Tag:Dan Mullen
Posted on: June 24, 2011 3:20 pm
 

Hot Seat Ratings show SEC stability

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

When it comes to the SEC and coaching turnover, there's reputation, and there's reality.

The reputation is that with a heaping help of pressure from the nation's most rabid fanbases, the nation's most cutthroat conference hires and fires head coaches on the slightest of whims, for the most gentle of disappointments. And certainly, there have been some head-scratchers over the years, like David Cutcliffe's sudden dismissal from Ole Miss or Houston Nutt's tumultuous departure from Arkansas despite years of success.

But as illustrated by Dennis Dodd's CBS Hot Seat Ratings, since the 2008 season -- and the surprising exits of long-tenured Auburn and Tennessee head coaches Tommy Tuberville and Phillip Fulmer, as well as Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom -- the league that supposedly sees its head coaches change with the wind has in fact become a model of relative stability. Collectively, the SEC has fired just a single coach the past two seasons--Vanderbilt's Robbie Caldwell, himself only hired as a last-minute replacement following Bobby Johnson's retirement.

Four other coaches have left the league in that span, but all of them -- Urban Meyer at Florida, Lane Kiffin at Tennessee, Rich Brooks at Kentucky and Johnson -- did so voluntarily, and in Brooks's case the seamless transition to coach-in-waiting Joker Phillips barely even qualifies as a "coaching change."

That newfound reticence to put coaches on the firing line is reflected in Dodd's ratings, which show just one current SEC coach rated above the median "on the bubble" 3. You get one guess who:

Alabama Nick Saban 0.0
Arkansas Bobby Petrino 1.0
Auburn Gene Chizik 0.0
Florida Will Muschamp 0.5
Georgia Mark Richt 3.5
LSU Les Miles 2.5
Mississippi Houston Nutt 3.0
Mississippi State Dan Mullen 0.0
South Carolina Steve Spurrier 0.0
Kentucky Joker Phillips 1.5
Tennessee Derek Dooley 3.0
Vanderbilt James Franklin 2.0

Assuming we don't have some unforeseen three-win meltdown with Nutt in Oxford, there's a very real possibility the SEC enters 2012 with the same 11 head coaches listed above. Richt is -- without question -- the SEC coach in the most trouble, but he's also a coach with an extremely favorable 2011 schedule, a wealth of talent on hand, and perhaps the most patient administration in the conference.

And if Richt's still here, who won't be? The Spurrier retirement rumors have been securely put to bed with the arrival of recruits like Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney. A big 2010 has Miles back on (mostly) firm footing; it'll take multiple down years (or a grass overdose) for him to earn a pink slip. Dooley has at least another couple of seasons with the benefit of the doubt (if we may quibble with Dodd's "3"). And while the aforementioned meltdown might do the trick for Nutt with the Rebels, between his track record and the back-to-back Cotton Bowls -- not something that happens on the regular in Oxford -- he almost certainly has another season of rope.

The most likely coach to keep the SEC from going 12-for-12 in the retention department isn't likely to be fired at all, in fact; it's Dan Mullen, who could be one more sterling season in Starkville away from getting the kind of megabucks, keystone program offer the Bulldogs just can't quite match.

But the guess here is that Dodd, overall, is entirely correct--if Mullen stays put and Richt can salvage eight or nine wins, there's not enough heat under the SEC seats to expect a coaching change anywhere in the league's 12 head coaching positions.


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 1, 2011 2:02 pm
 

Mullen compares Toomer's Corner to cowbells

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen made sure that he wouldn't be picking up any fans at Auburn on Wednesday afternoon by comparing the poisoning of the oak trees at Auburn's Toomer's Corner with the ban on cowbells at Mississippi State. Mullen made the comparison when speaking to reporters on Wednesday.



One one hand, I completely understand what Mullen is saying. When Harvey Updyke allegedly poisoned the trees at Toomer's Corner, he did so as a way to hurt Auburn and Auburn fans. Revelling in an Auburn victory at Toomer's Corner has been a tradition amongst generations of Auburn fans. The same can be said of generations of Mississippi State fans annoying the hell out of opponents with cowbells over the years. So I get what Mullen is saying when he says that people wanted to hurt an Auburn tradition.

The difference is that the trees at Toomer's Corner weren't sentenced to death by a vote amongst the SEC, as MSU's cowbells were by a 9-1 vote years ago. The cowbells are banned from use during SEC games in Starkville, though that really hasn't done anything to stop State fans from bringing them to the game and using them. The school just pays a fine every year, and everybody lives happily ever after while giving opponents a headache.

Those oak trees, however, should they die, will be gone forever. Sure, new ones can be planted, but trees don't just grow over night. If a Mississippi State fan has their cowbell taken away, they can easily buy another one. Century old trees aren't sold on the corner.

Posted on: April 25, 2011 11:23 pm
Edited on: April 25, 2011 11:24 pm
 

Miss. St. WR breaks jaw in altercation

Posted by Tom Fornelli

How did you spend your holiday weekend? Personally I just hung around the house and watched a whole lot of sports. Which is a much different story than the one Mississippi State wide receiver Chris Smith would tell you if he wasn't having so much trouble talking right now. It seems Smith found himself in the middle of some kind of "altercation" this weekend, and he has himself a broken jaw to show for it.

Smith, a rising junior, will undergo surgery Tuesday in Columbus and is not expected to miss workouts or fall practice, a team spokesman confirms. The altercation occurred Saturday, MSU coach Dan Mullen said when reached by telephone Monday night. Details surrounding the altercation were not immediately known. A request seeking a possible police report from the Meridian Police Department was not fulfilled Monday evening.

“We’re still investigating all the events around what happened,” Mullen said.

I see a whole lot of milkshakes in Smith's future, which seems pretty awesome until you remember he has a broken jaw.

Smith didn't get a lot of playing time in 2010, though he did finish the season strong for the Bulldogs and is expected to get more playing time in 2011. After not doing much of anything all year, Smith caught 13 passes for 165 yards in Mississippi State's final three games.

Posted on: April 23, 2011 10:12 pm
 

Site challenges Cam Newton to lie detector test

Posted by Tom Fornelli

At the moment, Cam Newton is busy worrying about his future in the NFL. He's working out for numerous pro teams who are trying to get an idea of how the kid who dominated college football last season will perform in the professional game. Of course, no matter how he performs in the NFL, odds are that Newton is going to get a nice contract before he ever steps foot on an NFL field.

Though if Cam would like a shot at earning $1 million before that, it seems that somebody is giving him a chance.

A website has been created at camnewtonliedetector.com that challenges the former Auburn quarterback to take a lie detector. According to the site, if Cam Newton can answer "no" to four simple questions and pass the test, the site owner will give him $1 million. What are the questions?

- Prior to signing with Auburn, were you aware your father was “shopping” you to Mississippi State or any other school?

- Did you tell Dan or Meghan Mullen that you signed with Auburn because of the money because you truly believed Auburn had paid for your commitment?

- Did anyone on the Auburn coaching staff/athletic department instruct you how to answer questions from the NCAA by lying or avoiding the truth?

- Did you or your family ever receive any impermissible benefits from Auburn?

I would just like to point out right here and now that I can answer no to all four of these questions and pass any kind of lie detector you would like to subject me to. Can I get $1 million? I'll even let you shoot video of me taking the test and post it on the internet. I'm that confident.

Of course, you do have to wonder if the person challenging Newton to the test actually has the funds to pay Newton the money if he passes. You also have to challenge that person's sanity. I'm just not sure I'm willing to risk that much money in case Newton did pass the test, no matter how confident I was that he wouldn't.

I mean, it's just college football, folks. I love the game too, but not that much.

Posted on: April 20, 2011 3:06 pm
 

SEC Post-Spring Conference Call Recap

Posted by Bryan Fischer

All twelve SEC head coaches jumped on board a conference call to talk about their Spring Practices. Here's a few notes on what each coach said.

Les Miles, LSU

On senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson:

"He gets it out of his hand so quickly now and goes through his reads much quicker," Miles said. "There's much less hesitation in his decision-making process. I also think going into your senior year, there's a want to have a great senior year, and the leadership position is something your quarterback must embrace.

Miles also said that new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe has been a major help for all of the quarterbacks on the roster. Backups Zach Mettenberger and Jarrett Lee pushed Jefferson this spring and will continue to do so in the fall, which makes the team better.

Will Muschamp, Florida

On quarterback John Brantley this spring:

"I’m really pleased with his poise, leadership and habits off the field studying what we need to do to be successful,” Muschamp said. “He’s got the ability and we’re very pleased.”

On Brantley's tough spring game:

“I don’t think in the spring game John had much of a chance,” Muschamp said. “I was behind him and saw it coming pretty fast, too.”

Muschamp made Florida's policy on grayshirting very clear, in that they don't do it period. He also mentioned that Javares McRoy transferred because he wants to play with his brother and Chris Dunkley left because, "sometimes things don't fit." All the injured Florida players should be healthy and ready to go this summer.

Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

On oversigning:

"Well, we like the way the rule is now because we actually sign four or five guys that are on the bubble of qualifying. This year we've got about five that haven't quite done it and probably three that won't make it," Spurrier said. "We could not sign all of our guys which was embarrassing for us a little bit and for them. Sometimes time heals a lot of wounds. It appears that one guy in particular will be able to sign and come with us when all the freshmen report. Our state education is.. a lot of them are borderline of qualifying or not. It's helpful for the University of South Carolina to be able to oversign."

Spurrier touched on suspended quarterback Steven Garcia, which you can read more about here. It's the Old Ball Coach's 66th birthday today and he said he was teeing off with Boo Weekley at a pro-am this afternoon. Spurrier was upbeat on current quarterback Connor Shaw, even joking he "is from our planet," in contrast to Garcia.

James Franklin, Vanderbilt

On the challenge at Vandy:

"I love the word daunting. To me, it's an opportunity, it's a challenge," Franklin said. "Just like everything else in life, it's how you look at it and perceive the situation. The way myself, this staff and this program looks at it, we have a chance to really do something special."

Franklin said the team stayed healthy for the most part this spring which was key because of depth issues. The spring was mainly about laying a foundation and the head coach felt they did that.

Derek Dooley, Tennessee

On the fan base being more united with some stability in the program:

"I hope fans see a coach who wants to be here and appreciates the tradition and the history of Tennessee football and has a good systematic approach on and off the field," Dooley said.

The head coach also said his honeymoon was over with the fans and that it ended at kickoff of last season. Dooley dismissed some of the struggles of quarterback Tyler Bray in the spring game because of the way he performed throughout the spring. He briefly touched on the 'Dooley Rule' that was implemented requiring a runoff of time in the last minute of a game on a penalty and said that it makes the game better.

Nick Saban, Alabama

On meeting with players to evaluate their progress:

"We go over a player's strengths, weaknesses, things he needs to work on, academic circumstance, personal issues, problems, leadership things he can contribute," Saban said. "It's pretty comprehensive to sit down and talk, sort of develop a plan for what that person needs to do to be successful personally, academically and athletically." 

Saban discussed the quarterback battle between Phillip Sims and A.J. McCarron, including the possibility of playing both. Saban mentioned walk-on defensive back Ranzell Watkins as one player who is in the competition for a starting job because of his hard work this spring.

Bobby Petrino, Arkansas

On the QB battle between Tyler Wilson and Brandon Mitchell:

"I think they still have a long way to go," Petrino said. "They both have great leadership qualities but they have a ways to go to do their job well so they can lead by example first."

Petrino said the Spring Game was one of the most attended in history and was a big deal because it was televised. He was pleased with figuring some of his offensive line out this spring and thought his defense showed off the veteran unit's maturity. Petrino mentioned having four good receivers will help the offense tremendously no matter the quarterback.

Houston Nutt, Ole Miss

On QB Randall Mackey's spring:

"I thought Randall Mackey had an outstanding spring," Nutt said. "You can see why he was a junior college All-American quarterback. He can really spin the play and buy some time, he has some escapablity and is very accurate. We knew he could be in the shotgun but he got up under center much better."

Nutt said Mackey was ahead in the quarterback derby but nothing is finalized until this fall. He thought the few seniors on the team really stepped up and showed great leadership. Nutt also liked the way the defensive tackles got better as the spring went on and felt they also became more physical. He labeled Wesley Pendleton as the surprise of the spring.

Mark Richt, Georgia

On spring practice overall:

"I think we got better, we practiced with the right amount of intensity," Richt said. "We competed well, guys were competing for jobs, competing in offense versus defense."

Richt said the offensive tackle situation is fluid and still up in the air and the third guy could end up playing both left and right tackle. Richt said he wouldn't ban social media for his players because he knows it's such a big part of their lives. "They sacrifice enough with the amount of time they put in," he said. Richt did mention that it would be an issue if a guy is irresponsible with it. Richt wouldn't comment on the locker room thefts that occurred a few weeks ago.

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

On the quarterback position:

“The competition, to me, is wide open right now,” Mullen said. “Chris Relf, obviously, did a great job this spring. I don’t know if he separated himself from all the other guys but he also has the experience and has played in the game and has done nothing to not be our top quarterback at this point going into the summer.”

Mullen didn't comment on any of the injuries on the team. He mentioned that since there were so many young players, it was good to get some practice time with them and they did a great job. He said the defense won't really change with the departure of Manny Diaz but that they would try a few new things. Mullen said he doesn't have a top-flight wide out but the group overall is very solid.

Gene Chizik, Auburn

On the all the distractions around the program:

"We only focus on one thing and that's what we can control,' Chizik said. "We know we're doing everything the right way and feel good about the direction of the program. We don't pay attention to any outside distractions."

Chizik thought there was an eagerness to learn from the younger players on the team but they have a long ways to go. He wanted the quarterbacks to be more consistency and will be a battle into the fall. Incoming quarterback Kiehl Fraizer will be in the mix as well.

Joker Phillips, Kentucky

On what he's gotten out of spring football:

"I've really been pleased with the progress of our team defensively," Phillips said. "I'm really pleased after 14 practices that we're getting the best personnel on the field and we're unitizing some of our better people."

Phillips liked the development of the quarterbacks and feels they can be a better passing team in the fall. He said they're in "desperate need" of somebody stepping up on the perimeter at wide receiver and being a playmaker.

Posted on: April 19, 2011 4:42 pm
Edited on: April 19, 2011 4:55 pm
 

What I Learned This Spring: SEC West

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

With all six spring games completed, we wrap up spring practice in the SEC West, team by team. In alphabetical order:

ALABAMA: The two big headlines for Tide fans this spring were the quarterback battle between A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims (pictured), and the unveiling of the new Nick Saban statue added to those of the school's first three national title-winning head coaches. As our own Dennis Dodd reported (and as you can hear for yourself in the reverent tone of this student news broadcast), the statue left the Tide faithful plenty satisfied; the quarterback battle, not so much, as neither McCarron nor Sims was able to create any real separation from the other. (How close were they? At A-Day, McCarron went 21-of-38 for 222 yards and one interception, Sims 19-of-38 for 229 yards and an interception.)

But as we pointed out in our Tide spring primer, who's at the reins of the offense isn't nearly as important as whether the offense can remain productive without Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, et al. With Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower each looking like terrors this spring in the linebacking unit and All-American safety Mark Barron showing few ill effects of his postseason pectoral muscle surgery (he returned a fumble 96 yards for a score at A-Day), the defense looks poised to live up the "best in the nation, or damn close" expectations. All the offense has to do is not screw things up, and the running game -- behind Trent Richardson, a dynamo on A-Day with 167 all-purpose yards, and a loaded line with former five-star right tackle D.J. Fluker beginning to fulfill his vast potential -- appeared ready to do the job nearly by itself.

The Tide still haven't found what looks like a go-to receiver in the wake of Jones' departure (Richardson led both sides in receptions and yards at A-Day), and the McCarron/Sims derby could be a distraction lasting well into the fall. But given the help either one will receive from the running game (and line) on display Saturday, none of that might matter.

ARKANSAS: The big question before spring started was simply "can the Hogs handle losing Ryan Mallett?" And though the Red-White game certainly isn't a guarantee, it's definitely an arrow pointed in the direction of "goodness, yes." Likely new quarterback Tyler Wilson averaged 9.7 yards per his 25 attempts, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His receiving corps -- on paper, the SEC's best, hands-down -- lived up to its billing, with Jarius Wright hauling in five balls for 157 yards and two scores. The White team defense had its moments, too, holding All-SEC candidate Knile Davis to just 44 yards on 16 carries.

The Hogs' spring wasn't perfect -- backup tailback Broderick Green went down for the year with an ACL tear -- and Bobby Petrino hasn't even officially named Wilson the starter yet. But with the quarterback position looking solid and the defense boasting its best spring in years, the loss of Mallett sure hasn't put much of a dent in the Hogs' new position as West challengers just yet.

AUBURN: The Tigers entered the spring looking for playmakers to fill at least part of the colossal void left by Cam Newton's and Nick Fairley's departures. And at defensive end, they may have found some; sophomores Corey Lemonier and Nosa Eguae both drew positive reviews throughout the spring, and previously little-used junior Dee Ford burst into the rotation with a big camp and a pair of sacks at Auburn's A-Day game. New line coach Mike Pelton said he was impressed by -- and would use -- all three this fall.

The rest of the defense didn't have a shabby A-Day, either, as they defeated the offense 63-32 in Gene Chizik's unique scrimmage scoring system. But most of the offense's efforts went towards polishing up the passing attack (tailbacks Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb combined for just seven carries), and those efforts didn't yield much in terms in terms of finding big-play potential. Tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen (pictured) won MVP honors for his 65 yards receiving and catching the lone touchdown of the scrimmage, and DeAngelo Benton added one 48-yard reception. But otherwise, offensive excitement was hard to come by, and Chizik afterwards called the quarterbacking from Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley "inconsistent." (The two will compete for the starting job into the fall.)

Under Chizik, Auburn hasn't made much of an effort to put on a show in their spring game -- the reviews on Newton's debut in the 2010 version were universally ho-hum -- but there still seems little doubt Gus Malzahn will look for much more explosiveness out of his attack come fall camp.

LSU: It's the same old story on the bayou. The Tigers entered spring hoping to finally put their quarterbacking issues to rest behind someone, be it incumbent starter Jordan Jefferson or someone else ... and left it with Jefferson still the starter and still on less-than-firm ground after an ugly 4-of-14, no touchdowns, one interception performance.

Well, less-than-firm ground with the LSU fanbase , anyway. Bayou Bengal supporters seem to have universally pinned their hopes on JUCO transfer Zach Mettenberger, despite Mettenberger being mired at third on the depth chart entering the spring game. But you can't blame them when Jefferson struggled the way he did, Jarrett Lee averaged all of 4.5 yards per-attempt (with a pick, of course) and Mettenberger did this:
 


None of that made any difference to Les Miles and the LSU staff, who gave Jefferson the team's "Jim Taylor Award" for his spring effort and leadership. And quarterback or no quarterback, LSU showed how formidable they'd be all the same: Spencer Ware followed up his breakout Cotton Bowl performance with a huge spring, the secondary looks as airtight as ever even without Patrick Peterson, and there's plenty of playmakers on both sides of the ball.

But unless Jefferson lives up to his coaches' faith in him -- and that spring game performance did little to assure anyone he will -- LSU's still going to have some headaches.

MISSISSIPPI STATE, OLE MISS: Despite their wildly divergent 2010 seasons, the question for both Mississippi schools was the same entering the spring: how would their defenses fare after losing several major contributors from last year?

In Oxford, that question was all the more important for last year's defense having been such a disappointment in the first place. And it got even harder to answer mid-spring when potentially the unit's best player, linebacker D.J. Shackelford, was lost for the year with an ACL tear. The Rebel defense had a successful spring game all the same, holding the two offenses to just 27 total points and scoring seven of their own on an Ivan Nicholas interception return. But coming against a Rebel offense in flux after seeing former JUCO Randall Mackey ascend to the likely starter's job (and former favorite Nathan Stanley leave the program), the jury will remain out despite the positive signs.

Up the road in Starkville, the news seemed more unambiguously positive: Dan Mullen said his defensive line "dominated" the Marron-White Game, producing 11 tackles-for-loss. The Bulldogs already seemed happy with their new linebackers, and that was before redshirt freshman Ferlando Bohanna blew up for eight tackles and a pair of sacks in the spring game. The secondary may remain a work-in-progress (State quarterbacks, including backup Dylan "Yes, That" Favre, combined to average a healthy 7.8 yards per-attempt), but the front seven looks like it shouldn't take too big a step back.

We'll cover the SEC East next week once the slowpokes at Kentucky hold their spring game this weekend.


Posted on: March 16, 2011 12:12 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Florida

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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 Florida , who starts spring practice today.

Spring Practice Question: What's going to be drawn on the blank slate of the Florida offense?

As spring practice 2011 opens, there may be no single unit in the entire country more intriguing than the Florida offense.

It's true. Consider that just three years ago it was the envy of college football, an unstoppable force led by the Heisman-winning Tim Tebow, featuring the most explosive receiving/rushing playmaker in the college game in Percy Harvin, drawn up and play-called by one of the best spread-option gurus in the nation in Dan Mullen, positively littered with future successful pros like Maurkice Pouncey and Aaron Hernandez ... it was the kind of offense custom-built to win a national championship, and it did. And then two seasons later, in the hands of Steve Addazio,  it was a crumbling heap that finished an unthinkable 82nd in total offense. That was an offense built to go 7-5, and it did, too.

So it's hardly surprising Will Muschamp decided to scrap the entire thing and start over. It's maybe somewhat surprising, though, he'd start over with something he's familiar with but Florida hasn't run in ages: a true two-back, under-center, pro-style system as run by the newly-contented Charlie Weis.

The result of that decision is that what we know about the new Gator offense is dwarfed by what we don't, the questions at this stage far outnumbering the answers. A sampling:

Is Weis's offense going to incorporate anything left over from the Meyer era? It's not what Weis knows or what Muschamp hired him for, so don't expect much different from Weis's offenses at Notre Dame or the Kansas City Chiefs. But with a collection of personnel recruited for (and in many cases, much better-suited) the Meyer spread, there must be the temptation to include certain elements of the old scheme here and there. We'll see if Weis gives in to that temptation this spring.

Can John Brantley's career be salvaged? If there's any former Meyer recruit who might have been happy to see the offense overhauled, it would have to be the pass-first Brantley, who was asked by Addazio to fill many of the running-game holes Tebow did without only the tiniest fraction of the success. Weis's system could make Brantley a star, but whatever offense he's running, Brantley will have to be substantially more poised this spring if he's going to hold off a challenge from early-enrolled freshman Jeff Driskel.

What happens to the heirs to Harvin? What success the Gator offense had in 2010 was frequently the result of getting the ball to Jeff Demps, the diminutive sprinter who took several handoffs the distance. But a pro-style tailback job doesn't typically go to backs of Demps's (or fellow veteran blazer Chris Rainey's) size, and Demps's history of nagging injuries won't help him convince Weis and Muschamp he or Rainey will be ready to be an every-down back. With one of those injuries sidelining Demps for at least the start of spring, the larger Mike Gillislee or Mack Brown may be able to stake their claim to the position.

Will the offensive line bounce back? Much of the disappointment of 2010 started with the disappointing play up front, as a veteran line began its year with Mike Pouncey memorably dribbling snaps back to Brantley in the season opener and never seemed to truly recover. Now the Gators enter spring with a new line coach brought in from the NFL in Frank Verducci, and just one healthy 2010 starter available. But the competition for open spots and fresh voice following the departure of Addazio could lead to better results all the same.

Will any playmakers step up in the receiving positions? Yes, the receivers were a problem last year too, as the entire corps of wideouts and tight ends totaled just eight touchdown receptions and as a team the Gators averaged barely more than 10 yards a completion. Deonte Thompson led the way by netting 15 yards per-catch and 570 yards total; a big spring should establish him as the team's clearcut No. 1 and a potential All-SEC candidate. But it will also be worth watching Jordan Reed and Trey Burton, top-drawer athletes who moonlighted as Wildcat quarterbacks a year ago and have been shifted into starting roles as a tight end and slot receiver, respectively. If Thompson's ready to take the next step and Weis can find the best way to put Reed and Burton to use, the Gators could come out of spring with plenty of optimism regarding their receiving corps.

With so many questions, it seems unlikely Florida will find the right answers to all of them. But with so many potential answers at virtually any position you choose, whatever Weis and Muschamp cook up, it promises to be fascinating viewing ... and at the least, a good bit more effective than the not-even-close-to-fascinating viewing the Gators offered last season.


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