Virginia Tech Spring Football

ACC spring game wrap-ups

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Some news, notes, quotes and other assorted tidbits from the three spring games contested across the ACC Saturday afternoon…

NORTH CAROLINA STATE
Dave Doeren concisely summed up his first-ever spring game as the Wolfpack’s head coach when he told reporters, “well, we won.”

Yes you did, coach.  Yes you did.

Specifically, the Red team downed the White team 20-10 in the first Kay Yow Spring Football Game.  Or, even more specifically, the defense dominated the offense in the glorified scrimmage.

The fact that the defense is significantly ahead of the offense at this point in his tenure — neither side scored an offensive touchdown in the first half doesn’t appear to bother Doeren at all.

“Offensively there are a lot of new guys in the lineup,” said Doeren.  “The plays are not that much different, but the names of the plays and the tempo are a lot different.  I think that’s the biggest thing.

“We are ahead defensively and that’s not a bad thing.  I would rather be ahead on the defensive side than the offense. I think we’ll catch up.”

— Defensive tackle T.Y. McGill was credited with a game-high three tackles for loss, while linebacker M.J. Salahuddin totaled eight tackles.

Pete Thomas, listed as the co-starter back on NCSU’s most recent depth chart, completed 15-of-26 passes for 168 yards with neither a touchdown nor an interception on the stat sheet.  Thomas worked with the first-team offense, for what it’s worth.  Thomas’ competition, Manny Stocker, directed the second-team offense and completed 11-of-20 passes for 96 yards.  He had the lone touchdown toss of the two, connecting on a 30-yard strike in the fourth quarter.

— Florida transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett threw a 39-yard touchdown pass in the Red team’s win.  Brissett, who announced he was leaving the Gators for NCSU in January, is not a part of the competition this year as he will have to sit out the 2013 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.

— The spring game raised more than $20,000 for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.  Yow was the Wolfpack’s beloved Hall of Fame women’s basketball coach who lost her long battle with breast cancer in January of 2009.

VIRGINIA TECH
With a significantly revamped coaching staff on that side of the ball, there was significant anticipation as to how the Hokies’ offense would look in Saturday’s spring game.  The reality, however, is they still have some significant work left to do before opening the season against two-time defending BCS champion Alabama.

The White team, composed mainly of backups, downed the Orange team, almost entirely starters, by the count of 27-9.  Yes, the reserves were spotted 13 points before the game even began; still, that merely means the non-starters merely edged the starters 14-9.

The offensive numbers were, well, offensive.  Just 41 yards rushing on 23 carries (1.78 yards per carry); 3-23 on third-down conversions and 1-3 on fourth-down conversions; 214 yards passing but three interceptions — two of which were brought back for touchdowns — by returning starting quarterback Logan Thomas (pictured, parallel to the ground); and just one offensive touchdown to go along with a lone trip to the red zone.

Frank Beamer tried to downplay the offensive struggles, but acknowledged things still need to be ironed out over the next four months or so.

“Today is kind of where we are right now,” the longtime head coach said. “Good defense. Good kicking game. And an offense that’s gotta function better. …

“On offense, we’ve got to get more consistent. We’ve heard that before. …  It’s not so important where we are today. It’s important where we can get to when we line up against Alabama.”

— The two defenses combined for 14 tackles for loss (for minus-48 yards) and three sacks.

— Backup quarterback Mark Leal led the Hokies to their lone touchdown of the game, a drive culminating with a Leal 30-yard pass to Ryan Malleck.

— New offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler wasn’t available to speak to reporters after the game due to recruiting obligations.  From the sounds of it, he wasn’t available during the game, either.  In fairness, Beamer noted that only roughly 25-percent of the offense has been installed.

— “I think all you all, and people are going to say I had a bad day today, but I can’t complain about how I played,” Thomas, the Hokies spring offensive MVP, said following his three-pick performance. “The ball was going where I wanted it to. I hit my spots. I was accurate. My mechanics have gotten better. My accuracy has gotten better. That’s all I can ask for.”

WAKE FOREST
Speaking of defense, the Demon Deacons’ offense scored just once in its spring game, and that was a 39-yard field goal by Chad Hedlund.

That effort came despite — or because of? — what head coach Jim Grobe described as a dumbed-down defense.

“The defense was awesome today,” said Grobe. “I thought they played great. We really dumbed the defense down today, we didn’t blitz and we didn’t play a lot of different coverages. It’s amazing how good they played when they know what to do and didn’t have a lot of thinking going on. That ought to be a lesson for our coaches.”

— Deacon ballcarriers ran 32 running plays on the day and netted a total of minus-five yards on the ground.  Wake quarterbacks weren’t much better, accounting for four interceptions.

— To go along with the four picks, Wake’s defense accounted for 12 tackles for loss and five sacks.  The offense was 2-18 on third downs and did not reach the red zone on any drive.

— “On offense, we really haven’t thrown the ball much this spring,” said Grobe. “We have to run the ball better. There’s no question about it. We’ve spent a lot of time this spring running the ball and we thought today would be a great day to come out and throw it more. … The defense had the upper hand today and hopefully we learned a few things about the quarterbacks today and know what we have to work on when we come back in August.”

Pat Narduzzi believes Pitt RB James Conner will play in 2016

In this photo taken Nov. 21, 2015, Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi, right, applauds a touchdown by his team next to James Conner in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Louisville in Pittsburgh. Conner spent the last three months weighing whether to return next fall or head to the NFL after a torn knee ligament ended his junior season before it really began. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP) MAGAZINES OUT; NO SALES; MONESSEN OUT; KITTANNING OUT; CONNELLSVILLE OUT; GREENSBURG OUT; TARENTUM OUT; NORTH HILLS NEWS RECORD OUT; BUTLER OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
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The college football world was stunned when Pittsburgh running back James Conner, who missed the bulk of the 2015 season due to a knee injury, announced he is battling cancer. Despite his ongoing bout with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his neck and chest, Conner is said to be in great physical shape and looks he could even be ready to play for the Panthers this fall once he beats cancer.

“I saw him yesterday in the hallway and he’s been working out with our kids to keep his sanity and he’s having fun doing it,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said recently to ESPN.com reporter James Shanker. “That’s the key is he’s having fun beating cancer and he’s got a great attitude and he looks good right now. He’s doing well and looks well. Doesn’t look like he lost weight. Looks like he could still play. He doesn’t look like he has cancer.”

Conner declared his intention to play football again when he announced his cancer to the world last December.

“I will play football again,” Conner said in early December. “I will be at Heinz Field again. I have the best coaches and teammates in the country. I thank God I chose Pitt because now I also have the best doctors in the country and together we will win. I know this city has my back.”

The former ACC Player of the Year is receiving financial support from Pitt to handle the costs of the treatments, which is allowed by the NCAA for special circumstances. This is certainly a special circumstance. Per NCAA rules, Conner and his family are required to have personal insurance but schools may pick up the tab for remaining costs not covered by the student’s insurance coverage. Pitt is able to lend its support because cancer is affecting Conner’s ability to play football.

The college football world will continue to root for Conner as he works his way back to the football field.

Cost of attendance not having negative recruiting impact on Group of Five (yet)

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs for a first down against Temple during the second half of the American Athletic Conference championship football game, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Houston. Houston won 24-13. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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The outlook on the impact cost of attendance has on non-power conference institutions may not be known for another year or so, but after one recruiting cycle since the power conferences were granted autonomy powers, cost of attendance stipends have not been seen to be a major difference in the game as one might have thought originally.

Underdog Dynasty took a look at the issue and how Group of Five schools have fared. The initial findings suggest Group of Five programs are not struggling nearly as much as once suspected when it comes to cost of attendance stipends, although it is something that not every program has jumped into providing just yet. And yes, the topic of stipends does pop up on the recruiting trail, which suggests the Group of Five programs that can provide a little extra money as part of a player’s enrollment do figure to have some sort of advantage. However, stipends do not appear to be a game changer on a massive enough scale.

From Underdog Dynasty;

Another fear from last season was that smaller athletic departments couldn’t afford it. Those may have been overblown as well. My Google search turned up news of South Dakota State phasing in COA stipends for all student-athletes, something North Dakota and North Dakota State already have done.

All three are FCS schools. If they can afford the stipends, albeit funding 63 football scholarships rather than 85, G5 schools should as well. Even the Sun Belt distributes more than $1 million per school in College Football Playoff payouts.

Houston, of the American Athletic Conference, just landed a recruiting class that would make a good number of power conference programs jealous, although the Cougars were the only Group of Five program to finish ranked in the top 50 in the final team rankings compiled by Rivals (BYU finished No. 48). Boise State, UCF and Temple fell in the upper half of the FBS mix as well.

Just as one year of the College Football Playoff system did not provide enough empirical evidence to suggest the Big 12 should expand to 12 just to get a conference championship game, one year of cost of attendance stipends is not nearly enough to suggest it has a devastating or minimal impact on the recruiting game in college football. This is just something that will have to be watched for a few more years in order to gather more evidence to evaluate.

Former Wolverine Brian Cole transferring to Kentucky

FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2013, file photo, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops watches from the sideline during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. Stoops has recruited some high-level talent since coming to Lexington three years ago and the Wildcats have taken substantial steps forward. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File
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Maybe it’s the new uniforms. Maybe it’s an opportunity for a fresh start. Whatever the reason, former Michigan wide receiver and defensive back Brian Cole is heading to Kentucky.

Cole was a four-star recruit in Michigan’s Class of 2015. The second-ranked player from the state of Michigan was a significant addition to the Wolverines by then first-year Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, which helps make his decision to leave for another program now a bit interesting to note considering the momentum seemingly being generated in Ann Arbor. He was released from his scholarship in Michigan in January.

Due to NCAA transfer rules, Cole will be forced to sit out the 2016 season and will be eligible to return to the playing field again in 2017. The good news for Cole is he will still have three years of eligibility remaining.

Cole appeared in two games for the Wolverines in 2015, but he spent most of the season held back by injury issues. His addition to the Kentucky roster is a big win for head coach Mark Stoops, who has developed a little bit of a habit for adding some talented transfers to his program in Lexington.

Michigan and Notre Dame could be rekindling their football series

FILE - In this Sept. 10, 1994, file photo, Notre Dame's Derrick Mayes (1) pulls in a touchdown catch in front of Michigan's Chuck Winters (35) during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind. Mayes may have grabbed this spectacular catch for a score, but Michigan's Remy Hamilton kicked four field goals, including a 42-yarder with 2 seconds left, to give the Wolverines a 26-24  victory. (AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser, File)
AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser, File
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The bitter divorce between Michigan and Notre Dame on the football field could soon be forgiven. There are hints and clues the series could be heading to a revival.

Michigan athletics director Jim Hackett started lighting the fire for the rivalry series renewal discussion last week when he mentioned during a radio interview the two schools have opened communication on the subject.

“I will tell you this, the relationship is good, and it started with [Jim Harbaugh] and coach [Brian Kelly] working together on a desire to play together,” Hackett said. “But (there’s) nothing firm yet.”

In 2013, when the two schools were beginning to play what was to be their final game son the existing contract, Kelly downplayed the rivalry with Michigan by noting it has not been one of the best rivalries in Notre Dame’s history. In his defense, he is right. In fact, Notre Dame has a more storied history with Michigan State, not to mention USC or Navy.

“I really haven’t seen it as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries,” Kelly said according to the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve seen it as just one of those great football games that Notre Dame has played.

“For me, I’ve been in Michigan a long time, I’ve always felt the Notre Dame-Michigan game was a big regional game. But in the Notre Dame history books, this game has (been) played, but obviously there have been some years where it hasn’t been played for a number of years.”

Kelly did later go on to say he was optimistic the series with Michigan would return in the future. Harbaugh was quick to follow up on the idea of playing Notre Dame again. Now we just sit and wait to see when that may become a possibility.

Scheduling for both Michigan and Notre Dame have become a bit more complex in more recent years than it used to be. Notre Dame is part of an ACC scheduling rotation that guarantees a certain number of power conference opponents from the ACC each season and the Irish continue rivalry game son an annual basis with USC, Stanford and Navy. Michigan is moving to a nine-game Big Ten schedule with the requirement to play at least one power conference opponent in its non-conference slate each season. The Wolverines already have that requirement met through the 2027 season but have shown a willingness to schedule two power conference opponents in a season, which is the case in 2020 and 2021 (games vs. Washington and Virginia Tech in alternating home-and-home deals).