Tyler Ferguson

Big Ten spring game wrap-ups


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

To say that the Spartans’ quarterbacks struggled somewhat during today’s spring game would be an understatement of mammoth proportions.

MSU quarterbacks combined to go 22 of 53 for 386 yards, two touchdown and two interceptions.  Last year’s starter and presumptive front-runner for the job this season, Andrew Maxwell, completed just nine of his 20 attempts for 120 yards and the game-winning touchdown pass.  The strong-armed Connor Cook, who has gained some ground on Maxwell this spring, threw for 217 yards and a scoring toss but also completed less than 40 percent of his passes (10-26).  Redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor completed five of six passes — three to his offensive teammates, two to his defensive teammates.

All in all, it was rough outing at a position where the Spartans may have more questions exiting spring than they did entering it.

Head coach Mark Dantonio said that the incumbent would top the depth chart entering summer, but stopped short of anointing him as the season-opening starter.

“I think you leave here at the end of spring saying that (Andrew) Maxwell comes into the summer camp number one based on knowledge and consistency in terms of performance.”

For his part, Maxwell feels as if he’s done enough to retain the job.

“I feel like I’ve done everything that I could do to make my case to the coaches to be the guy, and I feel like every day I came out and got better,” the player said. “I took a competitive mindset to every practice, and the ultimate decision is with Coach D.”

— The Spartans’ defense accounted for two touchdowns in the Green team’s 24-17 win over the White squad: a Chris Laneaux 25-yard interception return and a fumble recovery by Kyler Elsworth that was returned 41 yards.  On the other side of the ball, Aaron Burbridge caught five passes for 113 yards.

— Former MSU quarterback great Kirk Cousins, now Robert Griffin III‘s backup in Washington, returned to the East Lansing campus as color analyst for the Big Ten Network’s coverage of the game.  Based on Cousins’ comments, it doesn’t appear this will be his last rodeo in the booth.

“I want the football thing to last as long as it possibly can, but at the same time, in the offseason it makes a lot of sense to pursue other opportunities and prepare yourself for whenever football ends,” Cousins said. “And that’s why I’m here today, and it’s just a bonus I get to be back in familiar territory, watching the team that I love.”

— One of the coolest parts of the Spartans’ spring game was their helmets.  Specifically, the stickers on the back of the helmets honoring those who were killed or injured by the bombings at last Monday’s Boston Marathon.  Very classy gesture:

Michigan State Helmets

If you were an individual looking for some clarity at the quarterback position coming out of the Nittany Lions’ spring game, you are likely somewhat disappointed at this point in time.

Following the game, head coach Bill O’Brien stated very firmly that neither Steven Bench nor Tyler Ferguson (pictured) had grabbed hold of the starting job and the competition would continue into the “voluntary” workouts and on into summer camp.  Both players completed nine of 15 passes, with Bench throwing for 99 yards and Ferguson 90.  Ferguson tossed two touchdown passes to Bench’s one.

As has been the case for most of the spring, the second-year coach was, for the most part, pleased with the duo’s performance.

“I thought they both (Bench and Ferguson) produced,” O’Brien said. “I thought both had some nice throws. Like everybody, coaches and players included, in every game you play, you wish you had some plays back. I’m sure they do too. I thought they both did some decent things out there today.”

In his post-game talk with reporters, O’Brien made it perfectly clear where the competition stands.

“I’d say, no, I’m not any closer as I sit here right now,” the coach said when asked about naming a starter. “Eventually, I’ll have to make a decision.”

O’Brien added that he will now go back and look at all of the spring practice tapes as they work toward naming a starter at the position.

The real competition, though, won’t begin until August; Christian Hackenberg, a five-star 2013 recruit rated as the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in this year’s class, will join the competition this summer, with most expecting the Virginia product to make a very serious run at the starting job as a true freshman.

— In front of 28,000 or so fans who braved the rain and snow and cold, the the Blue team (defense) dropped the White squad (offense), 67-47.  It was the second straight year the defense has “won” the spring game.

A big reason for the defensive win?  The Nittany Lions’ defense accounted for nine sacks, which counted four points apiece in the scoring system utilized by O’Brien.

— Youth was certainly served for the Nittany Lions as the school noted that all six players who ran, caught or threw a touchdown will be a freshman or sophomore this season.  Both of the front-runners for the starting QB job will be sophomores.

— Another of the young ones was running back Akeel Lynch, who led all rushers with 83 yards on his 13 carries.

— “I feel terrible because I love that city,” O’Brien said of the tragic events in Boston this past week. “I grew up 20 minutes north of that city and my brother Tommy is heavily involved in that city and so is my older brother and my dad and my mom so I feel terrible for them. … Boston is a very resilient city and we caught him last night so that was good.”

At the end of Gary Andersen‘s first spring as the Badgers’ head coach, and in the midst of a crowded quarterback competition, it was UW’s defense winning most of the plaudits in Madison Saturday afternoon.

Thanks to the “unique” scoring systems that are all the rage during spring games, the final score appears to be a high-scoring offensive affair: Cardinal 61, White 47.  The former team consisted of the Badgers’ defense, the latter the offense.

The game wasn’t a true measure of either unit, however, as Andersen lamented afterwards that “[w]e’re basically missing six starters right now on the defensive side that didn’t play a snap today, and four or five on the offensive side.”

Also, the fact that the game was televised on the Big Ten Network led Andersen to keep his team’s cards very close to his vest.

“I will say this: Defense today was very vanilla. Offensively, we were very generic, and defensively, we were very generic,” the former Utah State head coach said. “We did throw the ball, bottom line, and we did catch the ball better than we have all spring, and that was very encouraging.”

— The Cardinal team totaled 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks in the game.  As those plays were worth two points apiece, the defense scored 36 of its 61 points off those two types of plays.  They also earned 24 points off of eight three-and-outs.

— As far as the quarterback battle goes, two players, Joel Stave and Curt Phillips, received the vast majority of the reps.  Stave completed 15 of his 20 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown, while Phillips went 8-of-13 for 82 yards.  The other quarterbacks on the roster, including former Maryland Terrapin Danny O’Brien, attempted just three passes each.

— Running back Melvin Gordon, who will be charged with the task of replacing Montee Ball, ran for a team-high 74 yards and scored the game’s only touchdown on the ground.  He also added three catches for 35 yards.

— “Yeah, we’re in a good spot,” Andersen said when asked if his team is where he thought it’d be at the end of the spring.  “You’re never going to get everything you want. You’re never going to have it perfect. We wanted consistency. I think we got that. We wanted effort. I think we got that.”

College Football Playoff: What happens if Clemson or Alabama lose?

Ezekiel Elliott

Coming into championship week in college football this week it appears the four-team College Football Playoff is nearly set. Oklahoma, 11-1 and champion of the Big 12, appears to be locked into one of the four available playoff spots with no more games to play. The winner of the Big Ten championship game between undefeated Iowa and 11-1 Michigan State appears to be a playoff qualifier, with the Big Ten champion getting one spot. As long as top-ranked and undefeated Clemson and once-beaten Alabama come through with wins in their respective conference championship games, the field is set. Right?

But what if Clemson loses? What if Alabama loses? Who gets in then?

A Clemson loss would make for a pretty good case for North Carolina. The Tar Heels would be ACC champions with a 12-1 record, capped by the win against Clemson. A 12-1 ACC champion would seem like a very ideal playoff candidate, although aside from the hypothetical Clemson victory, what else is there to show? The ACC Coastal was a relatively weak division this year, although Pittsburgh didn’t have a terrible season and Miami somehow strung together a better season that it seemed might be possible earlier in the year. North Carolina’s biggest hurdle is having played two FCS opponents, which was a result of some scheduling obligations beyond their control forcing them to fill the schedule with an extra game against an FCS opponent. But does it really matter UNC played two FCS schools when they ripped through their division down the stretch and would have beaten Clemson?

Stanford is a rising candidate as well, despite having two losses. If the Cardinal get by USC in the Pac-12 championship game, they will have just the kind of late push needed to sneak into the argument and hope having a Pac-12 championship is what pushes them ahead in the end. A win against Notre Dame helps, but Stanford also lost twice, once to Oregon at home and once on the road at Northwestern. Oregon and Washington State aside, Stanford was fairly dominant in Pac-12 play, but two losses puts them behind the pack depending upon whom you ask.

Then there is Ohio State. The Buckeyes are defending champions, but what happened last year should have absolutely no bearing on what happens this season. The only loss suffered by the Buckeyes came two weeks ago against Michigan State, and it is fair to suggest Ohio State has not exactly been a dominant force all season long. It did, however, score better wins during the regular season than North Carolina will claim (well, besides Clemson under these scenarios), and one of those wins came on the road against one of North Carolina’s division rivals, Virginia Tech. If comparing similar opponents, Ohio State’s performance against the Hokies was also superior to the victory UNC had in Blacksburg. Advantage, Ohio State?

You can make an argument for all three options discussed above,but it is clear one of two things needs to happen to start opening the door for the Cardinal, Tar Heels or Buckeyes. Clemson or Alabama needs to lose. UNC will get a chance to do what they need to do against Clemson, but otherwise folks in Columbus and Palo Alto will be rooting hard for an SEC championship game upset by Florida. The higher-ranked team in the SEC Championship Game has won five straight times and 17 out of 23 seasons.

Senior vote to determine SEC Championship status for suspended Gators WR Demarcus Robinson

Demarcus Robinson

Just hours before kicking off against in-state rival Florida State, Florida announced wide receiver Demarcus Robinson had been suspended for the game for a violation of a unspecified team rule. Now, as the Gators prepare to take on Alabama in this week’s SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, the status of Robinson has yet to be determined. Florida head coach Jim McElwain says he will leave Robinson’s fate in the hands of his teammates, or at least the seniors.

“I’m going to visit with the seniors. They’ll determine which direction we’ll go,” McElwain said Monday, according to The Gainesville Sun.

“Look, he made a choice, OK. He made a choice,” McElwain said. “You know what, our family needs to make this decision and those guys are the leaders of our family.”

McElwain’s leaving a player’s fate up to the team is certainly not unprecedented. Les Miles of LSU was criticized at length for allowing the fate of players be handled by a team vote. There are pros and cons to allowing such decisions be handled in such a manner, and there may be no right way to go about it. On one hand, a coach allowing players to make these types of decisions may show trust in a team’s leaders, which can be good for morale and establishing trust. On the other hand, it may lead to players having their way and being disgruntled with a coach’s decision if they do not get a say. Of course, McElwian already stepped his foot down for the Florida State game.

Robinson is Florida’s second-leading receiver with 505 yards and two touchdowns this season.

UCF hires Oregon OC Scott Frost to be head coach

Chip Kelly, Scott Frost

Tuesday morning will start with one fewer coaching vacancy to fill. Multiple reports Tuesday morning say UCF will hire Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost to fill its role as head coach of the Knights.

Frost was a part of two national championship teams as a player for Nebraska under Tom Osborne. His coaching career began in 2002 with the Huskers as a graduate assistant and continued as a graduate assistant four years later at Kansas State. After two seasons as an assistant coach with Northern Iowa, Frost joined Chip Kelly’s coaching staff at Oregon as a wide receivers coach. He has worked and played for a number of football-rich minds like Bill Walsh, Osborne, Bill Parcells, Bill Bellichick, Jon Gruden and Chip Kelly. After Kelly left Oregon for the NFL in 2013, Frost was given a promotion to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after Mark Helfrich received a promotion to head coach in Eugene. This will be Frost’s first job as a head coach, but he has been a rising name among coordinators and it was only a matter of time before he landed a head coaching job.

Frost will be taking over a UCF program coming off a season with a record of 0-12, but the potential for a quick rebuild is in place with the kind of talent pool UCF can tap into in the state of Florida. Remember, UCF won a Fiesta Bowl just two seasons ago, which is evidence you can win meaningful games with the program. With Frost bringing Oregon’s offensive flair into the state of Florida, UCF could become dangerous quite quickly, and that could easily lead to UCF being a top contender in the Group of Five, if not just the American Athletic Conference.

That Orlando bar may not have to be giving away too many more free beers in 2016, although here’s hoping they come up with a nice little advertising campaign for some Frosty beverages.

UPDATE (9:34 a.m.): UCF has made the official announcement to introduce Frost as its new head coach.

Bud Foster says he is too invested in Virginia Tech to leave Hokies

Bud Foster

For years there was a thought that Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster would one day be the successor to longtime head coach Frank Beamer. With Beamer announcing his decision to retire at the end of the season, there was never any word about Foster being handed the keys to the program. Instead, Virginia Tech has found a coach with an offensive identity in the hiring of Justin Fuente from Memphis. Given the way coaching changes can tend to go, nobody would have blamed Foster for being a tad miffed at not getting the job in Blacksburg, but he will remain the defensive coordinator of the Hokies as a key member of Fuente’s new staff. He says he has put in too much work to leave now.

“I’m rooted in here. We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears in this place,” Foster said Monday. “It wasn’t hard. I wouldn’t have stayed here for as long as I’ve had if I didn’t feel like we had the opportunity to win at the highest level. I feel that more than ever right now.”

Fuente being able to keep Foster on the staff is a huge advantage. Foster not only ensures Fuente will have a dependable coach managing the defense, which should remain one of the top defensive units in the ACC as long as he stays put. Keeping Foster on the staff also allows for some tremendous stability during the transition, which can always be key when a coach with no previous ties to the university takes over a program. Foster can help Fuente get acclimated to his new surroundings and also keep valuable recruiting ties alive and well during the change.

Foster acknowledged he would love to one day be a head coach, and that dream will continue, but for now he is more interested in contributing at Virginia Tech.

“I always wanted to be a head coach. This would be a dream job. I’m happy with where I am. I’ll never be bitter. I won’t cry myself to sleep wishing “what-ifs” and they type of thing. My goal is to be the best football coach I can possibly be. I want to help this program be the best football program it can possibly be.”