The Swami

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Six-Pack of Storylines

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Finally, after (nearly) seven long, agonizing months filled with seemingly nothing but arrests, suspensions, transfers, lawsuits and one Sharknado, the dawn of a new season is upon us.

In just 24 days, we’ll be hunkered down in front of the television taking in the glory that is the South Carolina Gamecocks playing host to the post-JFF Texas A&M Aggies. The day before that, the most addicted of us [/raises hand slowly at first, then proudly and defiantly] will take in the actual kickoff to the 2014 FBS season: FCS Abilene Christian at Georgia State of the Sun Belt.

In between now and then? Previews. Glorious, illuminating, voluminous previews as far as the eye can see.

We’ll kick off the look at the upcoming season the same way we have the past five years: storylines that you should pay attention to or could be in play in the coming months.

Proceed, and enjoy.

YOU KIDDING ME?!?! PLAYOFFS?!?!
No, Coach Mora, we’re not kidding. And we’re going to talk about it as a playoff has finally, thankfully come to the game of college football, and it will be, at least entering early September, the most talked-about aspect and overriding theme of the new season.

We’ll have a more in-depth primer on the particulars of the new system exactly three weeks from today (check out the repository for all of the preview posting dates HERE), but for now here are the bare essentials of what you need to know: the playoff will consist of four teams and two semifinal games — this year hosted by the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl — played on New Year’s Day followed by a stand-alone national championship game 11 days later at the home of the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. The four teams will be chosen by a committee consisting of 13 individuals, a group made up of former coaches, current and former administrators — five current athletic directors, one each from a Power Five conference, included — one retired media member and a former United States Secretary of State.

If you thought controversy was a thing of the past with the glorious death of the BCS? Think again as the new College Football Playoff and how the committee selects the four teams will dwarf just about anything we ever saw in the decade and a half under the old bastard of a system. Buckle up — and grab your popcorn — as it’s going to be one hell of a ride as the new system in general and the committee specifically works its way through what’s expected to be some serious and controversial growing pains.

Florida State v ClemsonJAMEIS’ ENCORE, FSU’S TITLE DEFENSE
Both Jameis Winston personally and his Florida State Seminoles as a team will have tough acts to follow in 2014.

All Winston did in his first season as a starter at the collegiate level was become just the second-ever freshman to win the Heisman Trophy — along with an armful of other postseason honors — en route to leading his team to the last-ever BCS title. During that championship run, the Seminoles were a devastating football machine that destroyed just about everything in its path: FSU won every game but two — Boston College (48-34) and Auburn (34-31) — by at least 27 points; they won nine of the 14 by 30 or more. In other words, they were a veritable buzzsaw that will see a plethora of returning talent (15 starters), leaving the Seminoles as the favorite until someone knocks them off. That doesn’t mean the ‘Noles are without question marks, though, and not the least of which involves Winston.

The redshirt sophomore has had an, ahem, eventful last several months, from the rape allegations to the crab caper to media-created hiccups littered about here and there. He will enter 2014 with a Johnny Manziel-level of hype and will be under perhaps an even harsher microscope than Johnny Football ever faced at the collegiate level. What if any impact will the added scrutiny have on Winston on the field? The answer to that question will go a long way in determining how successful the ‘Noles are in their title defense. Well, that and replacing a couple of key pieces on both sides of the ball due to early departures for the NFL as well as the highly-respected defensive coordinator leavi… meh, who am I kidding. Barring a substantial injury outbreak, FSU will be a heavy, heavy favorite to stake its claim to one of the four spots in the inaugural CFP.

SEC LogoCAN THE SEC CLIMB BACK TO THE CFB MOUNTAINTOP?
For six consecutive years, from 2007 through 2012, the college football season ended the way it began: with an SEC team as the reigning BCS champion. Then 2013 happened as the conference of champions and its ballyhooed seven-year title run morphed into the conference of runner-ups as Auburn dropped a three-point heartbreaker to Florida State in Pasadena. The question now becomes, was it just a one-year blip or the beginning of a trend? The answer, of course, depends on who you ask and how much stock you place on a single season.

For an SEC fan, it’s resoundingly the former, and for good reason. At least on paper, no fewer than five of the teams in the conference — Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina — have the kind of talent that could translate into a spot in the College Football Playoffs. Hell, there could even be two teams from the preeminent college football league qualify for the CFP, with some folks already planting the seed that it would be a shame and/or a crime if half the field didn’t come from the SEC. Nonetheless, don’t let one title-less year fool you — the SEC is still the deepest conference in college football, with any team looking to grab the first-ever playoff trophy facing the very real possibility of going through an SEC squad — or two — to get it.

On the flip side, there are concerns, especially when it comes to the most important position on the gridiron. Quick quiz: who is the most experienced SEC quarterback entering 2014? Answer: Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace. Now, when the answer to that question is “Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace,” red flags fly up and sirens go off at an alarming rate. That’s certainly a cause for concern, with four of the five perceived favorites — Auburn and Nick Marshall being the lone exception — breaking in a new starter. Another? The gap between the SEC and the rest of the country appears to be shrinking, at least slightly. Oregon, Oklahoma — as it showed in the Sugar Bowl thumping of Alabama — Ohio State, UCLA, Michigan State, Baylor and Stanford all have the look of teams who could not only keep pace with the best the SEC has to offer, but could prove teams that trump the best the preeminent football conference in the country.

Regardless of how it ultimately plays out, it will be fascinating to watch how the conference as a whole reacts to being the hunter instead of the hunted.

California v OregonWEST COAST PREPS FOR AERIAL BOMBARDMENT
There may be question marks pockmarking the SEC at the quarterback position all across the board, but that’s not even remotely the case in the westernmost FBS conference.

Start with the main ingredient of two serious Heisman contenders — Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, UCLA’s Brett Hundley — add in a dash of under-the-radar candidates — Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion — and a pinch of above-average quality — Washington State’s Connor Halliday, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, USC’s Cody Kessler and Cal’s Jared Goff — and you have a recipe for Pac-12 quarterbacks keeping defensive coordinators across the country awake and balled up in the corner in the fetal position.

How quarterback-driven will the Pac-12 be in 2014?  The two preseason favorites — by both the media and gamblers — are Oregon and UCLA; it’s no coincidence that Mariota and Hundley, especially the former, are viewed as being head and shoulders above their conference counterparts.  How those two perform will go a long way in determining how the conference race plays out — and whether either can push their respective teams and thus their league into the College Football Playoff this January.

Will MuschampSCORCHING SEATS FOR UF’s MUSCHAMP, UM’S HOKE
Many coaches will enter 2014 on the proverbial hot seat — we’ll have a more extensive look at that in a little over a week — but none more so than the two referenced in the headline.

And, of the two, there’s none higher-up on the Scoville scale than Will Muschamp, as he readily acknowledged earlier this summer.  First, the particulars: coming off an 11-2 season in his second year at Florida that raised the hopes of Gator Nation, the football program hit rock-bottom with a resounding thud and in near-historic fashion.  The 4-8 record was the worst since 1979; a bowl-less postseason was the first for a non-sanctioned Gators team since 1986; a second 3-5 record in SEC play in three years showed just how far behind the conference elite they currently are; and, arguably most embarrassingly, UF lost to FCS Georgia Southern in The Swamp.  The calls for Muschamp’s head on a platter from the media and fans alike were coming fast and furious.  So much so that the athletic director had to offer his beleaguered head coach an in-season vote of confidence. While Jeremy Foley has publicly supported the coach, there is growing concern behind closed doors that Muschamp may not be the man to lead the Gators out of the post-Urban Meyer morass — which actually started while Urb was lording over Gainesville — in which the program’s currently stuck.  One more season even remotely similar to 2013 — I’m guessing 8-5/9-4 with a bowl win to slightly cool down the seat — and the post-Muschamp era will begin in earnest.

Now, if Muschamp’s a Carolina Reaper in Scoville Heat Units, that would make Brady Hoke a, what, Bhut Jolokia?

Early on, it was all chili puppy dogs and pizza rainbows for Hoke in Ann Arbor.  In his first year at Michigan, the Wolverines went 11-2 and beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.  Most importantly, and even as it came between the tenures of Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer, UM ended a six-game losing streak against hated rival Ohio State.  The honeymoon was hot, steamy and sweaty; the marriage since?  Ankle-length robes and open bathroom doors.  The Wolverines have gone a pedestrian 15-11 the last two years — two losses in minor bowls included — and returned to their losing ways in The Game.  Not only that, but UM has watched as “little brother” Michigan State has leapfrogged them, with the Spartans not only turning themselves into a force in the conference but a factor on the national stage as well.  Throw in some coaching changes, uncertainty at the quarterback position, an offensive line that’s subpar and suspect, just add everything all up and, like Muschamp, this could very well be a make-or-break year for Hoke.

Charlie StrongCAN CHARLIE MAKE TEXAS STRONG IMMEDIATELY?
The short, and likely correct, answer: nope. Or, unlikely if that makes you feel better. There are several unknowns when it comes to Charlie Strong taking over as Mack Brown‘s replacement at Texas. How will he handle the pressure cooker — created by media, fans and boosters alike — that is Austin and football-mad UT after coming from a hoops school like Louisville? More to the point, how will he handle the politicking and, even more importantly, the back-room games that are ofttimes played at a university and within an athletic department the size of the Longhorns?

Those are but a couple of the unknowns; here’s a known: Strong is a damn-fine head football coach, one who isn’t getting his just due as the home-run hire he was for UT. He may not have been the “people’s choice” to replace Brown, may not have even been the boosters’ choice, but, after Nick Saban or his agent spurned the reported nine-figure overtures, he was the best option for the Longhorns moving forward. Does that mean UT will be back on the stage immediately? Heck no, a point Strong somewhat controversially conveyed this offseason… and one he stated it for good reason.

The cupboard wasn’t exactly stocked or overflowing when Strong took over, with the coach doing some additional cleaning of the pantry the past couple of weeks.  Texas is behind at least Oklahoma, Baylor and, probably, Kansas State in the Big 12 let alone whatever their standing is nationally.  And, for good measure, keep in mind that this is a team that, over the past four years, has gone just 30-21, which is more Texas Tech University than University of Texas. Strong is a good coach; he’s not, however, an instantaneous miracle worker. Strong will need time to put his imprint on the football program, to trudge through the malaise and institute a much-needed culture change. Hopefully the athletic department, boosters and fans give him the time he will need to turn things around.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Texas brings back former ‘Horn to coach running backs

MORGANTOWN, WV - NOVEMBER 14:  D'Onta Foreman #33 of the Texas Longhorns rushes against Jarrod Harper #22 of the West Virginia Mountaineers in the second half during the game on November 14, 2015 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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From 2001-05, Anthony Johnson played running back at Texas. And by that, we mean he mostly stood and watched as Cedric Benson and Jamaal Charles played running back for the Longhorns.

Now his job is to recruit and develop the next Cedric Benson and Jamaal Charles.

Johnson was announced as Texas’ new running backs coach on Saturday, making this his third stint with the burnt orange and white following a run a quality control assistant from 2007-09. Johnson replaces Tommie Robinson, who returned to a role with USC last month.

“Our entire staff thought that Anthony was a perfect fit to coach our running backs,” head coach Charlie Strong said in a statement. “He’s a tremendous young coach with great energy and enthusiasm. Anthony played high school ball in Texas, played and coached at Texas and really knows the pride and tradition of our place and our state well. He’s a guy that has played running back at a high level, who also has gained a great deal of experience coaching the position and just has so much passion for the game and drive as a coach. You could really see that during our visits, and I know Sterlin (Gilbert) and the offensive staff really hit it off with him, too. He’ll be a super addition to our staff, and we’re looking forward to getting him here.”

Johnson arrives from Toledo, where he was recently promoted to co-offensive coordinator. He served as the Rockets’ running backs coach for the previous two seasons, seasons in which the northeastern UT led the MAC in rushing. Kareem Hunt was the league’s leading per-game rusher in both seasons, averaging 163.1 yards in 2015 and 108.1 in ’14.

Prior to Toledo, Johnson spent four seasons as Sam Houston State’s running backs coach. His star pupil in Huntsville was running back Timothy Flanders, who earned three nods as an FCS All-American, was named as a finalist for the Walter Payton Award (FCS’s answer to the Heisman), and twice won the Southland Conference Player of the Year honor.

“I’ve obviously been watching the program from afar for years, and I have great admiration for Coach Strong,” Johnson said. “After spending some time in Austin with him and his staff recently, you can really feel the energy of what’s going on at Texas. Coach Strong is a great football coach and a man of integrity who has so much passion for the kids and the program. There’s just a special feeling around him and the program right now. I know there are big things in the future for Texas football, and I can’t wait to get down there and be a part of it.

“I spent a lot of time with Sterlin (Gilbert), Matt (Mattox) and Jeff (Traylor), and I feel like I really connected with them. They’re all tremendous football coaches with a great vision for what they want to accomplish. I love what they’re bringing offensively, and I’ve been fortunate enough to coach in a very similar style of offense for years. I’m really looking forward to getting in that room with all of the talented running backs at Texas and playing my role to help get the offense going.”

Texas ranked 17th nationally in rushing last season despite limping to a 5-7 record. The ‘Horns return leading rusher D'Onta Foreman (681 yards on 7.17 yards per carry, five touchdowns), a junior, sophomore Chris Warren (470 yards on 6.62 yards per carry, four touchdowns), sophomore Kirk Johnson (eight carries for 44 yards) and incoming freshman Kyle Porter.

 

PHOTO: Jim Harbaugh hanging with Kenny G and Larry the Cable Guy at Pebble Beach

during the college football game at Michigan Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
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Jim Harbaugh‘s life is more interesting than yours and mine. That point has been well established by now. At this point he’s just running up the score.

Michigan’s head coach took some time between Signing Day and the beginning of spring practices to participate in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am festivities and sprinkled his always-entertaining Twitter feed with some star gazing.

So when Kenny G plays Michigan’s Signing Day event next year and Larry the Cable Guy does his routine during the Wolverines’ spring break tip to California, don’t say you weren’t warned.

“I actually am thinking about a few things. There are a few things percolating,” Harbaugh told USA Today before teeing off in the Million Dollar Hole-in-One for Charity challenge alongside the likes of Mark WahlbergClint EastwoodWayne Gretzky and Bill Murray — which he lost horribly. “But for the most part I forget about football when I’m out here. Too much too look at, too many shots to take.”

Brady Hoke addresses how defensive goals have changed in college football

New Oregon defensive coordinator Brady Hoke meets with members of the media at the Hatfield-Dowling Complex near Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. Hoke is a former head coach at Michigan. (Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard via AP)
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Brady Hoke is looking forward to getting back in coaching this season as Oregon’s defensive coordinator. A year away from the game from the coaching point of view after being let go by Michigan, Hoke is taking on a big task with revamping Oregon’s defense. With the offenses Hoke will see in the Pac-12, he knows the defensive goals that have been regular staples for decades in the past will no longer be what he believes to be a realistic goal.

It used to be the goal was 13 points or less. That was the standard everybody had,” Hoke said this week as he met with the Oregon media for the first time since being hired. “The style of offenses have changed. You can also see defenses evolving for the style of offense. If you’re going to play Stanford, your team goals for that week may be a little different, defensively, because of the style of offense.

“When you’re going to play Arizona, your points per possession become more important than holding [Stanford running back and Heisman Trophy finalist] Christian McCaffrey under 100 yards rushing. You have to be realistic for your players.”

It seems as though Hoke is prepared to give in on a few defensive goals he has lived by for years in hopes of achieving a larger vision with Oregon’s defense. Considering how much Oregon’s defense needs to improve. The Ducks ranked 117th in total defense in 2015. The lowlight of the season had to be the Alamo Bowl meltdown that saw a 31-point lead against TCU end up with a loss to the Horned Frogs. The question is what will be the goal for the Oregon defense in 2016, and how realistic will it be?

“If you set unrealistic goals — we want challenging goals, but unrealistic goals, that’s not fair to those kids,” Hoke said.

Helmet sticker to CoachingSearch.com.

Colorado promotes Darian Hagan to RB coach, shuffles offensive coaching duties

Handlers lead Ralphie, the mascot of Colorado, around the field before Colorado hosts Southern California in an NCAA football game in Boulder, Colo., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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One of key members of Colorado’s 1990 national championship team is moving up on the coaching staff in Boulder. Darian Hagan, who played quarterback for the Buffs in 1990 and won three Big Eight titles when conferences actually had numbers reflective of the number of teams in their conference, has been promoted to the role of running backs coach. The school announced Hagan’s promotion among a couple of accompanying coaching staff changes on Saturday. Hagan had been serving as a director of player development.

For Hagan, this will be the second time he has held a role as an assistant coach on the Colorado sideline. He was an offensive assistant in 2005 under Gary Barnett and he was a holdover when Dan Hawkins was named head coach in 2006. Hagan moved to the role of director of player development in 2011 under Jon Embree and he continued in that role under  head coach Mike MacIntyre.

“Darian brings a lot of pride and passion to our football program with his history here, and also brings expertise to our running backs,” MacIntyre said. “In shifting our offensive staff assignments a little bit, he will give us another dimension in our running game and working with our running backs.

As Hagan gets moved into the coaching staff, MacIntyre adjusting the coaching responsibilities on the offensive side of the staff to make room. Klayton Adams, who was coaching the running backs and tight ends, will now coach the offensive line. Gary Bernardi will take on the coaching duties with the tight ends and fullbacks after coaching the offensive line last season.