Taylor Kelly

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 22 Arizona State

Leave a comment

2013 record: 10-4 overall, 8-1 in Pac-12 (1st in South division)
2013 postseason: Holiday Bowl vs. Texas Tech, (37-23 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 21/No. 20
Head coach: Todd Graham (67-38 overall; 18-9 in two years at Arizona State)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Norvell (3rd year at Arizona State)
2013 offensive rankings: 40th rushing offense (191.4 ypg); 32nd passing offense (265.9 ypg); 32nd total offense (457.3 ypg); 10th scoring offense (39.7 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: six
Co-defensive coordinators: Keith Patterson (1st year) and Chris Ball (3rd year)
2013 defensive rankings: 26th rushing defense (137.6 ypg); 71st passing defense (234.7 ypg);  42nd total defense (372.4 ypg); tied for 63rd in scoring defense (26.6 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: two
Location: Tempe, Arizona
Stadium: Sun Devil Stadium (71,706; grass)
Last conference title: 2007

THE GOOD
When the game is on the line, it’s always beneficial to have one of the best players in the country at his position on the field and ready to make a play. Arizona State has one of those players in wide receiver Jaelen Strong. Strong, who is an early candidate to be a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft, led the team last season with 1,122 receiving yards, which also makes him the leading-returning receiver in the Pac-12. At 6-3 and 212 pounds with some of the strongest hands in the nation, Strong is nearly impossible to cover. Opposing defenses will have to build their gameplans around stopping Strong. Once they do, senior quarterback Taylor Kelly can start to exploit mismatches elsewhere on the field. And Strong’s presence will open up the field for junior running back D.J. Foster, who finished third on the team in rushing yards and second with 63 receptions. Defenses will have to pick their poison when they scheme against the Sun Devils’ up-tempo offense.

THE BAD
The team’s front seven was obliterated by graduation. Gone are two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton, disruptive defensive end Carl Bradford, fellow pass rusher Gannon Conway, productive defensive lineman Devon Coleman and linebacker Chris Young, the team’s leading tackler. Those four players combined to make 317 tackles, 24 sacks and 72 tackles for loss. The onus will now fall on junior defensive tackle Jaxon Hood.  Hood is one of two returning starters on defense and the only one in the front seven. Defensive lineman Marcus Hardison will also be expected to step up and produce after playing in 13 games last year. The linebackers, meanwhile, will be led by Salamon Fiso, who played in 14 games last season and finished third on the team with 71 tackles.

THE UNKNOWN
If Arizona State plans on remaining one of the most aggressive defenses in the country, Graham will need help rebuilding the unit and devising game plans. Help is coming from Patterson, who was named the team’s new co-defensive coordinator in the offseason. Patterson will become Graham’s sounding board this season. Patterson wants to be the x-factor that helps an inexperienced defense gel this season.

“(I just want) to be the bond that pulls it all together,” Patterson told the Arizona Republic. “I look at that defensive staff, and that’s what has me excited, working with the caliber of coaches that we have here. I just want to slide into my role and try to add another perspective on things and hopefully be able to be a positive asset.”

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Stanford
If the Sun Devils are going to get over the hump in the Pac-12, they need to get past the Stanford Cardinal. Last season, the Sun Devils lost to the Cardinal twice by a combined score of 80-42. One of those losses came in the Pac-12 Championship Game and cost Arizona State an appearance in the Rose Bowl. This year’s meeting takes place Oct. 18 at Sun Devil Stadium, and it comes at the end of a brutal three-game stretch for Arizona State. Prior to Stanford, the Sun Devils face UCLA and USC. How Arizona State performs against Stanford at the end of the team’s toughest part of the schedule will determine expectations for the second half of Pac-12 play.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Taylor Kelly
The Pac-12 is littered with talented quarterbacks. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is considered a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy this season. UCLA’s Brett Hundley is projected to be a top pick in the 2015 NFL draft. Oregon State’s Sean Mannion is the nation’s leading returning passer. Yet, Kelly has been as productive and efficient as any quarterback in the Pac-12 the past two years. Since becoming the team’s starter in 2012, Kelly has completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 6.674 yards, 57 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Kelly is also a viable dual-threat quarterback. He’s rushed for over 500 yards each of the past two seasons. Another improbable run to the Pac-12 Championship Game could easily place Kelly in Heisman contention.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Western Michigan closing in on contract extension for P.J. Fleck

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 02: Head coach P.J. Fleck asks the fans for quiet during the first half while playing the Ohio Bobcats during the MAC Championship on December 2, 2016 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

With no Power Five jobs open at the moment, and the most attractive Group of Five opening on the verge of being closed, all signs are pointing to P.J. Fleck staying in Kalamazoo for at least one more season. If that’s the way things ultimately shake out, Fleck will find himself a little bit more secure financially.

Citing a source with direct knowledge of the situation, the Detroit News is reporting that Fleck and Western Michigan are engaged in what’s described as “active negotiations” on a new contract. It’s expected the extension will be finalized in the not-too-distant future.

Just how big of a financial boost Fleck would receive is unclear. Without bonuses factored in, Fleck’s total compensation for 2016 is $820,000, the highest figure for a MAC head coach by nearly $150,000 (Toledo’s Jason Candle, $675,000). It’s doubtful WMU would reach the AAC’s financial stratosphere for coaching salaries — with the departures of Houston’s Tom Herman and Cincinnati’s Tommy Tuberville, Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo, at $2 million, is the league’s highest-paid — but something along the line of the $1.3-$1.5 million Fresno State, Colorado State and Boise State of the MWC paid their coaches this season could very well be in order.

Given the notoriety the football program’s success brought the university, Fleck would certainly be worthy of a significant bump in pay. From the News‘ report:

WMU donors have been working on coming up with the funds to help retain the 36-year-old Fleck.

Donors believe he’s worth the money, given all the national exposure he’s brought the university — including a visit from ESPN’s “College GameDay,” multiple features on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” and even a trip by Fleck to Bristol, Connecticut, to participate in ESPN’s so-called “Car Wash” during WMU’s bye week.

Sports Illustrated, the Washington Post and other national outlets have written extensive features on WMU and Fleck this season.

Of course, WMU could find themselves in the very same situation a year from now, Fleck drawing interest from other programs, even without a repeat of a 2016 season that has the Broncos 13-0 and in a New Year’s Six bowl for the first time. It appears highly unlikely that Fleck could be pried away by another Group of Five job or even an ordinary Power Five position (hello, Purdue).

If, say, Notre Dame comes open next year? That’s when you say your goodbyes to the young head coach and wish him well.

Report: ex-USC QB Max Browne to visit Pitt

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 10:  Max Browne #4 of the USC Trojans looks to pass the ball against the Utah State Aggies at Los Angeles Coliseum on September 10, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The scramble to land graduate transfers at the most important position on a football field is slowly beginning to heat up.

According to a report from 247Sports.com, former USC quarterback Max Browne will pay an official visit to Pittsburgh this weekend. 2016 starter Nathan Peterman‘s eligibility has expired, which will open up a competition for the Panthers beginning in the spring.

It’s also expected that the former USC signal-caller will visit North Carolina at some point in the not-too-distant future, although that is likely dependent on whether current Tar Heels starter Mitch Trubisky leaves early for the NFL as some expect.

A Notre Dame grad transfer with starting experience, Malik Zaire, has also been connected to both of the ACC schools. Wisconsin could have an interest in Browne and Zaire as well.

A five-star 2013 signee, Browne confirmed months of speculation a week ago that he would indeed be transferring from the Trojans.

Browne began the 2016 season as the starter, but lost his job to Sam Darnold after the Trojans stumbled out of the gate at 1-2. With Darnold under center, USC finished the regular season on an 8-1 run and won their last eight after losing Darnold’s first start by four points to Utah.

Browne spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons as Cody Kessler’s primary backup.

Mizzou backup QB Marvin Zanders tweets he’s transferring

COLUMBIA, MO - OCTOBER 11: Truman the Tiger leads the Mizzou fans in cheers while the Missouri Tigers take on the Georgia Bulldogs on October 11, 2014 at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

It looks as if Drew Lock will have a new backup when the 2017 season rolls around.

On his personal Twitter account Thursday night, Marvin Zanders announced that he has decided to transfer out of the Missouri football program. The redshirt sophomore said he’s leaving to pursue other opportunities that will further his education and playing career, although where that will be is still to be determined.

Zanders was a three-star 2014 signee who played in just one game in 2015 after redshirting as a true freshman. As Lock’s primary backup in 2016, Zanders played in a total of eight games. In limited action, he completed 10 of 12 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 198 yards and a pair of scores.

The decision of Zanders to move on leaves the Mizzou quarterback cupboard somewhat bare at the moment.

Mark Dantonio won’t lose long-time assistant to head-coaching job at Div. II school

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 12: Head coach Mark Dantonio of the Michigan State Spartans leads his team onto the field before a college football game against the against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Spartan Stadium on November 12, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

At least for now and when it comes to one particular assistant, Mark Dantonio won’t have a hole to fill on his Michigan State coaching staff.

Earlier this week, it was reported that Spartans offensive line coach Mark Staten was one of five finalists for the head-coaching job at Div. II Northern Michigan. On his Facebook page Thursday, by way of ESPN.com, Staten indicated that he will be staying at MSU.

Left unsaid is whether Staten withdrew from the search process because he wanted to remain in East Lansing or if he became aware the program had decided to go in a direction that didn’t include him.

Decision was made after a lot of prayer, talking with family, friends and mentors. I appreciate all of those involved as I will continue to battle on as a Spartan. God Bless and Go Green!

Staten has been a part of Dantonio’s coaching staff for the past 13 seasons, the first three at Cincinnati and the last 10 at MSU. He’s been the Spartans’ line coach for the past five years.