Tag:Connecticut
Posted on: June 2, 2011 3:26 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2011 9:54 am
 

CBSSports.com College Football 100: 50-41

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.

50. COWBELLS, traditional noisemakers, Mississippi State. On the one hand, yeah, it's just a bell with a stick attached to it and (usually) a State logo affixed to one side. But on the other, it's a huge reason why trips to Starkville have become a gigantic thorn in the side of SEC favorites since Dan Mullen took over the Bulldog helm. The cowbells create a tremendous amount of noise during their designated usage periods (touchdown celebrations, timeouts, etc.), but there's plenty enough State fans willing to use them during non-designated periods that Davis-Wade Stadium can become just as loud and disruptive as SEC stadiums with twice its capacity.

And in 2011, how loud Davis-Wade can get will matter. A lot. The Bulldogs will play host to both of the consensus SEC West favorites and the closest thing the preseason has to an SEC East favorite--LSU visits Sept. 15, South Carolina Oct. 15 and Alabama Nov. 12. A State victory in any one of those three games could immediately turn the entire conference on its head--and given that this is Mullen's most experienced team yet, the guess here is that thanks in part to those cowbells, the Bulldogs will come away with at least one of those scalps. -- JH

49. DOAK CAMPBELL STADIUM, home venue, Florida State. The Seminoles' home field will play host to one of the biggest non-conference matchups of the season--and it takes place on the third weekend of football. On September 17, Oklahoma -- expected to be one of the top-ranked teams in the nation -- will visit Doak looking to repeat last year's thumping of FSU in Norman. The Seminoles return 17 starters from last year's team that finished the season as the ACC runner-up and Chick Fil-A Bowl champion, though, leading many to tap Florida State as the 2011 ACC frontrunner. It's safe to say head coach Jimbo Fisher has brought the hype back to Tallahassee in just his second year.

So the two juggernauts will collide in Doak Campbell Stadium. A win for Oklahoma would be a huge confidence boost after struggling in a few crucial road games over the last couple years. A win for Florida State would not only bring the Sooners' title hopes to a screeching halt, it would transform the home team from ACC favorite to national title contender. The 'Noles also get Maryland, N.C. State and Miami all at home, making Doak not only a key destination for the national title picture but the key venue for the ACC Atlantic race. If the Seminoles can escape the month of September undefeated, it could be their race to lose down the stretch. -- CP

48. AL GOLDEN, head coach, Miami. The Hurricane coaching search was heavily publicized and tossed around flashy names like Jon Gruden and Dan Mullen, but the final decision was on the decidedly less-flashy, hard-nosed Golden. Since joining the program, Golden has talked about changing the "culture" of Miami football. After watching the team prepare for the Sun Bowl, Golden said he wanted to practice faster, hit harder, and increase the toughness up and down the roster. His winter conditioning program produced players' tales of being worked harder than ever, and his gritty demands continued well into spring practice.

But Golden needs to be more than a strength coach and philosopher for the Hurricanes. He needs to be the face of the program moving forward, and the team needs to believe in his word. There is a roster full of talent in Coral Gables that has not come close to sniffing a conference championship. Since joining the ACC in 2004, the Hurricanes have yet to produce so much as a Coastal division title. Golden's arrival has brought a lot of excitement back to The U, but also the expectations for winning. If Golden is going to get the trust of Randy Shannon's team, he will need to show them that his "culture" produces championship-caliber football. -- CP

47. THE BIG TEN THANKSGIVING DINNER, new-and-improved rivalry weekend, November 25-26. The Big Ten, for better or worse, has always been unusually staid about its traditions--that means Saturday conference games only, no conference games after November 25 (which usually ends the season before Thanksgiving), and Michigan-Ohio State to end the conference season, always. That has worked out pretty well for the Big Ten for the most part, although Buckeye fans in particular have long rued the six weeks of layoff between a pre-Thanksgiving conference finish and a January BCS bowl game (since the SEC and most other conferences would only have four weeks).

Say goodbye to that disparity, though, because the Big Ten has moved the end of its regular season to Thanksgiving weekend. That decision plus the conference championship game equals football in December in the Big Ten, just like everywhere else. And what a regular season finale week the Big Ten has lined up for its fans this year: Michigan-OSU is still there, as fans demanded en masse when scheduling was going on, but now it's not the only show in town. Iowa and Nebraska have set up a season-ending rivalry for the next four years (one expects this to be made permanent if fans respond well to the new rivalry), and breaking with all sorts of conference tradition, it'll be on Friday. There's also a key showdown with Penn State at Wisconsin, and if Ohio State's not in contention for the (sigh) Leaders Division title, PSU-Wisconsin will likely have heavy implications for that bid to the championship. Same goes for Michigan State at Northwestern in the Legends Division. That's a heck of a way to spend a Thanksgiving weekend, isn't it? -- AJ

46. KELLEN MOORE, quarterback, Boise State. Kellen Moore's career thus far seems to have taken an arc we usually only see in TV shows. Last season was the "championship run" season, where Boise State was as poised as it ever was to crash the BCS Championship before fate conspired to take down the heroes. And make no mistake, Moore was a hero last year, leading the nation in passing efficiency and racking up 35 touchdowns to just six interceptions. He may not have had a chance to overtake Cam Newton for Heisman consideration, but his fate was sealed in the Broncos' 34-31 loss to Nevada--even though Moore threw a downright miraculous 53-yard bomb to Titus Young that put Boise in position to win the game.

If last season was all about the team taking its best shot at the title, this year's all about Moore; his top two receivers, Young and Austin Pettis, are both off to the NFL now, and key reserve RB Jeremy Avery is also gone. The Broncos find themselves in a tougher conference, too, though they still look to be favorites to win the Mountain West championship. If there were ever a time for Moore to erase the last of the doubts about his ability to play quarterback, this'll be it, and with any luck, this season'll end on a much more crowd-pleasing note for Moore and the rest of his teammates. -- AJ

45. THE PAC-12 HOT SEAT, conference furniture, Pac-12. When Pac-12 media days roll around next year, there's a good chance there will be a few different faces from this year's edition. While every conference has their fair share of coaches on the hot seat, it seems as though the Pac-12 has a hot couch with so many people to fit on it. Washington State's Paul Wulff, UCLA's Rick Neuheisel, Arizona State's Dennis Erickson and Cal's Jeff Tedford are those that are feeling the heat ... and a bad year by USC's Lane Kiffin could find him starting to sweat as well.

The coach with the best chance to get off of the seat is Erickson, who has a team full of upperclassmen and is primed to make a run at the first ever Pac-12 South title. Erickson is just barely over .500 in his time in Tempe and has only finished in the upper half of the conference standings once. Needless to say, it's put up or shut up time. Wulff's winning percentage is well south of the Mendoza Line (.135 entering 2011) and he probably needs to get the Cougars close to a bowl game in order to get another year. Neuheisel and Tedford both have upset fan bases and a really bad year will likely mean they're out; financial considerations might be the only thing that could keep them around. The hot seat is crowded in the Pac-12 and it should be fun to see who gets off of it this season -- one way or another -- first. -- BF

44. OKLAHOMA'S BUMPY ROAD, scheduling hurdle, Oklahoma. Oklahoma seems to be the popular pick to be ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls, which gives the Sooners an edge in its pursuit of a national championship. All it has to do is go undefeated -- that's it! -- and the Sooners will find themselves in the BCS Championship Game. Obviously, winning every single game on the schedule is not an easy thing to do, particularly when you've got that giant target on your back ... and things could be even tougher for Oklahoma when you look at their schedule.

Over the last two seasons, Oklahoma has played nine games on the road -- not counting neutral site games -- and the Sooners have gone a distressing 3-5. Last season the Sooners won two games on the road, against Cincinnati and Oklahoma State, but only won those games by a combined eight points. This season two of Oklahoma's toughest games will be on the road, as it travels to Florida State during the second week of the season and will finish the year against those same Cowboys in Stillwater. Then there's the neutral site battle with Texas. It wouldn't be a shock to anybody if the Sooners came away from those three games with at least one loss on the marker. And given that there's no longer a Big 12 title game that could help boost the Sooners' profile at the end of the year, that loss could singlehandedly derail the team's 2011 title hopes. -- TF

43. WILL MUSCHAMP, head coach, Florida. In some ways, Muschamp will have less pressure on him this season than the other two head coaches in the SEC East's "Big Three"; Mark Richt is firmly in win-or-else mode, and Steve Spurrier has to know his career won't last long enough to see talents like Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery come around again. Muschamp, meanwhile, may need a couple of seasons to get his favored pro-style offense working and his aggressive defense completely in place.

Then again, this is Florida. And Muschamp is replacing a coach with three SEC East titles and two national championships in the last five seasons alone; transition or no transition, a second straight year bumbling around the 7-5 mark with an offense barely fit to wear the same jerseys as the Spurrier Fun n' Gun or the Tim Tebow/Percy Harvin spread juggernaut won't go over well at all. The easiest way for Florida to improve, fortunately, is Muschamp's specialty: defense. The Gators have all the athletes needed to dominate on that side of the ball, and if Muschamp's going to extend his coaching honeymoon past the season's first month, they'd better. -- JH

42. BIG EAST CONFERENCE TIEBREAKERS, potential title-deciders, Big East. Since 2003, the Big East title has been split four times. Two of those times were between at least three teams, most recently last season when Connecticut won the tie-breaker over West Virginia and Pitt. As the conference's front office continues to eye expansion and the addition of a conference championship, the eight teams participating in conference play this fall will all be fighting for the BCS berth awarded to number one team in the standings.

With the seven game conference schedule (which is backloaded, for most teams), there are less games to separate the teams in the standings. Unless one team goes undefeated (West Virginia in 2005, Cincinnati in 2009), there is a good chance that there will be a tie at the top of the standings. In the final month of the season the Big East title hunt will become a wild collection of if/then scenarios, with each conference game carrying a tie-breaker significance. -- CP

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41. ROBERT GRIFFIN III, quarterback, Baylor. Last season the Baylor Bears finished the season 7-6 and played in their first bowl game in 16 years, a 38-14 loss to Illinois in the Texas Bowl. While there are plenty of reasons to help explain the turnaround in Waco the last few seasons, no person has had a bigger impact on the program than quarterback Robert Griffin III. The kid known as RG3 has not only been a star in the classroom, but on the field as well, accounting for 4,145 total yards and 30 touchdowns in 2010. Make no mistake about it: while the Baylor defense cost the team some games, Griffin kept the Bears in just about all of them with what he brought on offense.

As a redshirt junior in 2011, Griffin will be playing his fourth season with the Bears, and should be better than ever--a scary proposition for Big 12 defenses already struggling to stop him. While Baylor's defense will likely keep it from having a real shot to win the Big 12 this season, odds are that RG3 is going to have a big say in who ultimately does win the conference ... meaning that he could have a big impact on the national title picture as well before the year is finished. -- TF

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



Posted on: June 2, 2011 11:22 am
Edited on: June 2, 2011 11:28 am
 

UConn senior WR ruled academically ineligible

Posted by Chip Patterson

As the defending Big East champions, the Connecticut Huskies will expect everyone's best shot when they make their rounds back through conference play in 2011. Unfortunately, with a brand new coaching staff and lacking many of the key players from 2010's campaign - things could be a little more difficult. At the end of spring practice, head coach Paul Pasqualoni still had not decided on a starting quarterback, leading to some doubters in the Huskies ability to pass the ball next season. Things became even more difficult on Tuesday when Pasqualoni confirmed that leading receiver Mike Smith was academically ineligible to participate in the fall.

"Michael will be, obviously in the program," Pasqualoni told the Hartford Courant. "He will be in practice each day. He just will not participate in games."

Smith started in all 13 games last season, leading the team in catches (46) and yards (615). Right now the coaching staff is hoping that the senior will stick with the team, taking a redshirt year in 2011 and returning for his final year of eligibility in 2012.

"I do think this is a year that he can use to improve himself all the way around and then still have a final year of eligibility," Pasqualoni said.

Connecticut really doesn't have an adequate replacement for running back Jordan Todman - who in addition to anchoring the Huskies offense, ranked second nationally in rushing. With Smith's ineligibility, the Huskies enter camp looking for true leaders at the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver positions. The defensive line will be a strength, but they will need to be outstanding unless someone shows they can produce points in East Hartford.
Posted on: May 17, 2011 11:16 am
 

Teams to watch for turnover trouble

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

We're certainly not breaking any news when we tell you that turnover margin is, yes, the kind of statistic that can make or break a team's season or -- for regular readers of Phil Steele and the numbers-minded like -- one that fluctuates from season-to-season nearly at random. While elite teams like Pete Carroll's mid-decade USC squads can end up consistently on the positive side of turnover margin, this correlation study at College Football News concludes that for most teams, it's more about the bounce of the ball:
[I]t's clear that for most teams, the turnover margin they enjoy one year has virtually zero predictive value for the turnover margin they will enjoy the next year. That means that on average, teams with substantially positive margins will see major decline in margin the next year, and teams with substantially negative margins will see major improvement the next year. A team with a -10 turnover margin in 2009, for example, would have an expected turnover margin of -1.2 in 2010, an improvement of nearly a full turnover per game!
Again, it's not a surprising conclusion (though that "nearly a full turnover per game" number deserves the exclamation point). But it's worth emphasizing that as we start to look towards the 2011 season, we pay a particularly skeptical eye towards teams with gaudy -- and likely unsustainable -- 2010 turnover margins. Here's a few:

Tulsa (+17). The Golden Hurricane are likely to be among the Conference USA favorites thanks to the 1-2 punch of quarterback G.J. Kinne and receiver/returner Damaris Johnson, but their no-huddle attack has always been something of a turnover slot machine and the overhaul  on the coaching staff won't help limit mistakes.

Connecticut (+12). No one's expecting a repeat trip to the Fiesta Bowl, but Paul Pasqualoni might have an even more difficult job ahead of him than expected. With quarterback Zach Fraser gone and the defense unlikely to come up with 31 takeaways again, just staying on the positive side will be an accomplishment.

Army (+16). The Black Knights are in better shape under Rich Ellerson, program-wise, than they've been in ages. But as the study points out, it's tough to expect a team that's averaged a -5 finish over the past eight years to turn in overwhelmingly positive margins two years running.

Maryland (+15). The Terps finished tied for fifth in the nation in fewest giveaways, and while some of that was steady quarterbacking by Danny O'Brien, some of it was also an amazing four fumbles lost all season. (Only Ohio State and Wisconsin lost fewer.) A repeat performance in that department is highly, highly unlikely.

Oregon (+13), Oklahoma State (+12). Many national title contenders are able to rely on year-in, year-out success in the turnover department -- Alabama has been +36 over the past three seasons, Ohio State an incredible +48 in that span -- but in the cases of the Ducks and Cowboys, their 2010 margins reperesented a quantum leap forward; they finished at +2 and 0 the year before, respectively, with neither better than +5 the year before that.

If either is going to make their expected BCS push in 2011 (or another one, in Oregon's case), they'll have to show that 2010 was the start of a Buckeye- or Tide-like trend rather than a fortunate one-off.

Posted on: May 16, 2011 12:23 pm
 

Michael Box named UConn starting QB (sort of)

Posted by Chip Patterson

As new head coach Paul Pasqualoni continues to get settled into his new gig at Connecticut, the veteran coach has been assembling the pieces to try and repeat the most successful season in program history. With a brand new staff, and missing all-conference running back Jordan Todman, the Huskies' expectations for 2011 have been a bit of a question mark. Another area of uncertainty this offseason has been at the quarterback position, where as many as four different candidates have been considered possible starters in the fall. At the end of the spring practice, Pasqualoni told Desmond Conner, of the Hartford Courant that the position would be decided by alphabetical order for the time being.

He wasn't kidding.

The final spring depth chart was released, and Michael Box is listed as the starting quarterback. Scott McCummings is listed as the backup, with Johnny McEntee in the third position. Michael Nebrich, who was also considered a contender this spring, is listed fourth along with Blaise Driscoll.

So the competition will extend at least until fall camp. Box is the only one of the bunch with any experience from 2010, though his 6-for-17 stat line in three games of limited exposure do not exactly make the job his to lose. All of the quarterbacks struggled during spring scrimmages, which is as much a compliment to the Connecticut defense as it is a serious concern for the coaching staff. The hope is that as these young quarterbacks continue to spend time in the film room and around the facilities they will get comfortable enough to seize control of the offense in August. They might not be the team they were a year ago, but after picking up the Big East bid to the BCS, they will still have a target on their back when conference play begins.

Since we mentioned his name, and things are kind of slow anyway, let us revisit Johnny McEntee's YouTube fame.

Posted on: May 5, 2011 4:46 pm
Edited on: May 5, 2011 5:01 pm
 

What I learned this spring: Big East

Posted by Chip Patterson

With all eight teams completed with their spring games, we wrap up spring practice in the
Big East.

CINCINNATI:
For Cincinnati, the goal this spring was to improve defensively. To be more accurate, improving defensively is not just the "goal" but really an "only option for improvement." Second-year head coach Butch Jones needs to prove that 2010's 4-8 campaign was a fluke, or else the Bearcats' fans will begin to wonder whether or not hiring the coach from Central Michigan was the best move. Cincinnati returns all 11 starters from last year's defense that ranked dead last in the Big East in scoring defense and next to last in total defense. But there have been reasons to believe that the same unit can turn around their performance in 2011.

For the first time since most of the active roster arrived on campus, there is no turnover on the defensive staff. For the last three years, the defense has had to spend their spring learning a new system. Instead the defense has been able to spend the spring focusing on fundamentals, while simply reviewing last year's scheme. In theory, this should lead to more development for a unit that struggled to prevent big plays and close out games in the fourth quarter. Offensively, quarterback Zach Collaros has continued to grow more comfortable and looks ready to try and sign his name in the Cincinnati record books. Collaros led the Big East in passing yards and touchdowns last season, and has spent spring focusing on his accuracy (also threw a league-high 14 interceptions). Highly-touted transfer wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins did not get to showcase his full arsenal due to a nagging hamstring this spring, but should make an impact lining up opposite returning starter D.J. Woods. Many of the Bearcats' spring workouts and spring game were based much more on situational drills, which tend to reveal very little about the team as a whole, but the pieces seem to be aligning for a bounce back season for Cincinnati.

CONNECTICUT: New head coach Paul Pasqualoni has quite a challenge ahead trying follow up the most successful season in program history. Unfortunately Pasqualoni, a veteran of the Big East and Connecticut native, has to try and repeat the success with two new coordinators and without the 2010 Big East Offensive MVP Jordan Todman. Wrapping up the spring, it is evident that expectations for repeating as Big East champs should be tempered. However, the Huskies do have the pieces in place to return to the postseason for the fifth straight year.

The Huskies' biggest question marks still exist in the offensive backfield, where a true starting quarterback has yet to be named and USC-transfer D.J. Shoemate is still settling in to a Todman-less rotation. Connecticut finished dead last in passing offense last season, and it will be difficult to improve that aspect of their game without a starter. Michael Box, Scott McCummings, Michael Nebrich, and Johnny McEntee(of YouTube trick-shot fame), are all competing for a premiere spot in the quarterback rotation. The hope is that behind a talented offensive line Shoemate will be able to get the running game going against a weak early season schedule, allowing whoever wins the job some time to get comfortable.

Defensively, Connecticut should be fine heading into the fall. They are under the direction of new defensive coordinator Don Brown, who's defensive unit at Maryland forced 29 turnovers last season -- good for third in the ACC. The Huskies return their entire defensive line and secondary, and that experience could anchor a unit that could end up being one of the better defenses in the conference.

LOUISVILLE: It was very difficult to learn anything about Louisville this spring due to a roster that was decimated by injury. By the end of spring practice, head coach Charlie Strong was left with only 38 healthy scholarship players on the roster. Fourteen of the injured players took no part in spring drills, the rest were injured during workouts. For a team that is looking to replace 13 departed starters on the offensive and defensive units, it was a frustrating spring of indecision.

Most of the starting jobs are wide open in the Louisville depth chart, but junior Will Stein was able to use the spring to create some separation in the quarterback competition. Stein has already gotten a vote of confidence from Strong, and the high school state champion has waited patiently behind Justin Burke and Adam Froman for his opportunity to start under center. Cardinals fans entered spring salivating over early enrollee Teddy Bridgewater, but practice showed that the top-rated dual threat quarterback in the nation still has some learning to do before getting the keys to the offense. Stein completed 10 of 17 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the spring "game," but Strong was most pleased that there were zero interceptions. The starting quarterback's primary responsibility is to manage the game, as the Cardinals offense will once again rely on their running game in 2011.

But with Bilal Powell gone, the responsibility will fall on Jeremy Wright and Victor Anderson to replicate the best rushing offense in the Big East last year. Wright demonstrated his explosive potential in his freshman season, and Anderson was a 1,000 yard rusher in 2008 before shoulder injuries kept him limited in 2009 and 2010. Wright missed spring workouts with a knee injury, but Anderson enjoyed one of his best springs of his career. If the duo can be healthy at the same time, they could form one of the most dangerous rushing tandems in the conference.

PITTSBURGH: Another team entering the 2011 season with a new coach, the Panthers are not afraid to promote their new brand of "high-octane" football under head coach Todd Graham. Just a quick click over to the newly redesigned GoPittFootball.com should give just a taste of the kind of what Pittsburgh fans are hoping for out of the program's newest era. Graham comes to the Panthers fresh off a productive year at Tulsa, where his offense ranked 5th nationally in total offense with 505.6 yards per game. Dave Wannstedt had an awkward exit with his firing/forced resignation, particularly when he obviously still had the support of the team. But the squad seems to have embraced the new staff, and Graham believes that Pitt can be back in Big East title contention in 2011.

Learning the new offense has been the most important task for returning quarterback Tino Suneri. The junior signal-caller was inconsistent throughout 2010, finishing the season with 16 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. The son of Sal Sunseri, currently a linebackers coach at Alabama, Sunseri quickly acclimated himself with the new scheme and has finished the spring as the undisputed starting quarterback. In Pittsburgh's Blue-Gold game, Sunseri lit the rainy skies on fire tossing the ball 55 times (37 completions) for 416 yards and a pair of touchdowns. While the Sunseri will likely put up big numbers this fall in the new spread scheme, the offense has no plans of abandoning the run. Ray Graham returns from a strong sophomore campaign, picking up 922 yards and 8 touchdowns while sharing snaps with Dion Lewis. This year he'll be joined by Desmond Brown in the backfield, who was the leading rusher in the spring game with 64 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. Defensively, Pittsburgh has also been adapting to changes with defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. Patterson has been a longtime Graham assistant, and knows that the offense will dominate the headlines. But with spring practice in the bag, Patterson seems pleased with what he has seen out of the unit - particularly the defensive line.

"That front group has a chance to do some special things," Patterson said. "I feel really good about all those guys and what they are capable of. I think in our shceme they are going to be able to make a lot of plays against both the run and the pass."

Pittsburgh's defense will feature three down lineman, with a fourth "Panther linebacker" on the line of scrimmage upright on most downs. The Panthers have several athletic defenders who could fill this position, one early guess is Brandon Lindsey - who led the team with 17.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 2010. If the defense can force some turnovers to give the offense good field position, one of the Panthers' strengths could be putting teams away early. In the Big East, which is short on big-name, gun-slinging quarterbacks, that could be a huge advantage.

RUTGERS: Of all the teams looking to bounce back in 2011, Rutgers probably has the farthest climb to return to the prominence that led to five straight postseason appearances from 2005-2009. The Scarlet Knights return 17 starters from last year's 4-8 squad, and they are still one of the youngest teams in the league. Head coach Greg Schiano has some of the exact same concerns heading into the new season, though he has stressed that he feels like this squad has grown this spring.

"Fundamentally we made significant improvement, and I think we grew a little with our confidence," Schiano explained following the Scarlet-White spring game. "This summer is going to be critical as it is every summer, but probably more so than any summer we've had here.

"The youngsters have to get tougher, they have to get more disciplined, they have to get more consistent. And again, this summer will be huge."

One of the biggest concerns is on the offensive line. Last season the Scarlet Knights were dead last in Division I in sacks allowed, letting the quarterback drop a whopping 61 times. Sophomore quarterback Chas Dodd has grown more comfortable in the pro-style scheme of new coordinator Frank Cignetti. But Dodd's supposed comfort and improvement in spring could all change when the non-contact jersey comes off in September. If the offensive line shows an about-face in 2011, the Scarlet Knights have talented (but young) skill position players who could help take Rutgers back to the postseason.

All spring the reports from Piscataway have been praising the work of redshirt freshman Brandon Coleman. The 6-6 wide receiver entered Rutgers with high expectations, but any doubters have been silenced since he took the field this spring. Coleman put on a show for the 21,120 in attendance for the spring game with a 78 yard, two touchdown performance. Maybe he was setting the standard for another touted underclassmen who was watching from the sidelines, incoming freshman running back Savon Huggins. The No. 1 recruit in the state of New Jersey, Huggins was a signing day steal that invigorated the Rutgers fan base. He has not even received his high school diploma, but he already carries expectations from a fan base that pines for the next Ray Rice. But again, Huggins will have virtually no chance to showcase his talents without some help from the offensive line. If the Scarlet Knights are going to get back to the postseason, they still have some growing to do before September.

SOUTH FLORIDA: South Florida was the first team in the Big East to wrap up spring practice, holding their final scrimmage almost a month ago. It was an awkward spring schedule, getting started early and having to dance around conflicts for Raymond-James Stadium, but at the conclusion the Bulls appear to be about in the same position as they were a year ago. The Bulls averaged a 7-point margin of defeat and 4-point margin of victory in league play last season, making their season this close to magical and that close to disastrous. Still, head coach Skip Holtz was able to get USF back to the postseason and pull down a bowl victory - the Bulls' third in a row.

South Florida's time in the Big East could be categorized as "good-but-not-great." They have made a bowl every year (4-2 record), but never finished higher than tied for third in the league standings. At the end of spring practice the Bulls look good, but still have some work to do to reach greatness. Starting quarterback B.J. Daniels returns for junior season behind an inexperienced offensive line with a set of receivers that have been less than impressive. But similar to 2010, the playmaking ability of the offensive backfield will make South Florida a threat against most defenses in the league. Demetris Murray returns at running back after picking up 533 yards and four touchdowns as a backup to Moise Plancher a year ago. He will be joined by a pair of transfers, Darrell Scott (Colorado) and Dontae Aycock (Auburn). Both backs are larger than the 5-10, 206 pound Murray, and should compliment his style well. Scott finished the spring listed as the No. 2 running back, despite being setback by a nagging hamstring injury. Defensively the Bulls return six starters from a unit that, in typical Bulls fashion, stacks up right in the middle of the conference. They lose some run-stoppers on the defensive line, but the coaching staff has been pleased with the unit as a whole - particularly the linebackers. If the Bulls are going to go from good to great in 2011, they will need to focus on developing their wide receivers more this summer. Otherwise it might be another vanilla bowl game season for South Florida.

SYRACUSE: Coming into the spring, my one question for Syracuse was how head coach Doug Marrone planned to repeat the success of 2010 with so many playmakers missing from that Pinstripe Bowl-winning squad. But with spring practice in the books, it seems like the Orange are prepared to prove that last season was not a fluke - but the beginning of a new chapter in Syracuse football. The Orange jumped out to strong start last season with solid defense and running the ball. With all-Big East linebackers Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith gone, the responsibility has fallen on sophomore Marquis Spruill to anchor that corps as he makes the move to middle linebacker. Marrone believes that the strengths in the defense this season will be with the defensive ends and safeties. Seniors Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich will begin as starters, but expect to see a good amount of junior Brandon Sharpe as well after a strong spring. In the defensive backfield Phillip Thomas and Shamarko Thomas return as starting safeties while corners Keon Lyn and Ri'Shard Anderson both earned high praise for their efforts during the spring.

Offensively the number one question is how to replace Delone Carter. The 1,233 yard rusher from 2010 carried the Orange on his back when Ryan Nassib and the passing game sputtered, carrying the ball at least 18 times in eight different games. Antwon Bailey was exceptional as Carter's backup, but some people wonder whether the 5-7 running back can be an "every-down back." Bailey will be backed up by another speedster, the 5-9 Prince-Tyson Gulley. Orange fans are hoping that an improved passing game will help alleviate that pressure, and that responsibility falls on Nassib. Luckily, the offensive line returns 4 of 5 starters from last year and redshirt senior tight end Nick Provo showed his ability as a big, reliable target for when Nassib gets in trouble. The players claim that last year's success has changed the attitude this spring, and now they have a new belief in themselves. Talk is great in March and April, but we'll check back in on these guys in August.

WEST VIRGINIA:
The Mountaineers fell one game short of returning to a BCS bowl game in 2010, after an inability to score led to two early season conference losses. The Mountaineers offense eventually got going, finishing the regular season with at least 35 points in 3 of 4 straight victories. So in the interest of preparing for the future, and ensuring offensive stability, athletic director Oliver Luck arranged for the arrival of Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen. His impact has been obvious and immediate on the West Virginia offense, with quarterback Geno Smith falling comfortably into Holgorsen's spread system from day one. Smith finished the spring by throwing for 388 yards and four touchdowns in the spring game. Even against a talented Mountaineer defense, Smith was able to connect with his wide receivers for 44, 67, and a 38 yard touchdown pass. Holgorsen plans on supplying Smith with a deep rotation of running backs and receivers, pushing the ball horizontally and vertically. If Smith continues to improve on his already hot start in the new system, the Mountaineers should have no problem scoring the ball against the Big East defenses.

Defensively it is hard to make judgements based on performance against their own offense, but West Virginia does still have some work to do in the secondary. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has admitted he is already anxious to get back to camp, particularly after seeing how the unit performed in the spring game. The unit only returns four starters from last year, with defensive line likely being the Mountaineers strength. In Casteel's 3-3-5 scheme, the pressure is on the secondary to be everywhere on the field at once. Despite a wealth of athleticism at that position, there is still plenty of gelling left for the unit. But if the offense is putting up 30+ points per game (which they may), it should give the defense some time to come together before conference play begins.

Posted on: April 14, 2011 3:42 pm
Edited on: April 14, 2011 3:47 pm
 

Big East Spring Game Watch (April 15-16)

Posted by Chip Patterson

This weekend, five of the eight Big East teams will wrap up their spring practice with an annual spring game. Some teams will engage in game-like scenarios in front of thousands of onlookers, while other teams will engage in a more “drill-centric” display for their eager fans. Regardless of the setup, there are always pertinent questions to be answered whenever a team takes the field competitively. Here are your things to watch in the Big East spring games April 15-16.

Cincinnati - 5:30 p.m. Nippert Stadium
The Cincinnati Bearcats have claimed to be “all in” with head coach Butch Jones heading into his second season, and Saturday will be a chance to prove it to the public in “Bearcat Bowl V.” There won't be many new faces on the field for the Bearcats, with 18 starters returning from 2010's squad. One aspect worth keeping an eye on will be the performance of Cincinnati's secondary against the first-team offense. Quarterback Zach Collaros , a unanimous All-Big East first-team selection, not only gets D.J. Woods back at receiver but also junior college transfer Kenbrell Thompkins . Thompkins was a high-profile recruit committed to Tennessee before Lane Kiffin's departure. The Bearcats were burned through the air often last season, and some of the best competition around will be wearing the same jersey.

Connecticut - 5:00 p.m. Rentschler Field
Veteran coach Paul Pasqualoni has taken a more laid back approach to spring practice than some of his colleagues, but he believes it will pay off. As opposed to keeping things out of the spotlight, Pasqualoni has made the Huskies spring workouts as open as possible. The result has been a host of high school coaches at nearly every practice. The new coaching staff seems comfortable with the personnel, and the players have responded positively as well. Pasqualoni plans to showcase all aspects of the team, so more than anything it will be a glimpse of the Connecticut future. Even in the Fiesta Bowl the Huskies’ roster was filled with names unknown to the average college football fan, let’s see if any stand out on Saturday.

Louisville - 7 p.m. Friday, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium
A little bit of everything. Head coach Charlie Strong has kept spring practice closed to media and the public, making Friday night’s scrimmage both a first and last look at the Cardinals until fall practice. Unfortunately, even Friday’s look won’t be anywhere close to the lineup that Strong hopes to have on the field in September. As of Thursday morning, 22 different Cardinals were sitting out of workouts because of injury or rehabilitation. The situation has gotten so bad that they were forced to hold practice at 5:30 a.m. in order to accommodate the class schedules of the few healthy offensive linemen. The injuries also will restrict the activity in Friday night’s Spring Game, which will be exclusively be an offense/defense scrimmage-type format.

Pittsburgh - 2 p.m. Heinz Field
New coach Todd Graham has elected to run more of a “true football game” than the offense-defense structure of past spring games. Graham plans to kickoff at least twice, and run at least 60 offensive plays for the Blue and Gold teams. The thought is that the competitive environment will be the best test for players who are still getting used to a new systems and schemes. Not to mention, the 11-man scrimmage should provide for much more entertainment than some of the slow-paced situational scrimmages elsewhere. Even running back Ray Graham said that the Panthers have been treating this like a “game week” and look forward to showing their stuff to the coaches and fans on Saturday.

Syracuse - 11 a.m. Carrier Dome
Similar to Pittsburgh, Syracuse will be mixing up their spring game format this year. For the first time in 20 years the Orange will divide into two teams and conduct a game-like scrimmage, only with limited special teams. The scrimmage will be made of up four, 12-minute quarters with regular officials. The format should give fans a good opportunity to see who the next crop of defensive playmakers will be, as the Orange look to replace Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith. Spring practice has had some extra enthusiasm coming off the 8-5 season, we’ll see how much of that energy is present in a mostly-empty Carrier Dome at 11 in the morning.


Posted on: March 14, 2011 11:34 pm
Edited on: March 15, 2011 3:51 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Connecticut

Posted by Chip Patterson

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 Connecticut , who starts spring practice Tuesday.


Connecticut had their best season in program history in 2010. Can they continue that success with a brand new look in 2011?

After a bumpy start that included losses to Michigan, Temple, Rutgers, and Louisville, it looked like it might be another frustrating season for Randy Edsall and the upstart Connecticut Huskies. Sure, Connecticut had made plenty of rapid upgrades to the program since joining the FBS in 2002 and the Big East in 2004. But as October 2010 was drawing to a close, no one had Connecticut penciled in as their Fiesta Bowl pick.

Then something happened on a Friday night against West Virginia. Running back Jordan Todman ran 33 times for 113 yards and a touchdown, providing just enough of an offensive spark to compliment a Huskies defense that forced seven West Virginia fumbles. Connecticut recovered four of those fumbles and won 16-13 in overtime, their first victory against the Mountaineers.

That game seemed to change the entire path of the season. With new focus and determination, Connecticut finished the season with five straight conference wins and earned a share of the Big East regular season title, as well as the conference's bid to the Bowl Championship Series. It wasn't always pretty, but running on the shoulders of Todman and a playmaking defensive unit the Huskies found ways to win late in the season. It was the perfect year to steal the conference from perennial favorites like Pittsburgh and West Virginia, and that is exactly what they did.

Then we rang in 2011, sang Auld Lang Syne, and then it all changed for Connecticut.

Connecticut looked unimpressive in their 40-28 loss to Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl on New Years Day. While their arrival onto the BCS scene should have been celebratory, instead the media focused on the Huskies inability to move their allotment of 17,500 tickets. With a final estimation that the program actually lost $1.8 million on the trip to Glendale. To make matters worse, Edsall opted not to travel home with the team. The worst suspicions were confirmed in less than a day, Edsall was leaving to become the head coach at Maryland.

So now it is time to reload and reboot.

Edsall was the only coach Connecticut hired during their journey into Division I and eventually the Big East. With such a young program, they could not afford to take chances on their next head coach - they needed a sure thing. Connecticut got that by bringing in one of the most seasoned Big East coaches on the market. Paul Pasqualoni spent 14 as the head coach of the Syracuse Orange. In that time he was 107-59-1 with a 6-3 bowl record. But there will be no confusion as far as allegiances go, Pasqualoni is an in-state native, and this is a job he is taking personally.

Pasqualoni brought in George Deleone (Miami Dolphins) to serve as the new offensive coordinator, and Don Brown (Maryland) will coach the defense. With a new coaching staff in place, one of the challenges for spring practice will be learning new schemes and getting used to a new practice routine. Spring will also be a time to identify players to fill position needs, because there are plenty. None more obvious than the running back position. Not only has Todman, the Big East rushing leader, taken his talents to the next level, but backup running back Robbie Frey decided to transfer. Those two backs combined for 2084 of the 2271 team rushing yards in 2010.

"Obviously this spring is going to be a big, big spring for a lot of areas, and one of the big concerns on offense is the tailback position," Pasqualoni told The Hartford Courant in February. "We're going to work as hard as we can work in that area, try to evaluate all the potential that we have there with the skill guys on the offensive side of the ball. We've got two guys coming in. One [Max DeLorenzo] is a downhill, can-make-yards-after-contact guy. The other guy [Deshon Foxx] is a little bit smaller, puts his foot in the ground, makes a cut, makes people miss and outruns people because he's just got flat-out excellent speed."

But tailback isn't the only big-time position with a lot of question marks. Actually, the quarterback spot on the depth chart might as well be a big question mark. Spring practice will start with a wide-open race between four quarterbacks who combine for only one collegiate start (Michael Box). Box is competing against newcomers Scott McCummings, Michael Nebrich, and Johnny McEntee, of YouTube "Trick Shot" fame. With Nebrich enrolling early, he will join the Huskies in spring practice and the quarterback battle should begin from day one. For no other reason than experience, many are giving Box a slight edge in the battle. But there are no guarantees that he will be the starter in September.

One of the ways to gain an edge heading into the season will be developing a connection with Connecticut's wide receivers. The Huskies return all of their starters, and while they did little to impress anyone in 2010, they might be one of the most stable units on the field right now. The group will be led by Kashif Moore. Moore anointed himself as one of the leaders of this team when Edsall bolted for College Park. It was Moore who was texting the players, telling them things were going to be OK. Desmond Conner, of The Hartford Courant, also points out that Moore has decided to wear Jasper Howard's No. 6 this season. Which as you can assume, takes on far more meaning than just the number change.

On the defensive side of the ball, new coordinator Don Brown will have to find a way to replace senior linebackers Scott Lutrus and Lawrence Wilson. They acted as the point-guard's of this playmaking defense, swarming to the ball and directing their teammates on the field. Instead of the leadership coming from the linebacking position, Huskies fans might see it come from up front.

Seniors Kendall Reyes (a captain in 2010) and Twyon Martin will anchor a defensive line that might be the most promising aspect of the defense. Rising juniors Jesse Joseph and Trevardo Williams are both returning from productive sophomore campaigns, and will be counted on for quality minutes as well.

While the end of spring practice may not give us all of the answers to the many questions for Connecticut, it is still arguably one of the most important springs for the program. Connecticut has a lot of holes to fill, and a lot of questions to answer in order to defend their Big East crown in 2011. It will come down to how quickly and effectively the team can buy into the new coach, and new systems in Storrs. One thing that the Huskies do have going for them in 2011? One of the easiest non-conference schedules in the league. Connecticut's only BCS opponents are Vanderbilt and Iowa State, so there should be plenty of opportunities to pick up the extra wins necessary to return to the postseason.

Paul Pasqualoni started his Syracuse career with a bang, going 20-4 in his first two seasons. Now we see if he can do it again, a decade later, with the flagship university of his home state.

Connecticut begins spring practice Tuesday March 15

Click here for more Spring Practice Primers
Posted on: March 1, 2011 3:34 pm
 

So now here's a long-snapping trick shot video

Posted by Adam Jacobi

It's clear now that 2011 will be the off-season of the trick shot video in college football, with outstanding submissions by quarterbacks Johnny McEntee of UConn and Alex Tanney of Monmouth. But throwing the ball overhand like that? So played out. So February.

The logical next step, then, is long-snapping, and Zach Enyeart of Washington State is here to school the masses on how to do that properly. It's now time to watch four minutes of long-snapping tricks, because why not? It's the off-season!

There's an endearing goofiness to it, like a PG-rated Jackass episode -- for crying out loud, there's a target hanging between a guy's legs -- but with tricks instead of human misery (the denouement aside, of course). Also, the golf course sequence was particularly inspired, and we'd like to believe that his "putt" was on the first take so it's a legit par. Odds aren't great on that, but this is a trick shot video on YouTube; the end product is what matters, not the process.

One must wonder, though, that if we're already in the long snap portion of this fad and it's been less than a month, where will it go by June or July? Athletic trainer stunts? Check out this person putting an air cast on a shattered tibia in under 30 seconds! Watch as the trainer throws balls of tape into a garbage can from 30 rows up at the stadium! Who can stay in the cold tub the longest without developing life-threatening hypothermia???

Actually, now that I think of it, I really want to watch an athletic trainer trick shot video. Get at it already, Internet!

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