Posted on: May 5, 2011 4:46 pm
Edited on: May 5, 2011 5:01 pm
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.
Tags: Antwon Bailey, B.J. Daniels, Big East, Bill Stewart, Butch Jones, Charlie Strong, Chas Dodd, Cincinnati, Connecticut, D.J. Woods, Dana Holgorsen, Darrell Scott, Delone Carter, Demetrius Murray, Desmond Brown, Don Brown, Doug Marrone, Frank Cignetti, Geno Smith, Greg Schiano, Kenbrell Thompkins, Louisville, Marcus Sales, Oliver Luck, Paul Pasqualoni, Pittsburgh, Ray Graham, Rutgers, Ryan Nassib, Skip Holtz, South Florida, Syracuse, Tino Sunseri, Todd Graham, Victor Anderson, What I Learned, What I Learned This Spring, Will Stein, Zach Collaros
Posted on: May 3, 2011 6:08 pm
Edited on: May 4, 2011 2:31 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
He's not exactly Curt Flood, but all the same Russell Wilson may wind up serving as a college football landmark: the sport's first legitimate free agent. Cut loose from N.C. State, eligible to play virtually anywhere thanks to his early graduation, "95 percent" likely to take advantage of that eligiblity, and -- most importantly -- a bona fide all-conference candidate with three years of starting experience and a 76-26 career touchdown-to-interception ratio.
So Wilson represents uncharted waters for college football; while other players have been eligible to transfer without penalty, none have offered such tantalizing immediate benefits. But which school is going to be the lucky one to sail into those waters?
We don't know. No one does, Wilson included; he's still got months of baseball ahead of him. But we can say which programs would be the best fit should Wilson decide to take a look. Here's our guesses for the comfiest landing spot for Wilson in each BCS conference, judging by both which team would benefit most by Wilson's arrival and which team Wilson would benefit most by joining. Enjoy:
SEC: TENNESSEE. Yep, we're saying the Vols, despite most of the early Wilson speculation centering on South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Auburn. But multiple reporters covering the Tigers have said they won't be interested; it makes sense considering that 2012 shapes up as a much more likely championship campaign for Auburn than 2011, and Gene Chizik won't want to spoil that with a first-year starter under center. Steve Spurrier will certainly give Wilson a ring if Stephen Garcia is finally dismissed, but if Garcia sticks around, neither he nor Wilson will want the controversy his arrival would bring. And though we have little doubt Houston Nutt would welcome Wilson with open arms rather than ride with the untested Randall Mackey or Barry Brunetti, Wilson can probably find a team with higher expectations.
Enter Tennessee. Yes, the Vols have a starter already, promising sophomore Tyler Bray. But Bray's boom-or-bust results late last season and ugly 5-for-30 spring game performance suggest that he might need more seasoning before taking the reins for a full SEC season. Bringing in Wilson lets the Vols redshirt and groom Bray for three solid seasons to follow, without taking a step back at the position; going to Tennessee lets Wilson play for a high-profile team in the nation's toughest conference, one with plenty of playmakers at his disposal. It's a win-win.
BIG TEN: WISCONSIN. An easy call: the perpetually consistent Badgers have the defensive playmakers, the ball-carriers and the receivers to put together another fine Big Ten team if they can hold the line on the offensive line ... and if they can find a quarterback. The results at the Badgers' spring game suggest they don't have the latter yet. The stodgy Badger attack won't make much use of Wilson's mobility, but no other team in the conference offers Wilson the chance to waltz in as the unquestioned starter for a top-25 program.
BIG 12: MISSOURI. After years of Chase Daniel and then Blaine Gabbert spearheading the Tigers' aerial attack, Gary Pinkel has to feel a little spoiled when it comes to quarterbacks. But that may be changing, as Mizzou comes out of spring without a clearcut starter and with neither candidate (Tyler Gabbert, younger brother of Blaine, or James Franklin) having looked quite in the Daniel/Gabbert class. Wilson would short-circuit any potential quarterback-platoon talk immediately upon arrival and give the Tigers one of the best trigger-men their spread could ask for. Wilson, meanwhile, would have the benefit of having the ball in his hands 40 to 50 times a game, for a team whose underrated defense should make them top-25 contenders.
PAC-12: UCLA. Let's face it: the 3-9 Bruins maybe don't have a heck of a lot to offer in terms of football glory. But after their seemingly endless quarterback carousel of the past few seasons, no program would be more appreciative -- no coach more thankful -- than UCLA and Rick Neuheisel. If Wilson can salvage a winning season out of 2011 and potentially turn around the flagging tenure of Neuheisel, the gratitude aimed his way from the Westwood faithful would likely dwarf anything he'd receive anywhere else. (Besides, most of the other Pac-12 contenders -- Oregon, Stanford, Arizona State, Cal, even ineligible pseudo-contender USC -- have fairly established quarterbacks.)
ACC: FLORIDA STATE NO ONE
[This section originally discussed the "far-fetched" possibility that Wilson could transfer to the Wolfpack's intra-division rivals in Tallahassee, but it's more than far-fetched; it's impossible, since Wilson's release -- originally, erroneously reported as "unconditional" -- specifies that he may not transfer to an ACC school or any school on NCSU's schedule. In retrospect, this is a common sense precaution. Apologies.]
BIG EAST: WEST VIRGINIA. We're kidding, mostly; Geno Smith enjoyed an excellent spring game and will be the Mountaineers' 2011 starter. And given Wilson's unwillingness to give up on a "football dream" that likely includes the NFL, he would likely pass on Dana Holgorsen's Mike Leach- inspired "Air Raid" offense anyway, which has struggled putting its passers in the pros. But an offense like Holgorsen's, as helmed by a talent like Wilson? We can dream of those kinds of pinball games, can't we?
Tags: ACC, Alabama, Arizona State, Auburn, Barry Brunetti, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Blaine Gabbert, Cal, Chase Daneil, Christian Ponder, Curt Flood, Dana Holgorsen, E.J. Manuel, Florida State, Gary Pinkel, Gene Chizik, Geno Smith, Houston Nutt, James Franklin, James Franklin the Missouri quarterback not the Vanderbilt coach just so we're clear, Jimbo Fisher, Mike Leach, Missouri, N.C. State, Ole Miss, Ole Miss, Oregon, Pac-12, Randall Mackey, Rick Neuheisel, Russell Wilson, SEC, South Carolina, Stanford, Stephen Garcia, Steve Spurrier, Tennessee, Tennessee, Tyler Bray, Tyler Gabbert, UCLA, USC, West Virginia, Wisconsin
Posted on: April 14, 2011 3:11 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Tags: ACC, ACC recruiting, Alabama, Auburn, Austin Gholson, Big 12, Big 12 recruiting, Big East, Big East recruiting, Big Ten, Big Ten recruiting, BYU, Dana Holgorsen, Delvon Simmons, Dwayne Thomas, Florida, Florida State, Ford Childress, Geno Smith, Iowa, Jamil Pollard, Jarron Jones, Javon Ringer, Joe Paterno, Kaleb Ringer, Lamont Baldwin, Les Miles, Louisville, Max Lemming, Max Lemming top 100, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Mitch Keppy, N.C. State, North Carolina, North Carolina, Oregon, Penn State, Peter Jinkens, Preston Dewey, Rutgers, SEC, SEC recruiting, South Carolina, T.J. Holloman, Texas, Texas Tech, Ty Detmer, Tyrann Mathieu, UCLA, USC, Utah, West Virginia
Posted on: January 18, 2011 3:34 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
"Headset Reset" is the College Football Blog's series reviewing the 22 new head coaches in the FBS and what they'll need to accomplish in their new jobs to succeed. In this edition: the four new head coaches in the Big East and Mountain West
TODD GRAHAM, Pitt
Why him? Because Mike Haywood got arrested two weeks after he was hired. Also because Graham put together some successful offenses at Tulsa. For 2011, Graham needs to: build a strong offense without the services of Pitt's two best offensive players Jonathan Baldwin and Dion Lewis. Luckily for Graham, Dave Wannstedt recruited good players to Pitt, but Graham will have to mold them to his offense. By 2014, Graham will need to have: won a Big East title and taken the Panthers to a BCS bowl. Dave Wannstedt won more games than he lost at Pitt, but it was the lack of a conference championship in a weak conference that ultimately led to his dismissal. Chances Graham gets what he needs? I'd say they're pretty good. Weak conference or not, Pitt is still in a BCS conference and has the resources to win in college football. Of course, by the time Graham has his stamp on the program, TCU will be a Big East member, so it won't be easy.
DANA HOLGORSEN, West Virginia
Why him? Have you seen West Virginia's offenses under Bill Stewart the last few seasons? Nothing like a Mike Leach disciple who helped put together one of the best offenses in the country at Oklahoma State to infuse life into a dormant scoreboard. For 2011, Holgorsen needs to: bid his time, let Stewart finish his final season, and start getting his offense ready for his ascension in 2012. By 2014, Holgorsen will need to have: won a Big East title and improve the Mountaineers offense enough so that it once again resembles the teams Rich Rodriguez put together. He'll also need to find a quarterback better suited for his system than Geno Smith. Chances Holgorsen gets what he needs? They're very good. Even with the program's struggles under Stewart, they still competed for the Big East title.
PAUL PASQUALONI, UConn
Why him? Well, it came as a bit of a surprise. Pasqualoni hasn't been a head coach or coached on the college level since 2004, spending the time in between in the NFL. Still, the last time he was a head coach he was a rather successful one at Syracuse in the Big East. So he knows what it takes to win in this conference. For 2011, Pasqualoni needs to: silence the doubters. We know that Pasqualoni can coach, but will the lay off and his age (he'll be 62 when UConn kicks off its season) prove to be too much for him? By 2014, Pasqualoni will need to have: maintained what Randy Edsall started at UConn. I'm not sure he'll have to win a Big East title to keep his job, but at the least he'll have to continue to build the program for his eventual successor. Chances Pasqualoni gets what he needs? Not great, but not terrible. UConn has always been a basketball school first and foremost, but who knows how a trip to the Fiesta Bowl will affect the schools interest in building a winning football team?
ROCKY LONG, San Diego State
Why him? Because Brady Hoke left, and had built something at SDSU that Long was a part of. The school didn't want to risk losing any momentum by starting a coaching search. Plus, Long has head coaching experience from his time at New Mexico. For 2011, Long needs to: continue the rise that Hoke started. Since Marshall Faulk left for the NFL, the Aztecs weren't exactly a football powerhouse before Hoke came along. The good news is that Long inherits some talent in Ronnie Hillman and Ryan Lindley. By 2014, Long will need to have: kept San Diego State competing in the Mountain West. With Utah, BYU and TCU leaving, the conference becomes a lot easier to win. Chances Long gets what he needs? Not great. San Diego State just doesn't have the established history to make me think they'll do whatever it takes to help Long build this team into a powerhouse. What Long will have working for him, however, is the fertile recruiting base of southern California.
Tags: Big East, Bill Stewart, Brady Hoke, BYU, Dana Holgorsen, Dave Wannstedt, Dion Lewis, Geno Smith, Headset Reset, Jonathan Baldwin, Marshall Faulk, Mike Haywood, Mike Leach, Mountain West, New Mexico, Oklahoma State, Paul Pasqualoni, Pitt, Randy Edsall, Rich Rodriguez, Rocky Long, Ronnie Hillman, Ryan Lindley, San Diego State, Syracuse, TCU, Todd Graham, Tulsa, UConn, Utah, West Virginia
Posted on: December 29, 2010 1:01 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
West Virginia's season came to a disappointing end on Tuesday night when the Mountaineers lost to N.C. State 23-7 in the Champs Sports Bowl. While quarterback Geno Smith was probably disappointed at the way he and the team played in the game, I'm guessing there was a part of him who was also relieved to know the year had come to an end.
As it turns out, Smith played the entire season with a stress fracture in his left foot. A stress fracture he'll now be having surgery on in January to repair, which is a bit of a blow to both Smith and the West Virginia offense.
You see, Smith had surgery to repair another stress fracture in the same foot last season and missed spring practice because of it. Making things worse is the fact that if Smith is forced to miss spring practice again in 2011, he'll be missing out on a lot of time spent learning the new system that offensive coordinator/head coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen will be implementing.
Not exactly ideal circumstances for West Virginia, Smith or Holgorsen.
I have a feeling that Smith may be held out of spring practice next year because, after suffering the fracture two years in a row, odds are that West Virginia will want to make sure the foot is fully recovered before letting Smith test it out on a football field. After all, it's better to have a healthy quarterback in the fall who missed a few practices than an injured one all season.
Posted on: December 29, 2010 12:43 am
Edited on: August 20, 2011 8:59 pm
Posted by Chip Patterson
N.C. State rides Russell Wilson's 275 yard, 2 TD performance to a 23-7 win over West Virginia
Offense: Russell Wilson has been the cornerstone of the NC State offense since he took over the position as a freshman. Tuesday was one of those better performances that NC State fans will fondly remember for years. The Wolfpack have only been to three bowl games since 2003, and the 2010 team was determined to leave their mark. Particularly after falling one game short of the ACC Championship Game, NC State now gets to end the season on a good note. Wilson and the offense was a big part of that. GRADE: B+
Defense: NC State's linebackers lived up to their hype against West Virginia, bringing the heat on West Virginia's Geno Smith. On several big third downs, the Wolfpack dialed up pressure from the linebackers and forced a bad pass/checkdown that led to a punt. When Geno Smith put the ball on the ground, the Wolfpack always had a man there to fall on the ball. While nothing was stunning, the NC State defense was opportunistic. Clearly outmatched at some positions, the defense simply came to play while West Virginia's offense did not. GRADE: B
Coaching: NC State has to be happy to have Tom O'Brien on board in Raleigh. He was able to give the Wolfpack fans a 9 win season, something that hasn't been done since 2002 and ranks as the second best finish in program history. In the same game, O'Brien picked up his 100th career win. Props to the rest of the coaching staff for spreading West Virginia's tough defense out of the 3-3-5 to cover Wilson's many threats. All in all, good day for NC State football fans. GRADE: A-
Offense: How many different ways can I hint at different forms of excrement? The West Virginia offense is obviously the problem that needs to be fixed. Mountaineer fans are particularly excited about incoming coach-to-be Dana Holgerson after watching the offense cough the ball up five times against NC State. Geno Smith put together several strong performances near the end of the regular season, but he could not keep his hands on the ball - fumbling two hand off's and throwing an interception. The offense was horrendous, and that has to be awfully difficult to swallow after the standard set by Pat White less than a half-decade ago. GRADE: F
Defense: West Virginia has thrived on their defense here in the second half of the season, but when Russell Wilson hit his rhythm the Mountaineers had no answers. The key to shutting down Wilson was to avoid letting him get comfortable and try to disrupt the timing by getting to him in the backfield. The Mountaineers put Wilson on his ground a few times, but he still used short passes to slowly move the ball on West Virginia. But the turnovers by West Virginia's offense put the defense in pretty difficult spots, and they did do a good job of forcing kicker Josh Czajkowski to beat them. GRADE: C
Coaching: It feels lazy to try and put some of the blame on the whole Bill Stewart/Dana Holgerson situation, but you can't deny that West Virginia just looked a little confused on the field. NC State doesn't do a lot of tricky things on the field, and you have to guess that the off-field distractions might have something to do with that. Feel bad penalizing only head coach Bill Stewart on this one, but if "Coaching" includes the entire administrative staff - we gotta lay the hammer here. GRADE: F
GAME GRADE: The game was a bit of a snore at times, with offenses exchanging punts a good bit in the first half. It was good to see Russell Wilson have a strong performance in what might likely be his last football game ever. If Wilson does decide to forego his senior year of football to join the Colorado Rockies basketball organization, at least he will know that he finished his football career in style. The turnovers at the end of the game reached a point of being absurd in the fourth quarter. Feel pretty bad for Bill Stewart, who I've always considered one of the more likable coaches in the Big East, and hopefully West Virginia will send him off with a successful 2011. GRADE: B-
Posted on: December 28, 2010 4:10 pm
Posted by Chip Patterson
The Basics: West Virginia faces NC State, 6:30 PM Tuesday
Why You Should Watch: Both West Virginia and NC State fell just a game shy of an opportunity to play for a BCS bid, and they will each be looking to turn that disappointment around and finish the season strong. The game is also loaded with exciting playmakers - Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Russell Wilson, Nate Irving - to name a few. Both offenses have had high scoring performances this season, though West Virginia's defense ranks among the best in the NCAA in scoring defense. While Wilson still has one year left of eligibility, many believe that Tuesday will the be his final game in a Wolfpack football uniform. He has already signed a contract to play with the Colorado Rockies, who he has already bypassed one year for his junior season. Wilson has been part of Tom O'Brien's success at NC State, and I expect he will be looking to cap his career off with another performance. West Virginia also has an interesting storyline with the awkward announcement that Bill Stewart will be phased out before the 2012 season. Basically a sitting duck until Dana Holgorsen takes over, Stewart will fire up the Mountaineers for their seventh ACC bowl opponent since 2002.
Keys to victory for West Virginia: While Geno Smith has had an impressive second half of the season, the Mountaineers are living on the play of their defense. West Virginia's defense, particularly in the second half, simply refused to give up the big play against their opponents. Russell Wilson has a tendancy to wear a defense down with lots of pitch and catch, so West Virginia cannot let him get in a rhythm. If NC State keeps this game close, I have a feeling it's going to be a shootout. If the Mountaineers can shut down Wilson, Geno Smith should find it easy to catch the NC State secondary napping for a big play or two.
Keys to victory for NC State: Match West Virginia's intensity on defense. While not one of the superior defensive units in the ACC, NC State's linebackers are the cream of the crop. Led by Nate Irving, they will have an opportunity to create big plays to slow West Virginia's momentum. When NC State is blitzing the quarterback, they mask their shortcomings in the secondary. If they allow West Virginia's offense to keep them on their heels, the Pack will struggle mightily to play keep-up.
The Champs Sports Bowl is like: The third place match in international competition. Both teams fell just a game short of their conference championship hopes, and now this is their consolation. Much of this game will be decided by who decides to really "bring it." If both teams do, it could be a thrilling game in Orlando.
Posted on: November 26, 2010 8:35 pm
Edited on: November 26, 2010 8:39 pm
Posted by Chip Patterson
So far in 2010, the Big East conference has lacked many defining or memorable moments in conference play. Those moments that every team in the conference will remember that game that changed the landscape across the entire league. It feels fitting then, that one of those performances came in the 103rd Backyard Brawl between Pittsburgh and West Virginia. The Panthers entered the game sitting in the driver's seat on the way to a BCS bowl game. A win over their rivals on Senior Day in Pittsburgh could put the Panthers just one Connecticut loss away from that coveted automatic bid.
Unfortunately, the Panthers have failed to shake the late-season struggles that crashed their conference championship hopes a season ago. Pittsburgh entered this same weekend in 2009 undefeated in conference play, only to lose back-to-back games to West Virginia and Cincinnati to finish the season. On Friday, Pittsburgh started this home stretch just like last year with a 35-10 loss to the Mountaineers in the Backyard Brawl. With the win, West Virginia has turned around a disappointing middle of the season and set themselves up with a chance to win the conference.
But the biggest winner in the Big East on Friday was Connecticut. If the Huskies can pull out a win against Cincinnati at home on Saturday they will be one win away from their first BCS Bowl appearance in program history. Connecticut just joined the conference in 2004, and nothing would be a higher compliment to Randy Edsall and his staff than to finish 2010 as the Big East Champions. The best advantage the Huskies have in the race is owning the tie-breaker against both Pittsburgh and West Virginia thanks to their current three-game winnning streak.
But with Pittsburgh's loss on Friday, it sets up a fantastic finish for the Big East title. The Huskies control their own destiny, but with one loss could open the door for West Virginia. West Virginia just needs a win next week and one Connecticut loss to clinch the conference, and Pittsburgh can still finally grasp that conference title with a win over Cincinnati and one loss from both West Virginia and Connecticut.
Regardless of who your dog is in the fight, all eyes will be turned towards Storrs on Saturday. The Huskies, the one team who controls their own destiny, will take the field against a Bearcats squad that has the chance to spoil title hopes for two teams. Critics will argue that this finish is a result of season-long mediocrity, but the football fan in all of us is happy with the added significance to these late-season conference battles.