On average, Murray rushes the ball 20.0 times per game and adds 5.3 receptions, totaling up to 132.3 yards of total offense per game.  Since losing to Texas A&M on the road, the Oklahoma offense has been scorching defenses for 40+ points each outing.  They will need to keep up that kind of production in order to keep up with Nebraska, particularly if Taylor Martinez is healthy enough to play.
Posted on: November 30, 2010 10:34 am
Edited on: November 30, 2010 10:38 am

Nebraska may use two QBs in Big 12 Championship

Posted by Chip Patterson

As Nebraska prepares for one last shot at a Big 12 title, head coach Bo Pelini is having to prepare for the Oklahoma Sooners with an uncertain quarterback situation.  Starting quarterback Taylor Martinez was forced to miss the regular season finale against Colorado with turf toe, and on Monday Pelini said that the freshman's status for the Big 12 Championship game is officially "day-to-day."  Nebraska would like nothing more than to say farewell to the Big 12 by getting redemption in Dallas after last year's heartbreaking last-second loss to Texas.  

Martinez was replaced on Saturday by sophomore quarterback Cody Green.  Green played well against the Buffs, completing 10 of 13 passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns.  While Green displayed a little fancy footwork, rushing seven times for 23 yards and punching in a score on the ground in the fourth quarter to ice the game for the Huskers, he does not provide nearly the threat that the speedy Martinez does in the open field.  However, Pelini did say on Monday that "it might be a combination of the two" quarterbacks against the Sooners.
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