Tag:Greg Schiano
Posted on: August 2, 2011 1:50 pm
Edited on: August 2, 2011 1:51 pm
 

Big East Media Day: Coaches Highlights

Posted by Chip Patterson

Big East Media Day got started in Newport the the release of the preseason media poll and opening remarks from commissioner John Marinatto and all eight head coaches. Each coach was given several minutes to address the media and share some thoughts on the upcoming season.

Pretty much every coach spent some time talking about the competition in the league. It was pointed out several times that 5 of the 8 teams have earned a share of the conference title since 2006, and all eight teams have earned at least one bowl berth in the last two years. Also many of the coaches expressed their excitement for the arrival of TCU and the topic of the upcoming media deal negotiation was not ignored. Other than Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, no other coach has been in his current post for longer than three seasons. The anxiousness to get into fall camp was another common theme, particularly for new coaches Todd Graham, Dana Holgorsen, and Paul Pasqualoni.

Below are some highlights from each coach's time at the podium.

Rutgers - Greg Schiano

- Schiano acknowledged the late-season collapse from 2010. "The wheels came off," he explained to the media. "We'll return Rutgers football to its winning ways, to bowl games." The Scarlet Knights had been to five straight bowl games (winning four in a row) until 2010's last place finish.

- One of the weakest points in Rutgers' offense a year ago was the offensive line. With new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, Schiano believes the Scarlet Knights will return to being a "power football team." Says they've made some schematic changes to the line, but also believes they "are a better group than we were at any time last year."

- Highly touted running back Savon Huggins has become a star in the Rutgers football community before even setting foot on campus. Schiano made no promises about the starting running back position, but instead listed the entire group and said that Huggins will "make for great competition" when camp opens.

West Virginia - Dana Holgorsen

- "Excited to get to do this a year early" was the closest Holgorsen came to mentioning former head coach Bill Stewart. However he did spend a considerable amount of time complimenting the work of defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. While the Mountaineers lost seven starters from the defensive unit to the NFL, Holgorsen believes they have a "good nucleus" of players coming back to lead the 2011 edition of Casteel's defense.

- Holgorsen said that quarterback Geno Smith has picked up the new offensive system well. While Holgorsen has only been head coach since June, he's been working with the offense since his arrival in Morgantown before spring practice. He said that Smith's challenge now is "to make everyone around him better."

- "Tavon Austin is a dynamic kid who can touch the ball in a whole bunch of different ways," Holgorsen said of the junior playmaker. He made it clear the Mountaineers plan on putting the ball in his hands as much as they can.

Syracuse - Doug Marrone

- With an 8-5 finish and a Pinstripe Bowl victory, the Orange are fresh off their most successful season since 2001. Marrone, entering his second year on the job, made it clear that the goals for the program are to create a foundation and "become a competitive team year in and year out" in the league. The media projected the Orange to finish fourth in the conference, but well behind West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and USF.

- The Orange lost a lot of talent on defense, and Marrone made it clear that there will be lots of competition over the next month in camp. While the unit is solid at defensive end and safety, it sounds like the interior line, outside linebackers, and corner back positions are up for grabs.

- There was no update on the medical status of Prince-Tyson Gulley or any team decision regarding recently arrested wide receiver Marcus Sales. It has been reported that Gulley has been released from the hospital and is recovering at home, but the coach made no statement on either situation.

Charlie Strong - Louisville

- Strong won over the Cardinals football community in his first year by taking the team back to the postseason for the firs time since the 2006 season, when the Cardinals were Big East champions. He was able to deliver a bowl game experience to a team that had 25 seniors, with 14 in the starting lineup. Strong made it clear that the Cardinals will be looking for players to step up this fall, filling in for the mass exodus of players from the two-deep.

- There is no hiding the lack of experience at quarterback for the Cardinals. Junior Will Stein has the most experience of the group (2 starts), but Strong made sure to mention dual-threat freshman Teddy Bridgewater and wildcard QB Dominique Brown as well. In spring practice it looked like Stein had a lead on the job thanks to his comfort with the offense, but clearly every candidate will get a shot to earn snaps this fall.

- Strong said that the defense will likely be the team's strength this season, particularly the defensive line. Three starters return from last year's unit, and the entire two-deep has game experience. The Cardinals also return both starting safeties, most notably 2nd team All-Big East sophomore Hakeem Smith.

Paul Pasqualoni - Connecticut

- It seems odd that one of the "first-year" coaches was present for the first season of Big East football in 1991, but such is the way things have worked out for Connecticut's Paul Pasqualoni. He pointed out how different the league is now, noting that the diversity of champions in recent years contrasts to the conference's inception - where Miami took 9 of the first 13 Big East titles.

- With no starting quarterback (Pasqualoni has decided to let all four candidates continue to compete into fall camp), there has been an emphasis placed on the offensive line. The Huskies did a fantastic job moving the ball with Jordan Todman in 2010, and Pasqualoni hopes that USC-transfer D.J. Shoemate will be able to find similar success this fall.

- Expect multiple looks from the Huskies defense this season. Explained that he and defensive coordinator Don Brown (formerly with Maryland) have different backgrounds and are "merging" their systems. There will be some 3-4 and some 4-3 as the Huskies continue to develop the linebacker position. Pasqualoni says that he has an "outstanding defensive line," anchored by all-conference defensive tackle Kendall Reyes.

Todd Graham - Pittsburgh

- When Graham took the podium, it was impossible not to recognize his feeling of pride after being introduced as the Pittsburgh coach. He opened talking about how far he has come, from coaching middle school football 25 years ago to now finally being a head coach in a BCS AQ conference. He mentioned his great memories as an assistant at West Virginia (his first collegiate job), and expressed his excitement to return to the conference. He also indirectly gave credit to former head coach Dave Wannstedt, saying he "has a lot of respect for the job that has been done before him" to bring this team together.

- Graham used the phrase "high-octane" several times during his remarks, and Panther fans should get excited for what it could mean for the offense this fall. Not only will it lead to exciting football, but Graham actually believes that it will better suit quarterback Tino Sunseri as well. According to Graham, moving the returning starter back into the shotgun "accentuates" his talents.

- For all the talk about Graham's new "high-octane" offense, he was sure to point out his excitement for the defense, which returns most of a unit that ranked 8th nationally in 2010. In addition to the returning starters, the coaching staff is excited about the development that they saw this spring on the defensive side of the ball. Graham also singled out senior nose tackle Myles Caragein as "the leader of this football team."

Buch Jones - Cincinnati

- Unlike the rest of his colleagues, Jones spent no time going over personnel or specific team outlook in his opening remarks. Instead he commented mostly on his admiration for the conference and pleasure to be coaching the 5th oldest college football program in the nation. Leadership is clearly a theme of his right now, although he called it "misunderstood" by many in America. It was confusing, I know. I'm guessing he is saving all his specific football chatter for the afternoon.

- One remotely football topic Jones covered involved his opening remarks was returning an entire defensive unit. He described that it is "one thing to be older, but we have to be better," when referring to the returning defense. The Bearcats ranked near the bottom of the conference in most defensive categories, and must improve if they want to turn around last season's 4-8 performance.

Skip Holtz - USF

- I'll give the second-year Bulls' coach one thing: he deliver a straightforward and enthusiastic message. "We were three plays a year ago from winning 11 games," Holtz said. "But we were three plays away from probably winning four." The Bulls went to overtime twice in 2010, and played in seven games decided by 8 points or less. Holtz, who described his first year on the job as "a blur," clearly understands how close the conference competition can get in the Big East.

- Holtz spent a considerable amount of time praising the university's leadership for their efforts in USF's growth. From facilities to funding, the entire athletic department has benefited from an initiative by the school to become more than a "commuter school." According to Holtz, seeing the campus-wide push has created a sense of excitement around Tampa.

- Speaking of excitement, Holtz identified the Bulls' late season wins over Miami in Coral Gables and Clemson in the Belk Bowl as victories that created a "snowball effect" for the team. He said the way the team came together and finished the season created a lot of excitement about the future. But Holtz knows it is still too early to make any projections regarding the 2011 season.

"From August 3 to September 3 we are going to learn a lot about this football team," Holtz explained. "I think that the next month will determine the amount of success we have [as a football team]."

Posted on: June 20, 2011 10:21 pm
Edited on: June 21, 2011 9:59 am
 

Report: Rutgers lands 10-year naming rights deal

Posted by Chip Patterson

Rutgers' athletic department has called a press conference for Tuesday afternoon to announce a naming-rights partnership for their football stadium. According to the New Jersey Star-Ledger. the school has reached a 10-year, $6.5 million agreement with High Point Solutions for the rights. High Point Solutions is a New Jersey-based networking hardware supplier, and has already become an IT partner for the New Jersey Nets' new arena in Brooklyn. After the school announced the press conference, athletic director Tim Pernetti spoke briefly about the deal.

"It's really exciting," Pernetti told media at the Greg Schiano Charity Golf Classic. "I think given the economic climate, which is challenging in everything people face nowadays, we're thrilled to be able to get something done."

Pernetti declined to officially name the company, or give any details regarding the reported 10-year deal. Rutgers Stadium was built in 1938 and renovated in 1994. In 2008 and 2009 Rutgers underwent a two-phase, $102 million expansion to increase the capacity to 52,454.

The move would be considered a win for Pernetti, who took over the job in April 2009. In 2008, it was reported that Rutgers officials were seeking between $1.5 and $2 million for the naming rights to the stadium. With the renovations done and new leadership in place, it is not surprising that Pernetti is excited to announce his new deal.
Posted on: June 6, 2011 4:22 pm
 

LeGrand's legacy: Schiano pushing for rule change

Posted by Chip Patterson

As Eric LeGrand continues to make his miraculous recovery from the hit that paralyzed him against Army in October, Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano has been inspired to try and limit the possibilities of this happening to any player ever again. Steve Politi, of the Star-Ledger, profiled some of the rule changes that Schiano has been suggesting this offseason regarding kickoffs.

This is Schiano’s plan: Replace all kickoffs with a punting situation, including after the opening coin toss and to start the second half. So, as an example, when Team A scores a touchdown, it immediately gets the ball back on a fourth and 15 from its own 30-yard line.

It can punt it back to Team B — the most likely outcome and a safer play since the bigger collisions usually happen on kickoffs. Or it can line up and go for the first down, essentially replacing an onside kick with an offensive play that would require more skill than luck.

Onside kicks work about a quarter of the time in the NFL, according to the website advancednflstats.com, a deceptive figure because the play is far more successful when the other team isn’t expecting it. Schiano isn’t sure if going for it on fourth and 15 is a higher percentage play — according to the same website, it’s about 18 percent or 19 percent — but success would be less dependent on a favorable bounce.

Any coach will agree that kickoffs are the most dangerous play in football, but getting a drastic change like this put in place will not happen overnight. One "first step" that college football could take would be to move kickoffs to the 35, something the NFL did to increase touchbacks and thus limit the injuries.

“I think we’re wrong in college football,” Schiano said. “We should at the least do what the NFL is doing — at the least. For us not to follow the league with the most research on anything? I don’t think we’re being as responsible as we should be."

Personally, I'd welcome the change. While big hits can fire up a stadium and a sideline, good defense can provide enough of those without the danger of full speed collisions following a 70-yard dash. Plus as an avid NCAA College Football video gamer who never (ever) punts, I will get to attempt 4th and 15 instead of kicking off to my opponent. Which I would plan on doing every. single. time.
Posted on: May 25, 2011 12:46 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2011 9:57 am
 

CBSSports.com College Football 100: 100-91

By the Eye on College Football bloggers

To celebrate the 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.

100. THE DOOLEY RULE, new NCAA regulation.
We don’t know when; we don’t know where. But we’re betting that at some point this season, college football’s new Dooley Rule -- which punishes offenses that commit a penalty in the last minute of either half with a 10-second runoff from the game clock -- makes a major impact on the outcome of a game. If it’s the right game, the rule could make a major impact on the outcome of college football’s entire season.

That’s not necessarily likely, of course. Until namesake Derek Dooley’s Tennessee team lost last year’s Music City Bowl when North Carolina stopped the clock with its own penalty, the situation hadn’t yet seemed to occur in a high-profile college football game. (There’s a reason it took until 2011 for the rule to be put into place.) But now that it’s there, we think the odds are good that we’ll see it put into practice this fall … and that the losing coach will be sure to let us know about it. -- JH

99. JARED HASSIN, running back, Army. For the last nine years, Army has fallen short of toppling their Navy counterparts. Could 2011 be the year that the Black Knights finally get over the hump? If they do, it will likely be thanks to the efforts of Hassin. He broke out in a big way his sophomore season, racking up 1,013 yards and 9 touchdowns, helping lead Army to their first postseason appearance since 1996 and first bowl win since 1985.

Hassin was originally enrolled in the Air Force Academy before transferring back to Army (his original commitment) and sitting out 2009. It was an odd recruitment, especially for the son of an Army graduate. But regardless of the process, the lifelong Army football fan is now playing for the team he grew up loving. He is undisputedly one of the most important players on the Black Knights, and fans hope the 6-3, 235-pound back can flash the historic rivalry back to the late 80's and early 90's, when Army took 9 of 11 from the Midshipmen. -- CP

98. GUNNER KIEL, quarterback, Columbus (Ind.) East High School. The nation's top quarterback in the class of 2012 and number two overall prospect according to MaxPreps analyst Tom Lemming, Kiel holds a scholarship offer from just about every program in the country. The 6-foot-4, 210 pound signal-caller is ideal for just about any kind of system and has a good arm, throws the ball accurately and is a natural born leader on the field.

Kiel comes from a long line of quarterbacks - his uncle Blair played at Notre Dame and in the NFL and both of his brothers play the position in college - and the next in line might be the most talented out of all of them. His recruitment, as one would expect from a top prospect, is not being played out in the public as he is trying to keep things close to the vest. Oklahoma, Indiana, Missouri and Alabama are a few of the schools making a strong push for his services but it will be well into the season (or after it) before he ends up making a decision; expect to hear plenty about it as 2011 progresses. -- BF

More CFB 100
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97. RYAN TANNEHILL, quarterback, Texas A&M. The Aggies had two different seasons in 2010: one B.T. (Before Tannehill) and one A.T. (After Tannehill). With Jerrod Johnson at quarterback, the Aggies were 3-3 on the season, and 0-3 in Big 12 play. Then Tannehill took over the reins against Kansas on Oct. 23 and Texas A&M didn't look back. The Aggies reeled off six straight wins, including games over Oklahoma, Nebraska and (the coup de gras) Texas. They wouldn't know defeat under Tannehill until the Cotton Bowl, where LSU won 41-24.

Still, Tannehill was a revelation. Not only was he able to run a rather potent Aggies offense, but he did so without the crippling turnovers that became a trademark of Texas A&M under Johnson. This season will be different for Tannehill, however. No longer is he the former tight end-turned-savior, but the quarterback who is supposed to make sure Texas A&M takes the next step--its first league title since 1998, and just their second Big 12 title ever. -- TF

96. GREG MATTISON, defensive coordinator, Michigan. One could certainly make the argument that it was the continuing ineptitude of former defensive coordinator Greg Robinson that cost former head coach Rich Rodriguez his job in Ann Arbor. After all, Robinson's latter year spearheading the Wolverine defense was, by far, the worst in points allowed in Michigan history; the former was the third-worst (and just for good measure, the second-worst season came in Rich-Rod's first season, with one-and-done Scott Shafer as DC). Yes, Michigan has an unusually stingy history of defense, but that's just the thing: Michigan fans have every reason to expect that stingy defense. That's just how it's done at Michigan.

It'll be up to Mattison, then, to keep Brady Hoke's seat cool, and he's got the pedigree to do it. Mattison is entering his 35th year of assistant coaching defense and his 16th as a defensive coordinator, and he's been a part of some very successful defenses (Florida's '06 BCS Championship team, for one). Fans shouldn't expect miracles and shutouts on Day 1 or even in Year 1, but they're going to need to see some sense this year that Michigan's old way of football is coming back. Getting the points per game allowed back under 27.5 for the first time since 2007 would be a good start. -- AJ

95. TYLER BRAY, quarterback, Tennessee. Give the sophomore gunslinger from California this: he doesn't lack for confidence. From the moment he stepped into Tennessee's starting lineup as a true freshman in midseason 2010, Bray carried himself with a swagger that paid big dividends in the Volunteers' season-ending, bowl-salvaging four-game winning streak--a streak in which Bray threw for 12 touchdowns and better than 1,200 yards. Behind four more Bray scoring strikes, the Vols nearly upset UNC in their bowl game (see above), raising expectations for even bigger things in 2011.

But Bray might have taken a little too much self-belief into spring, where he finished an up-and-down camp with a miserable 5-for-30 performance in the Orange-White Game. If he can harness his confidence and continue building on last year's impressive debut, the Vols could be major spoilers in a logjammed SEC East. If not, one of the nation's proudest programs could slip below .500 for the third time in four years. -- JH

94. JON EMBREE, head coach, Colorado. After a disastrous experience with an outsider as head coach in Dan Hawkins, Colorado turned to someone with a strong connection to the program in Embree, a former tight end and assistant coach for the Buffs. He's never been a head coach before but his fiery attitude and pledge to bring back several school traditions have already gotten players and alumni fired up for the upcoming season.

Embree has his work cut out for him though, with Colorado coming off a 5-7 season and transitioning to a new league, the Pac-12. He installed a pro-style offense during the spring and has his staff hitting the recruiting trail hard over the past few months to get word out about the program. The schedule is tough, hosting Oregon and going to both Ohio State and Stanford, but Embree has a senior quarterback in Tyler Hansen and a few solid pieces to build around. Expectations are rising in Boulder and while it might be too much to ask of Embree to turn everything around in his first year, he sure will make things more interesting up in the mountains. -- BF

93. SAVON HUGGINS, running back, Rutgers. Huggins enters his true freshman season with the Scarlet Knights with high expectations from the Rutgers fan base. At their spring game in April, Huggins drew about as much fanfare in his street clothes as the boys in pads. Huggins was one of the few big signing day steals for head coach Greg Schiano, and the Maxpreps No. 1-ranked running back should be an immediate upgrade for the Big East's worst rushing offense in 2010.

Fans are not the only ones anxiously awaiting Huggins' arrival. The coaching staff failed to identify any kind of order for the position in the post-spring depth chart. When Huggins suits up for fall camp, he will have as much of a chance to play as the three current backs on the chart. Hailing from nearby Jersey City, NJ, Huggins is the new face of Rutgers football. If he doesn't pan out into the star Schiano is hoping for, the 2006 Coach of the Year might find himself suddenly on a warmer seat in Piscataway. -- CP

92. QUALCOMM STADIUM, home field, San Diego State. Thanks to years of incompetence from its regular Aztec tenants, the former Jack Murphy Stadium's most prominent ties to college football have been the Holiday Bowl and (more recently) the Poinsettia Bowl. And those aren't insiginificant, particularly considering some of the classics that have been played in the Holiday.

But that should change this year. SDSU is poised for potentially their biggest season in school history, with senior quarterback Ryan Lindley and sophomore running back Ronnie Hillman forming the most dynamic QB-RB combo in the Mountain West. To win the conference the Aztecs will have to go through both TCU and Boise State, but wouldn't you know it--both MWC frontunners must visit Qualcomm this year, the Frogs Oct. 8 and Broncos Nov. 19. With two chances for the Aztecs, don't be surprised if "the Q" plays host to this year's version of Nevada-Boise, the upset that turns the non-AQ BCS chase on its head. -- JH

91. PAUL RHOADS, head coach, Iowa State. When Paul Rhoads took over as head coach at Iowa State in 2009, replacing Gene Chizik -- whatever happened to that guy? -- he was walking into a tough situation. The Cyclones had only won five games in the previous two seasons, but the man who grew up 20 miles outside Ames led the team to seven wins in 2009, including a win over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl. Iowa State took a step back in 2010, but did get a huge win over Texas and narrowly lost to Nebraska in overtime.

In 2011, however, the time for moral victories has passed. While the Cyclones have won 12 games under Rhoads in his first two seasons, only six have come against conference opponents, four of them coming against former Big 12 North teams. Now the Cyclones will no longer have seasons in which they don't have to play Texas and Oklahoma, so winning in the conference won't be easy. Of course, it's not like anybody is expecting Iowa State to compete for the conference title every season, but if Iowa State wants to be better than a program that makes the occasional bowl appearance, Rhoads is going to have to do more than pull off the occasional shocker. -- TF

Check back tomorrow at Eye on College Football for Nos. 90-81 on the countdown, and follow us on Twitter.




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: February 17, 2011 11:35 am
 

Tom Savage lands at Arizona

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

As with fellow quarterbacking transferee Tate Forcier, what was reportedly set to become a whirlwind recruitment tour for departed Rutgers QB Tom Savage has ended nearly before it begun. Per Arizona Rivals affiliate goazcats.com , Savage has pledged to play for Mike Stoops' Wildcats.

The news comes as a particular suprise since Savage had specifically requested the privilege of talking with Miami and other Florida schools, a request Greg Schiano had initially denied on publicly spurious reasons before relenting (but not before some interesting comments from Savage's father). Arizona was only the first stop of what had originally been intended to be a series of them.

But with Forcier landing at Miami, Savage elected to cut his re-recruitment short. A major part of Savage's reasoning is likely the friendly-looking Wildcat depth chart; with both starter Nick Foles and backup Matt Scott seniors in 2011, after sitting out his transfer year this fall Savage could very well be the heavy favorite to become Arizona's full-time 2012 starter. And in the Wildcats' Mike Leach- influenced, pass-first offense, Savage could find himself putting up big numbers.

It's not the move everyone was expecting for Savage. But it might be the move that makes the most sense for him all the same.

Posted on: February 1, 2011 8:48 am
 

Ex-Rutgers QB allowed to consider Florida schools

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

It's not typical for the transfer of a backup quarterback from a team in the bottom half of the Big East to create as much press as that of Tom Savage, the Rutgers sophomore who decided after this past season to look for a new program. But most transfers don't feature a head coach -- in this case, the Scarlet Knights' Greg Schiano -- seemingly arbitrarily forbidding that quarterback from several of his preferred schools, the quarterback's father calling the head coach a "dictator," then the father saying that he actually didn't call the coach a dictator .

And now, in the latest development, Schiano's done a little backtracking of his own. Despite his original decision being upheld (on the same day) by a Rutgers appeals committee, Schiano yesterday elected to let Savage consider previously off-limits Miami and Florida. According to Schiano, a conversation with Savage and a reminder of his quarterback's character led to the change of heart:
Schiano said he came to the decision ... after speaking with the one-time freshman All-American "and understanding his reasons better." He also said that the positive manner in which Savage has handled the transfer situation "and the quality young man that he is" played a role in changing his mind.

"I have a better understanding of his reasons for wanting to contact those schools after speaking with him," Schiano said of Savage, who has grandparents in south Florida. "Because of my relationship with Tom and everything he has meant to the program I have given him permission to contact the University of Miami and Florida."
In addition to the Hurricanes and Gators, Schiano approved six other schools he had previously barred Savage from contacting, allowing the quarterback to transfer to any of the 25 schools he had originally requested.

It couldn't have hurt Savage's argument that Schiano was criticized in some corners for the reasoning behind his decision (that Schano didn't want to help Florida programs he occasionally recruits against) being overly flimsy. But it's all water under the public bridge for now, and given Savage's impressive freshman season (2,211 passing yards, a 14-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio), there's a good chance some program is going to benefit nicely.

Posted on: January 25, 2011 10:56 am
 

Tom Savage Sr denies calling Schiano a dictator

Posted by Tom Fornelli

In yesterday's Miami Herald, Tom Savage Sr. is quoted calling Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano a dictator. The reason for this was because Savage was upset that Schiano and Rutgers had placed limitations on where his son, Tom Savage, could transfer. Schools like Florida, Florida State, Miami and Michigan have all been taken off the table, which the Savages don't think is fair considering that none of those schools are in the Big East with Rutgers.

“I don’t understand how one person can be dictator over your son’s future,” Savage Sr. said. “I know they recruit Florida, but the ones that want to go to Rutgers are going to go to Rutgers. … It’s just wrong. I will talk to a lawyer."

Now the elder Savage is saying that he was misquoted by the paper, this time talking to The Star-Ledger.

“This is why I don’t talk to the media and usually don’t read anything that’s written,” Savage Sr. said. “Things get taken out of context all of the time. I don’t have any hard feelings toward Greg Schiano. I never had any problems with him.

“Sure, I was upset that a couple of schools that Tom wanted to contact were blocked. So when I was asked the question I said, ‘I don’t like anyone to dictate where my son can play football or go to college.’ I never called Greg Schiano a dictator or any other name.”

It's easy to see how Savage Sr. could have been misquoted in this case, though I'm not entirely sure how someone can confuse "be dictator" with "to dictate where." That being said, I'll give Savage the benefit of the doubt here. Besides, there are other parts of his quotes that I need to question. He said this is why he never talks to the media, yet here he is talking to the media for the second time in a couple of days. Then he says he doesn't read anything that's written.

Then what do you read?

Admittedly, neither of these things matter, but I want to know! I'm pretty sure that every word anybody has ever read has been written by somebody, or at the very least dictated -- there's that word again -- to somebody who was writing it down. Is there some new technology out there I'm not aware of?
 
 
 
 
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