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The Fifth Quarter: Week One Rewind

Alabama Michigan AP

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WINNERS

The fans
After one of the worst — check that, the worst — offseasons in the history of the game, a full day of the glorious entity called college football was back at a campus or on a television near you.  Certainly, what happened the past few months, particularly at Penn State, wasn’t washed away completely by the start of a new season, but it did allow fans all across the country get back to doing what they love to do — irrationally rooting for a school they may or may not have a direct connection to and obsessing over any and every call that may or may not have gone their way.  Welcome back, college football.  Oh how we’ve missed your on-field glory.

Should Tide rise over USC to No. 1?
We asked this question in our poll tonight, but will expound on it here.  In every way imaginable, in every single phase of the game, No. 2 Alabama was the better team in the defending BcS champion’s 41-14 woodshedding of No. 8 Michigan.  And it wasn’t even really that close.  Ben did an excellent job recapping the carnage in Arlington Texas, so I’ll tackle this the question posed in this note.  And, if you’re a fan of marquee nonconference matchups, you’d answer the same way I would: hell yes.  Teams that schedule these types of games should be rewarded for playing top-ranked programs, and bumping them a spot or two or three or whatever would/should have an impact on athletic directors looking for more of those types of early-season games.  Besides that, it’s rather obvious even as it’s awful early: the Tide will once again be a major factor on the national stage yet again.  That was a textbook evisceration by Nick Saban‘s charges of what’s a very talented Michigan team.  The good thing for the Wolverines?  They have 11 more regular season games to make up the spots they will tumble in the polls when they come out early this week.  And, they can take solace in the fact that they won’t face a better team the remainder of the regular season.

“Wait, what about us?” No. 1 USC says
Yes, yes, yes Trojans.  We’re well aware of your 49-10 throttling of Hawaii.  Yes, you have one of the top teams in the country and, if you can remain healthy, you will be a title contender.  Unfortunately, taking apart an unranked team at home simply doesn’t compare with humiliating a Top 10 team on a neutral field.  Sorry, that’s just the way it is.  Or the way it should be, at least.  If voters have a lick of common sense, of course.

That’s just offensive
In wins over Savannah State and Arkansas State, No. 19 Oklahoma State and No. 5 Oregon, respectively, combined to score a total of 141 points; rushed for 677 yards; passed for 610 yards; and totaled 1,287 yards of offense.  And punted three times — combined.  And that’s with the Ducks scoring 50 in the first half and calling off the dogs the last two quarters.  Those were the final, gory offensive stats — unless they added to them in the postgame, which is entirely possible based on how the two “contests” went.  The 84 points the Cowboys put up, by the way, were the most since 1991 when Fresno State hung 94 on New Mexico.

Urban renewal commences in earnest in Columbus
Bad pun aside, Ohio State couldn’t have scripted a better start to the 2012 season.  Not only did No. 18 Ohio State romp over Miami of Ohio 56-10 — after a sluggish first quarter — in Urban Meyer‘s first game as Buckeyes’ head coach, but sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller showed flashes of brilliance more consistently than he did at all last season, combining for nearly 360 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in less than three quarters of work.  It hardly portends great things for the Buckeyes generally or Miller specifically in 2012; the RedHawks won just four games in 2011.  It does give some reason to hope, however, in a season where there’s no hope of reaching the postseason thanks to NCAA sanctions.

The defense rests… after dominating
Against a good BcS football team, No. 3 LSU will have a really good defense.  Against the likes of North Texas?  They had a really good defense.  While the Mean Green totaled 219 yards of offense — 40 yards per game less than they averaged giving up last year — they averaged just 2.2 yards per carry and were limited to an 80-yard pitch-and-catch touchdown that was the result of a mix-up in the secondary and a meaningless touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.  The No. 3 team in the country did what it was supposed to: easily hold serve at home against a vastly inferior opponent with a 41-14 win.  And, based on the way LSU’s defense played in the opener, we’re guessing that, just like SEC West rival Alabama, the Tigers will be in the thick of the BcS mix deep into the 2012 season.

Coaches with new teams
Putting this under the winners heading may have been a bit of a stretch.  When the last spinning of the coaching carousel came to a stop, 27 FBS football programs had new head coaches.  These past three days, those 26 coaches (Kevin Sumlin‘s debut as Texas A&M’s coach was postponed) went 13-13.  Two of those 12 losses came at the hands of FCS schools: Pittsburgh’s Paul Chryst and Memphis’ Justin Fuente.

Holgorsen has this offensive thing down pat
In the past two games, No. 11 West Virginia’s offense has totaled the following: 1,250 yards of total offense, 748 yards passing and a staggering 139 points.  To put that into perspective, last season New Mexico scored 144 for points the entire 12-game season.  Yeah, the Mountaineers will fit right in in the high-octane Big 12.  About that defense, though; WVU allowed the Herd 545 yards of offense, including 413 yards passing.  Then again, defense is optional in the Big 12, so that side of the ball might not be as big a deal after all.

Perfect Wes
For the first half, at least.  Making his first start at the collegiate level, quarterback Wes Lunt completed all 11 of his first-half passes in what would ultimately become an 84-0 win over Savannah State.  Those would actually be the only throws Lunt made in the blowout win as he gave way to J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf for the rest of the first half and through the end of the “game.”

Lattimore’s return a boon for ‘Cocks
If No. 9 South Carolina entertains any thoughts of getting past defending SEC East champ Georgia, Marcus Lattimore returning to — and remaining at — 100-percent health will be of utmost importance.  Based on one game, that’s the direction the running back, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear last year, is headed.  In South Carolina’s season-opening conference win over Vanderbilt on Thursday, Lattimore rushed for 110 yards and scored the Gamecocks’ only two touchdowns in the 17-13 decision.  While Lattimore wasn’t worked as hard as he’s been the past two seasons, the fact that he came out healthy against a stout ‘Dores defense portends — all available appendages crossed — good things for the player and the team in 2012.

Youth romps in uncle vs. nephew tilt
In his first game as head coach at Richmond, Danny Rocco had the misfortune of taking his FCS program into Virginia and going up against an underrated Cavaliers squad.  And, as if a 43-19 pasting wasn’t bad enough, a player very close to the coach helped in the torching.  Michael Rocco, the head coach’s nephew, threw for 311 yards and a touchdown in the 24-point win.  Suffice to say, Thanksgiving/Christmas gifts should be interesting in the Rocco households this year.

LOSERS

Floyd Mayweather
The boxer bet a total of $2.9 million on Michigan to cover the spread against Alabama.  The spread was anywhere between 12 and 14 points.  The Wolverines lost by 27.  That will leave a mark on the ol’ bank account, regardless of how big the purse was for your last fight.

Sooner forgetting this, the better
Forget the final score as it’s more than deceiving.  At halftime, No. 4 (for now) Oklahoma was tied with UTEP at 7-7.  And it stayed that way until the 10-minute mark of the third quarter, with a field goal giving the Sooners a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.  And it stayed that way until 10:32 was left in the game, with Landry Jones tossing an 18-yard touchdown pass. Final score?  24-7.  Yes, it’s just one game.  But it was one game against a vastly inferior opponent that’s simply not acceptable for a team with BcS-title aspirations.

Post-JoePa toe stub
For the first time in more than six decades, Joe Paterno was not on the Penn State sidelines as either an assistant or head coach.  Instead, Bill O’ Brien was patrolling Beaver Stadium… and overseeing an embarrassing start to his collegiate coaching career.  How embarrassing?  “Overheard: Ohio fan laughing ‘It isn’t even a big win for us,’” one tweet from a Penn State fan read.  After taking a 14-3 lead into the half, the Nittany Lions were outscored 21-0 the rest of the way as Ohio came away with the nonconference road win.  And that would be the Mid-American Conference’s Ohio University, not Brady Hoke‘s Ohio, incidentally.  Certainly with all of the tumult and turmoil the football program has been through over the past nine months, and with the roster attrition courtesy of NCAA sanctions, a rough start to O’ Brien’s tenure may have been expected.  However, losing by double digits at home to a MAC team that outgained them by nearly 150 yards (499-352) certainly wasn’t a part of the new coach’s plan for rebuilding all that’s been torn down in less than a year.

Gator chomp goes limp
Entering the second season under Will Muschamp, hopes were high that the No. 23 Florida Gators would begin taking the steps that would lead to a return to national prominence for the football program.  While that still may happen, eventually, this season, UF’s performance Saturday gave no sign whatsoever that 2012 will be anything other than yet another rebuilding year.  At home against Bowling Green — they of the five-win MAC Bowling Greens — the Gators slogged its way to a too-close-for comfort 27-14 win over the Falcons. Continuing a theme that’s entering its third year, the Gators were in large part ineffective on the offensive side of the ball.  While they rushed for over 200 yards, they passed for just 145 among two quarterbacks as the struggles through the air continues.

’12 Edsall similar to ’11 model
Sitting atop one of the hottest coaching seats in the country entering just his second season at Maryland, Randy Edsall needed a solid start to the season in order to, at minimum, keep the Terp wolves howling for his dismissal at bay following a disastrous two-win debut.  Uh, whoops?  Against William & Mary Saturday, and at home no less, Edsall’s Terps managed to eke out a 7-6 win over the FCS-level school in a game that was a loss for anyone who witnessed any part of it.  And that win came after W&M dropped what could have been the game-winning touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.  Yes, the Terps’ lost their starting quarterback and a dozen other players to injuries, but a one-point win against that level of competition isn’t — and shouldn’t — be acceptable.  Edsall has asked for patience from the fan base; more performances like this one, and there’ll be none in reserve.  If there’s even any left at this point.

Tedford: Latin for “damn that seat’s hot!”
And speaking of coaching seats that have gone beyond warm, well hello Jeff Tedford.  Playing for the first time in its refurbished stadium, Cal couldn’t keep Nevada’s pistol holstered in a 31-24 loss.  In and of itself, dropping a season opener wouldn’t impact things one way or the other, even as it represented the first home loss to Nevada in 109 years..  Coming off the past two seasons that saw a combined total of 12 wins?  Seat will be sizzling soon, I think that [/yoda].  Additionally, and after a home game vs. Southern Utah, the Bears travel to Ohio State and USC in back-to-back weekends.  Yep, good luck with that buzz saw Coach Tedford.

Houston had big problem with newly-minted FBS school
And the big problem was a loss.  Tony Levine‘s first game as Houston’s replacement for Kevin Sumlin figured to be a relatively easy one: at home against first-year FBS program Texas State.  A 30-13 loss later, and the Cougars realize how much they’ll miss Sumlin (Texas A&M) as well as quarterback Case Keenum (NFL).  It’s a long season; unfortunately for Houston, this loss will make it that much longer.

Franco Harris
Staunch in his very public support for Joe Paterno after the now-deceased head coach’s controversial ouster at Penn State last November, Franco Harris took that support to a whole other level Saturday afternoon.  In his suite Saturday witnessing the first game of the O’ Brien Era, Harris did, well, this with a cardboard cutout, courtesy of mocksession.com:

Way to keep it about the current coaches and players inside the stadium, Franco.  Excellent work.

Ball State “fans”
Coming off a six-win season in 2011, Ball State opened 2012 with a 37-26 win over Eastern Michigan that was witnessed by less than 13,000 individuals.  That number caught the attention of Fort Wayne News-Sentinel columnist Tom Davis, who skewered Ball State’s supporters — or lack thereof —  for their seeming indifference toward the football program.  “But I’ll tell you who hasn’t delivered? The Ball State students, the Cardinal alumni, and the community of Muncie, who continue to demonstrate year after year … that they simply don’t care whether they have a good football team or not.”  Davis went on to write that he wishes second-year head coach Pete Lembo well “when he eventually bolts for a more supportive environment.”  Ouch.

TOP 25 TOO-CLOSE-COMFORT
How ranked teams endured close shaves vs. unranked opponents

–No. 9 South Carolina 17, Vanderbilt 14: Unlike most of the other schools that litter this list, the Gamecocks actually opened the season against a quality conference foe.  While it wasn’t pretty — particularly in the passing game — a win is a win is a win, especially when it involves an SEC game.

– No. 12 Wisconsin 26, Northern Iowa 20: Ahead 26-7 with just over 12 minutes left in the game, the Badgers’ defense allowed allowed the Panthers to score two touchdowns in less than five minutes to close the gap to five points with seven minutes to play.  A failed fourth-down attempt with 2:46 left erased any hopes the FCS school had entertained of pulling off one of the biggest upsets in recent memory.

No. 14 Clemson 26, Auburn 19: As was the case with South Carolina, the Tigers differed from others on this list as they actually faced a BcS opponent, albeit one of the nonconference variety.  And they pulled out the win with their top receiver, Sammy Watkins, serving the first of a two-game suspension, which certainly bodes well for the Tigers.

– No. 21 Stanford 20, San Jose State 17: In the first game of the post-Andrew Luck era on Friday, the Cardinal eked out a three-point win over a team that was 27(ish)-point road underdogs.

– No. 23 Florida 27, Bowling Green 14: Tied at 14-all midway through the third quarter, the Gators managed to score 13 unanswered points to squeak by with a win in the opener.

CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how our ballot would look Monday if we, ya know, had a real vote instead of a measly preseason poll.

1. Alabama — A school should be rewarded for a quality neutral-field win over a Top-10 team, and we do just that with a two-spot jump. (Last: No. 3)
2. USC — “It wasn’t anything you did honey.  Honest.  It’s just me.” (Last: No. 1)
3. Oregon — Oregon might’ve scored a touchdown or two on Clemson in its obliteration of Arkansas State.  My goodness, that was a mesmerizing first-half offensive display by the Ducks. (Last: No. 7)
4. LSU — With that defense, and continued improvement at the quarterback position, the Tigers are positioned for yet another run at an SEC title.  And more. (Last: No. 4)
5. (blank) — Oklahoma, Georgia and South Carolina all underwhelming in wins. Michigan lost.  Florida State and Arkansas stuffed their collective faces on tasty pastries.  Yep, blank it is.

HE SAID IT
“Tape will say we were fortunate to beat Vandy… they don’t have a bunch of slow dudes like they used to.” — South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier following the No. 9 Gamecocks’ four-point win over Vanderbilt.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“I would think we’re on the short end of the measuring stick.” — Brady Hoke, following Michigan’s 27-point loss to Alabama when asked about the game being a measuring stick for his team.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK
Despite it being the opening weekend of the 2012 season, the video clip of the week has nothing to do with football.  Sure, we easily could’ve gone with Hundley’s cherry-popping TD or Devin Smith‘s ridiculous TD reception or Kent State’s Andre Parker‘s wrong-way muff run or myriad others.  Instead, it has everything to do with my six-year-old daughter doing her best impersonation of Evil Knievel.  And don’t worry, it’s OK to LOL; with the exception of a bloody nose and a coupla scratches, she’s fine:

REALLY?
From the “Whoda thunk it?” department, by way of Nebraska sports information: Taylor Martinez (no relation) accounted for 249 yards of total offense in the first half of today’s game to push his career total to 5,808 total offensive yards. In the first half he passed Zac Taylor (5,777 yards) (no relation) to move into second place on the career total offense list.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

– Of the 74 games (Texas A&M-Louisiana Tech, Oregon State-Nicholls State postponed due to Hurricane Isaac) involving FBS programs the past three days, 35 of them featured opponents from the FCS level.  FBS schools, incidentally, were 32-3 in those games.  The three losses?  Pittsburgh to Youngstown State (ROTFL!!!), Memphis to Tennessee-Martin and Middle Tennessee State to McNeese State.

– Official attendance for Alabama-Michigan: 90,413, a record crowd for a college football game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

– From Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News: the Big Ten has lost 10 straight nonconference games vs. Top-Five teams by an average of 15.9 points.  Ouch.

– Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon became the first Alabama player ever to top the 100-yard plateau in his first game, rushing for 111 yards on just 11 carries.

– In just over three quarters of work, preseason Heisman favorite Matt Barkley passed for 344 yards and four touchdowns in USC’s romp over Hawaii.  Barkley’s top target was wide receiver Marquise Lee, who caught 10 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown.

– Oregon’s electrifying running back, DeAnthony Thomas, touched the football seven times in the win over Arkansas State — and scored three touchdowns.

– Nebraska’s Martinez set a career high in passing yards (354) and tied his career mark in passing touchdowns (five) in Nebraska’s 49-20 win over Southern Miss.

– Clemson running back Andre Ellington rushed for 231 yards in the Tigers’ 26-19 win over Auburn, while wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins set a school record (Sammy who?) with 13 receptions.

– In West Virginia’s 69-34 thrashing of in-state rival Marshall, Heisman contender Geno Smith threw for 323 yards on 33-of-36 passing and four touchdowns.

– Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib passed for a career-high 470 yards and four touchdowns in the Orange’s 42-41 loss to Northwestern.  He also obliterated the school record for completions with 44; the previous record was 29.

– Boston College’s Chase Rettig completed 32-of-51 passes for 441 yards and two TDs in a 41-32 loss to Miami

– On the fourth offensive snap of Nebraska’s win, running back Rex Burkhead ran 57 yards to open the scoring for the Cornhuskers.  That run represented the longest run of Burkhead’s career.

– In their 62-0 whitewashing of Elon, North Carolina had 14 different receivers catch a pass in the win and no one caught more than three balls.

– From ESPN’s Stats & Info Thursday night: “Cameron Nwosu of Rice blocked 3 PAT attempts tonight vs UCLA, setting an FBS single-game record and tying the overall Division I record.”

– Tulsa running back Trey Watts rushed for 125 yards on 10 carries — with no touchdowns — in a 38-23 loss to Iowa State.

– Florida has won 23 straight season openers, which represents the second-longest current streak in the nation.  The longest?  Nebraska’s 27.

– Last season, New Mexico was dead last in FBS in scoring, averaging just a hair over 12 points per game.  In their opener against Southern, the Lobos scored 38 — in the second quarter.  For the game, the Lobos totaled 66 in a 45-point win over the FCS program.

– For the first time in UT-San Antonio’s history, the Roadrunners have won a road game, dropping South Alabama 33-31 on a 51-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in a game originally scheduled for Thursday.  Of course, UTSA’s history consists of one season and one game, but still.

– Carson-Newman College’s Ken Sparks won the 300th game of his career Thursday, becoming the 11th head coach in college football history to hit that milestone.

– Sam Durley of Division III Eureka (Ill.) College set an NCAA all-division record with 736 yards passing.  He broke the old mark of 731 set back in 2000.

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Tide tops in spring game attendance despite lowest turnout of Saban era

Alabama Spring Game Getty Images

Only at football-mad Alabama could being tops at something nationally also, at the same time, result in a low-water mark for the current era.

Such was the case Saturday afternoon as a total of 73,506 fans took in their Crimson Tide’s annual A-Day spring game.  That total topped the previous 2014 high-water mark of just over 72,000 for Penn State’s first spring game under James Franklin last weekend.

It also bested Iron Bowl rival Auburn, coming off an appearance in the BCS title game, and its 70,465 fans this same day, although weather in that part of the state may have played a role in those numbers.

It’s highly (highly) (highly) likely the Tide’s total from this Saturday will finish out the spring campaign as the most at the FBS level in 2014; of the remaining spring games, only those at Michigan State and UCLA could even remotely hope to surpass that total — and even that’s simply wishful thinking on anyone’s part.

Despite adding a “Spring Game Attendance High” notch in the belt to go along with yet another recruiting title this year, the turnout for Saturday’s A-Day game was the lowest since Nick Saban took over in Tuscaloosa.  In fact, it was the lowest since the 78,200 showed up during Saban’s second spring.

Of course, there’s not really any reason (at all) to fret over spring attendance as the Tide has blown past the 90,000-mark three times –2011 (92,310), 2007 (92,138), 2010 (91,312) — and the 80,000-mark once — 2009 (84,050) — during Saban’s eight years heading the football program.

More to the point, the eight most-attended spring games in the school’s history have come under Saban; prior to Saban’s arrival, the record amount of fans who took in a spring game was 51,117 (1988), or more than 20,000 fewer than the low-tide attendance Saturday.

Yeah, again, no need to fret for those who were even remotely inclined.

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Confident Nick Marshall dazzles as Auburn exits spring

Nick Marhall, Montravius Adams AP

It’s impossible for a player to win a Heisman based on his spring-game performance, just as, barring injury, it’s impossible for someone to lose it.  What a solid-to-spectacular performance — especially when it’s televised — can do is show the level of progress made from the previous year… and put that player on the minds of those with a stiff-armed lean during the dog days of the offseason.

Based on that assumption — howdy, Coach Saban! — you can very well expect rave reviews and upbeat predictions for the upcoming season to be rolling in for Nick Marshall.

During Auburn’s spring game Saturday, the Tigers quarterback led the first-team offense on seven possessions… and put points on the board at the end of every single one of them.  Included in that very efficient and proficient performance were four touchdown passes from Marshall to three different receivers.  Additionally, all of that scoring came in the first half as Marshall didn’t see the field for the last two quarters.

One of the few negatives to take out of Marshall’s day was the fact that he completed 59 percent of his passes; offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has set a standard of a 65-percent completion percentage for Marshall.  Other than that, though, Marshall’s head coach came out of the day pleased with the triggerman of his offense as he grows both as a quarterback and as a leader.

“He’s more of a leader by example,” Gus Malzahn said of the second-year starter. “He doesn’t say a lot, but when he does, his teammates listen. …

“Our emphasis was obviously throwing the football. It was good to see our guys throwing and catching the ball in front of a crowd.”

For his part, Marshall had ominous words for what opposing defenses can expect from an offense that was run-centric in 2013 but could be adding a potent dimension for 2014.

We’re going to be a scary sight this year,” the quarterback said. “We can get real scary. We know we can run the ball. We’re just focusing on throwing the ball down the field. That’s the emphasis this year.”

In Marshall’s first year as a starter at this level of football, the Georgia transfer, by way of the JUCO ranks, played a significant role in leading the Tigers on a magical ride to the BCS title game following the 2013 season.  In two of AU’s biggest games of the season — the Kick-Six win over Alabama in the regular-season finale and the SEC championship game win over Missouri that propelled AU to its date with Florida State — Marshall completed just over 74 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and, most importantly, zero interceptions.  Not only that, but Marshall rushed for 200 yards and a pair of scores for good measure in those huge wins.

Of course, Marshall then proceeded to put up arguably his worst performance of the year against the best defense he faced, barely completing 50 percent of his passes and throwing a pick in what was still just a three-point loss to the Seminoles.

Coming off that inaugural starting campaign, AU coaches have done nothing but privately rave about the work Marshall has put in to improve himself this offseason.

Yes, it’s the spring and, yes, the spring game specifically is nothing more than a glorified scrimmage with fans in attendance.  Marshall has shown the desire to improve as a player, and those results showed themselves this afternoon.  How that all plays out when the real footballs start flying in a handful of months, though, remains to be seen.

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Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon takes home third straight A-Day MVP

TJ Yeldon, Landon Collins

Back in the day, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner derisively referred to his high-priced slugger, Dave Winfield, as “Mr. May.”  With no Steinbrenner-like derisiveness intended, T.J. Yeldon has taken the “Mr. April” mantle and literally run away with it.

As Alabama concluded Spring Practice 2014 Saturday with its annual A-Day spring game, Yeldon was named as the game’s MVP despite his Crimson team falling to the White squad 17-13.  Remarkably, it’s the third time in the running back’s three years with the Tide that he’s claimed those spring honors.

The true junior led all Tide backs with 95 yards on just 11 carries.  Yeldon had one of the three touchdowns the Tide offense was able to muster on the day as well, the other being touchdown passes from Blake Sims, the frontrunner (for now) to replace AJ McCarron, and Cooper Bateman.

Speaking of the quarterback situation, nothing was decided on that front — that battle will continue in earnest when Florida State transfer Jacob Coker gets to town — although there could’ve been a bit of concern this afternoon for a coach as averse to turnovers as Nick Saban.  All told, five Tide quarterbacks combined to toss four interceptions on the day.

Despite the turnovers and all-around lack of scoring in what was the first real public debut of new coordinator Lane Kiffin‘s offense, Saban, as expected, didn’t seem the least bit concerned.  Well, kind of.

After beginning his postgame remarks by stating that, from a coach’s perspective, “[n]obody ever has a bad spring game,” Saban did allow that the offense wasn’t quite where he thought it should be.

“I didn’t think the consistency on offense was what I would’ve liked for it to have been today,” Saban said in quotes distributed by the team. “We did make some plays, but there wasn’t the consistency that you would like to see in the offense.”

Seeing as the Tide is transitioning not only from a three-year starter at the quarterback position to a new coordinator, it’s not surprising that the consistency isn’t where Saban would like it.  Getting that consistency will be tested even further when Coker, who some or even most observers expect to be under center when the Tide opens the 2014 season, enters the fray when summer camp opens in early August and further dilutes the reps.

Regardless of how it ultimately turns out, it’s going to be absolutely fascinating to watch how the Tide gets to Saban’s optimum level of consistency at the position and moves on post-McCarron.

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Key recruiter leaving the Hawkeyes

Eric Johnson

A week ahead of its spring game, the Iowa football program has taken a rather significant hit on the recruiting front.

The Hawkeyes announced in a press release Saturday that assistant coach Eric Johnson has decided to leave Kirk Ferentz‘s coaching staff.  The state reason is that Johnson wants to pursue an unnamed career opportunity outside of football.

Johnson was a part of Ferentz’s first Iowa staff as a grad assistant.

“I know Eric and his family have given this decision great attention and thought, and we all wish them the best as they move forward,” said Ferentz in a statement.  “Eric has been a valued staff member since he joined our original staff in 1999 and has made many contributions to our program and team as a coach, recruiter and mentor.  I am very appreciative of Eric’s efforts and his commitment to Iowa and wish him all the best in the future.”

Johnson has served as assistant defensive line coach (2012-13), tight ends coach (2010-11; 2003-07) and assistant linebackers coach (2008-2009) during his decade-plus career with the Hawkeyes, but it was on the recruiting trail where Johnson made his biggest mark and where his departure will hit the program the hardest.  From the release on Johnson, who had spent the past 10 seasons as the Hawkeyes’ recruiting coordinator:

Johnson has been heavily involved in Iowa’s recruiting efforts since joining the Hawkeye staff. Iowa’s 2006 recruiting class was ranked extremely high by all the recruiting experts. Iowa’s 2005 recruiting class was ranked among the top 10 in the nation by all of the top recruiting services, while Iowa’s classes in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2009 were all ranked in the nation’s top 25. Sporting News ranked Iowa’s 2011 recruiting class second best among Big Ten programs and the 2012 class was ranked third among league programs.

Johnson ranked as one of the top ten recruiting coordinators in the country by Tom Lemming in 2001 and was named one of the Top Ten Recruiters in the Big Ten Conference by Rivals.com in 2007.

“My family and I can’t thank everyone enough for our 15 years at Iowa,” said Johnson. “It has been a great time in our lives. From a family standpoint, we had a chance to raise our children in a tremendous community. From a professional standpoint, I have worked for the best person in college football.

“Coach Ferentz is the best teacher, leader, and person I have ever been around; he truly embodies the Iowa way. I have also been mentored by three great coordinators in Norm Parker, Phil Parker and Ken O’Keefe, and had the opportunity to work with one of the best people anyone can ask for in Reese Morgan.”

(Photo credit: Iowa athletics)

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Ark. St.’s ‘Coach for a Day’ claims spring game win

Nick Bhardwaj

How much does a win at the FBS level cost?  For Nick Bhardwaj, it was $11,700 of well-spent funds.

Earlier this month, Arkansas State and head coach Blake Anderson announced that it was auctioning off the opportunity for a fan to coach one of the Red Wolves’ squads in the annual spring game.  The winning bid went to Bhardwaj, who is the 25-year-old CEO of a California-based tech company.

Friday, Bhardwaj put his football mettle to the test… and came out on the winning side as his Black team dropped a 48-17 decision on the Red squad.  Bhardwaj, a release from the school stated, “gave the team’s pregame and halftime speeches and communicated with the coaching staff on headset throughout the entire game while making play-calling and fourth-down decisions.”  That decision-making came after an extensive film session with offensive coordinator Walt Bell.

Also as part of the promotion, Bhardwaj received a Powerade bath (pictured)following the lopsided win.

The truth was I was just a fan of the sport, a fan of the game, and just happy to be a part of this opportunity,” Bhardwaj, who had never been to the state of Arkansas prior to the spring game, said during a press conference. Even a day after the game, Bhardwaj was still basking in the glow of the unique experience while Anderson was praising the man with the unblemished coaching mark.

In addition to Bhardwaj, ASU had another surprise up its spring sleeves as beloved former Red Wolves head coach Larry Lacewell was on the Red team sidelines as coach.  Lacewell stills holds the school record for career wins.

“[Athletic director] Terry [Mohajir] kept this a big secret that I was going to coach because he didn’t want the crowd to get so big, or he was scared that when everybody finds out I’m going to coach again that nobody’s coming,” Lacewell said.

Well done and very classy on all fronts by Anderson and the football program.

(Photo credit: Arkansas State athletics)

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VIDEO: Navy football takes near-annual trip to White House

Navy White House 1

Navy’s trips to the White House in celebration of its gridiron success are becoming such a yearly tradition that we wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the Midshipmen had their own monogrammed towels in one of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue’s myriad bathrooms.

Friday afternoon, Navy players and coaches were honored yet again by President Barack Obama at the White House for claiming the 2013 edition of the Commander-In-Chief trophy.  It’s the ninth time in the past 11 years the Midshipmen have staked its claim to the prestigious trophy.

Navy defeated both Air Force (28-10, after it looked like the game wouldn’t be played) and bitter rival (sometimes) Army (34-7) to earn its 14th CIC honor since the trophy was first handed out in 1972.  Despite the recent run of football success, the Midshipmen still trail the Falcons’ 18 trophies.  The Black Knights, the inaugural winner of the award, are well behind both service academies with six, with the last coming in 1996.

The trophy has been shared on four different occasions: 1974, 1976, 1980 and 1986.

Navy White House 2“When you sign up to play at Annapolis, you know you’re in for a different experience,” the President said. “So, yes, it’s about learning to be a good football player, but more importantly, it’s about learning how to be a good leader and to be a good man. And that’s what these outstanding Americans are and will continue to be.”

The President also acknowledged the tragedy with which the program has been forced to deal.  Last month, running back Will McKamey passed away after falling unconscious and into a coma during a spring practice session.

“I understand your motto for this season is ‘I Will’ in memory of him. And that’s what camaraderie is all about: Honor. Courage. Commitment. That’s what makes the Midshipmen so strong,” the POTUS said. “And that’s why I’m so proud to serve as your commander-in-chief. Not primarily because of what you’ve done on the football field, but because of your dedication to each other and your service to America.”

 

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Nick Saban ‘shocked’ at Manning-Gase imbroglio

Nick Saban Peyton Manning AP

In the course of a post yesterday on Peyton Manning and Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase having their brains picked on the no-huddle offense by Nick Saban during a recent visit to Tuscaloosa, we mentioned in passing, as noted by our redheaded stepmothers over at PFT, that the confab may have been in violation of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.

For its part, the NFL is looking into whether or not Manning and Gase violated the portion of the CBA which prohibits coaches from meeting with players prior to the start of their team’s offseason workouts (the Broncos began their offseason program Monday, after the visits took place).  For his part, Saban is stunned that an NFL issue may have arisen out of what’s sounding like an impromptu get-together, ensuring that he stressed that Manning and his coach were never in the same room discussing football during their overlapping time in Tuscaloosa.

From an interview Saban did with the Denver Post after the situation blew up:

“I’m like shocked that anybody would think someone did anything wrong on their part,” Saban said by phone Friday night. “I never met with Adam. When I talked with him I talked about his family. Peyton, we talked an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. Adam had been talking to our assistant coaches. I never talked with Adam about football.”

Asked specifically if Manning and Gase were in a meeting at the same time, Saban said, “Only to say hello and b.s. with each other. Adam came Monday and talked to the offensive coaches and some of the defensive coaches. I know he talked with Kirby (Smart, the Crimson Tide’s defensive coordinator). He and I just visited casually. We didn’t talk football. Adam was with me through two different college programs (at Michigan State and LSU).”

Saban firmly stated that Manning and Gase did not arrive together; in fact, the coach had been then there “for a couple days” prior to the player’s arrival.

Because of Manning’s proficiency in operating the no-huddle offense, the Alabama head coach and Denver Broncos quarterbacks spent a couple of hours one day — without Gase present — going over what defenses are problematic for that type of offense.

“And Peyton,” Saban said, “we were just talking ball. We talked about particular defenses that give us trouble with the no-huddle. Things like that.”

Given how the situation exploded, Saban took the opportunity to intimate an “ass out of you and me” joke when explaining the cause of the explosion.

“I was asked about their visit at my coach’s clinic press conference but I never said we sat down together. Because we didn’t. That’s what happens when people assume.”

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Hoke: Shane Morris narrowed gap on Devin Gardner after ‘good spring’

Shane Morris, Devin Gardner AP

While Devin Gardner said “it was amazing how much better (the quarterback competition this spring) made me,” the incumbent at the position –despite his pre-spring proclamation — exited the 15 practice sessions without a firm grasp on the starting job.

How tenuous Gardner’s hold on the job was further demonstrated by head coach Brady Hoke, who stated Friday “he might” when asked if Gardner would be his starter when the 2014 regular season commenced.  Gardner and Shane Morris have been engaged in what appeared to be a  neck-and-neck battle to lead the Wolverines offense throughout the spring.

When asked about Morris, Hoke was damn-near effusive, relative to his tepid comments Morris’ competition, in his praise.

“I thought Shane had a good spring,” Hoke said according to mlive.com. “Was it flawless? No. But I think he learned more about the urgency that he has to have to be the quarterback at Michigan.

“I thought he had a good spring.”

Gardner started every game last season before a foot injury he suffered in the loss to Ohio State in the regular-season finale sidelined him for the Wolverines’ bowl game.  In his first career start, and as a true freshman no less, Morris completed 24-of-38 passes for 196 yards and interception as UM dropped a 31-14 decision to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

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UGA expects Keith Marshall, pair of WRs back for summer workouts

Tennessee v Georgia

A high-profile running back and a pair of experienced and productive wide receivers missed all or part of Georgia’s spring practice due to injury and/or rehabilitation from injury, but that shouldn’t be the case when the Bulldogs takes its next big step in preparing for the upcoming season.

According to head coach Mark Richt, running back Keith Marshall (pictured) and wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley are expected to be healthy enough to participate in the football program’s “voluntary” summer workouts.  Those structured workouts will commence in June.

All three of the players are coming off of torn ACLs suffered last season that forced them to miss various amounts of games.  Marshall and Scott-Wesley both incurred their knee injuries during the Tennessee game last October, while Mitchell’s knee was injured in late August.

Mitchell had been participating — in non-contact fashion — in UGA’s spring practice earlier this year before another leg injury knocked him out for the remainder of the spring.

In addition to those three, Richt said he expects tight end Jay Rome, who suffered a foot injury last year and underwent surgery in the offseason, to be at full speed for the workouts as well.

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Washington latest to unveil new uniforms for 2014

View of Mascot

Another day, another FBS program has itself some new football duds.  Hooray?

This time around, it’s the Washington football players who will wear new uniform combinations for the 2014 season.  From the release:

The new stadium and athletic facilities are filled with Husky references, echoing the team’s ethos that “no dog runs alone.” A graphic symbol and unique coded sequence embroidered into the back inside neckline of the jerseys reinforces this mantra. Representing the quickest/most agile sled dog formation, the focal point of this special graphic is the area representing the “team dogs,” who are the heart and soul of the squad. The symbol is formed by lines that, when turned sideways, make an 11 to honor the 11 players on the field. Like a sled team, the Husky football team competes as a pack through innovative formations on field.

Our players can’t wait to take the field in these new uniforms. The design tells the story of our program and provides modern innovations in materials and design while embracing the rich tradition that has made Husky football so special,” said first-year UW head coach Chris Petersen in a statement.

Below are the three uniform combinations the Huskies will wear this season as well as a video tied to the release:

Washington Uniforms

 

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BYU lands Nebraska DB transfer Harvey Jackson

Monte Ball Harvey Jackson AP

The BYU Cougars are on the receiving end of some B1G transfer help in the secondary for the 2014 season.

The football program announced in a release Thursday that defensive back Harvey Jackson has signed with the football program and will continue his playing career with the Cougars.  As Jackson has already received his degree from NU, he will be eligible to play immediately in 2014.

“Harvey is an experienced player and a mature individual with excellent character,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said in a statement. “He will join our program after graduating in construction management with a business minor. He is a great fit for BYU on and off the field.”

Jackson played in 35 games the past three years, starting four of those contests.  He started the first three games of the 2013 season before losing that job.

In 2011, Jackson, a three-star member of the Cornhuskers’ 2010 recruiting class, was an Academic All-Big Ten selection

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Saban picks Peyton Manning’s no-huddle brain during visit

Nick Saban Peyton Manning AP

In mid-December last year, Lane Kiffin was brought to Alabama by head coach Nick Saban to help evaluate the Tide’s offense ahead of its BCS bowl matchup with Oklahoma.  Less than a month later, the former USC head coach was hired as Saban’s offensive coordinator.

While another hire likely won’t come out of another high-profile visit, Saban has again decided to pick the brain of some offensive-centric football types in his never-ending quest to improve his football program.

Saban confirmed to the media that current Denver Broncos and former Tennessee Vols quarterback Peyton Manning, along with Manning’s coordinator Adam Gase, visited Tuscaloosa for two days last week for a meeting that may have violated the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.  Saban said Manning has “been a friend and very well-respected for a long time,” and the visit came about as the player and coach were taking a football tour to select cities across the country.

Given the proliferation of no-huddle, spread offenses in the college game — and the Tide’s notorious struggles in stopping them — and Manning’s expertise in running such a system, Saban jumped at the opportunity to pick the brain of one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.

“Since they’re a no-huddle team, we had a lot of questions for them, in terms of what gives them problems and what defensive teams do that give them problems,” Saban said. “That was a mutual benefit. I know it was a benefit to us. I hope it was a benefit to them as well.”

Saban’s attempts to decipher the no-huddle riddle from a defensive standpoint has become almost legendary; earlier this month, a football clinic hosted by Saban featured, among others, the head coach of the fast-paced, high-octane Baylor Bears, Art Briles.

“The goals that you have for next year are basically the things that you struggled with last year,” Saban said in explaining the proliferation of high-profile visitors of late. “You make a list of those things through your quality control, and then you go out and look for people who might be able to help you develop a little more expertise, a better way to teach, a better way to coach some situation.

“Sometimes we bring somebody in here to visit with us. Sometimes we have people call us and ask us if they can come and visit us and try to learn from us, which we share with quite a few people. I think we usually learn from them as well when that happens.”

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Clemson responds to group’s ‘too religious’ complaint

Dabo Swinney AP

It was reported earlier this week that a group of individuals with too much time on its hands and not nearly enough of a life had filed a formal complaint to Clemson alleging that Dabo Swinney‘s football program blurs the line between the separation of church and state as mandated in the U.S. Constitution.

An attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation stated that “the football coaching staff is doing a number of things to promote Christianity to their student-athletes” such as conducting Bible studies with their players.  A school spokesperson subsequently fired back that “no one is required to participate in any religious activities related to the football program” and that any participation is strictly voluntary.

Thursday, the university released a lengthier rebuttal to the group’s accusations, stating that “the FFRF is mistaken in its assessment” of the religious atmosphere in and around the Tigers football program.  Below is the school’s statement, in its entirety:

“We believe the practices of the football staff regarding religion are compliant with the Constitution and appropriately accommodate differing religious views. Participation in religious activities is purely voluntary, and there are no repercussions for students who decline to do so. We are not aware of any complaints from current or former student-athletes about feeling pressured or forced to participate in religious activities.

“Clemson takes very seriously its obligation to provide a comprehensive program for the development and welfare of our student-athletes ¬ which encompasses academic, athletic and personal support, including support for their spiritual needs.

“We will evaluate the complaints raised in the letter and will respond directly to the organization, but we believe FFRF is mistaken in its assessment. The Supreme Court has expressly upheld the right of public bodies to employ chaplains and has noted that the use of prayer is not in conflict with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom.”

(Tip O’ the Cap: OrangeAndWhite.com)

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Attorney wants halted FSU probe in Jameis Winston case to continue

Florida State Spring Game Getty Images

A story that both Jameis Winston and Florida State would prefer to quickly fade away simply won’t.

The attorney for the alleged victim who claimed she was raped by the Florida State quarterback in December of 2012 told USA Today that the university has halted its Title IX investigation into the case.  The reason the probe is allegedly at a standstill?  The attorney, Blaine Kerr, says it’s because Winston refuses to cooperate with the university.

The university took the position that since he refused to respond to questions, they could not make any Title IX findings,” Kerr said according to the paper. “We have objected to that as impermissible reason to delay or terminate a Title IX sexual assault investigation because that would permit any charged party to thwart an investigation simply by refusing to answer questions.”

The paper went on to write that Kerr “wrote a letter to FSU earlier this month stating his objections to their investigation and calling for Winston to be charged under the school’s code of conduct policy.”

One law expert was baffled that the university would drop what’s a federally-mandated investigation simply because the accused refused to cooperate.

“The law is not supposed to operate in a way to reward people who don’t cooperate with either criminal or civil investigations,” said Erin Buzuvis, a professor of law at Western New England University and a Title IX expert. “It’s just bizarre to think that would result in, ‘Oh, I guess we just can’t do anything.’ Who would ever cooperate with anything?”

In early December of last year, following a three-week investigation, the Florida State’s Attorney office announced that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that the sexual encounter between Winston and the alleged victim was not consensual, and that no charges would be filed against the player.  The state’s attorney in charge of that investigation, William Meggs, was highly critical of the Tallahassee Police Department’s investigation into the alleged rape in a New York Times report earlier this week, a report in which the university subsequently expressed its disappointment.

Earlier this month it was reported that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has launched its own investigation into FSU’s handling of the case.

While Winston will not face criminal charges in connection to the incident, the alleged victim is expected to pursue civil action against him as well as, potentially, FSU and the TPD.

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Sooners’ leading tackler won’t face charges, but OU future ‘in limbo’

Oklahoma v Notre Dame Getty Images

At least from a legal perspective, a prominent member of Oklahoma’s defense has dodged a serious bullet.  Whether he remaisn part of the program, however, remains to be seen.

The office of the Cleveland County (Ok.) District Attorney confirmed to both the Daily Oklahoman and the Norman Transcript that  it has decided to not pursue charges against OU linebacker Frank Shannon related to an alleged incident of sexual assault Jan. 20.  The decision to decline prosecution, DA Greg Mashburn told the Oklahoman, was made weeks ago.

It was reported Thursday that Nelson’s was named in a Title IX sexual misconduct allegation report filed with the university in which it was alleged he sexually assaulted a female student in his apartment.  Conflicting statements from the two involved prompted the DA’s office to drop the matter and the Norman Police Department to drop its investigation.

In the report, a woman alleges that early on the morning of Jan. 20 after a party, Shannon offered her a ride home but stopped by his off-campus apartment. The two went into Shannon’s bedroom, where the woman claims he pulled her pants down and tried to forcibly have sex with her.

The woman and Shannon both say they knew each other before the incident. Shannon denied the allegations in the report, saying that the woman laid on top of him, kissed him and removed her own clothes, but that after an argument over whether or not she was menstruating, he went to the bathroom and she left the apartment.

The Oklahoman does write that “Shannon’s future at the University of Oklahoma, however, remains very much in limbo while an independent OU investigation runs its course, a legal requirement under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.”  OU’s student conduct office could impose sanctions on Shannon, up to and including a dismissal from the university.

As a redshirt sophomore in 2013, Shannon started all 13 games and led the Sooners in tackles with 92. He neither practiced last Thursday nor played in Saturday’s spring game due to what head coach Bob Stoops described as personal reasons.

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