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Posted on: May 24, 2011 6:15 pm
 

Troy loses four players to academics, five total

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

With quarterback Corey Robinson back after a smashing freshman season and (as always) the Sun Belt's best top-to-bottom collection of talent, not even the loss of five players in one fell swoop should be enough to dislodge Troy from their perch as conference favorites.

But could it be enough to damage the Trojans' chances of actually following through on those expectations? As the Dothan Eagle reports, the four players declared academically ineligible and fifth dismissed for team rules violations include several expected to be major contributors:
Wide receivers Jamel Johnson and Chip Reeves, along with cornerback KeJuan Phillips and linebacker Mark Wilson are academically ineligible, while defensive end R.J. Roberts was dismissed for a violation of team rules.

Johnson and Reeves were projected starters. Phillips has starting experience and was a starter at one cornerback spot coming out of spring practice.
The stats back those projections up: Reeves and Johnson were the team's fourth and fifth-leading receivers a year ago, and with third-round draft pick Jerrel Jernigan off to the NFL, there's going to be plenty of receptions out there for the Trojans' receiving corps. Despite his role as part-time starter and nickelback, Phillips finished ninth on the team in tackles.

Head coach Larry Blakeney summed up the causes behind the departures in his typically folksy Southern fashion:
“You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t force them to drink it,” Blakeney said.
Certainly, it's nothing like losing Robinson or leading pass rusher Jonathan Massaqoui (12.5 sacks in 2010, fourth nationally) would be for the Trojans. To extend Blakeley's metaphor, there's still no reason to think he can't lead his team to the brink of yet another Sun Belt title.

But can they drink from that final championship cup again? Saying good-bye to players like Johnson, Reeves, and Phillips won't help.

Posted on: May 6, 2011 12:37 pm
 

Luck's offseason project? Kaepernick

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Jim Harbaugh won't be coaching Andrew Luck this season, and unless the San Francisco 49ers undergo a stunning collapse in 2011, the future No. 1 pick won't be coached by Harbaugh again anytime soon.

But that doesn't mean Luck isn't doing his best to help out the coach who made him the presumptive 2011 Heisman favorite. How? By teaching Harbaugh's next quarterback, new 49ers second-round draft pick Colin Kaepernick, the essentials of the Harbaugh offense. As the Sacramento Bee reports:
Kaepernick and Luck met over the summer at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La. They remarked on how similar they were – tall, mobile, with big right arms – and became friends who traded text messages throughout the 2010 season.

When Harbaugh and the 49ers moved up nine spots last Friday to draft Kaepernick in the second round, he received a call from Luck. More conversations are sure to follow.

"Especially if the lockout stays on," Kaepernick said last week. "I'm going to try and pick his brain as much as I can and try to get a jump-start into this offense, and pick up as much as I can from him."
Despite not being able to meet with Harbaugh (or any Niners coaches) due to the lockout, Kaepernick is busy moving to nearby Santa Clara, where he'll have easy access to both the Niners' facilities once the lockout lifts and -- perhaps more importantly for the immediate future -- Luck's Stanford campus. (Kaepernick may also have received a playbook, which Harbaugh distributed to some Niner veterans who may have had an opportunity to share one with their new teammate.)

As discussed in this week's draft roundtable, the pistol-trained Kaepernick faces as difficult as transition to an NFL offense as any major quarterback prospect in this year's (or any recent) draft. But short of Harbaugh himself, it's hard to imagine any potential resource more helpful than a tutoe as advanced as Luck. And hey, if Kaepernick can teach Luck some of the play-fake magic he employed in the pistol, so much the better for the Cardinal.

Via.



Posted on: April 15, 2011 11:07 am
Edited on: April 15, 2011 11:10 am
 

NCAA institutes clock runoff for late-game flags

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

It's come too late to save Tennessee's infamous last-second -- or more accurately, post- last-second -- Music City Bowl loss to North Carolina. But in the wake of the Tar Heels saving themselves from watching the clock run out by accidentally committing an offensive penalty, the NCAA has now officially followed the NFL's lead in instituting a 10-second runoff for offensive infractions inside the final minute of either half.

Technically, the runoff isn't mandatory; the defending team has the option of declining both it and the penalty if they happen to be behind.

The new rule was recommended in February by the NCAA's Football Rules Committee and approved by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel, who naturally led their release with the panel's relatively minor change to receivers' ability to block below the waist. The NCAA also offers no recommendations on what to call the new clock regulation, though the "Dooley Rule" has to be the leader in the clubhouse.

Reviewing the other rules changes:
  • Previously, receivers' below-the-waist blocks (i.e. "cut" blocks, though you knew that already) were determined to be legal based in part on how close they were to the line-of-scrimmage or whether they were in motion. Now, unless they start the play within seven yards of the center (essentially, as a tight end), receiver's cut blocks must be made against a player facing them or headed towards the sideline. It sounds confusing, but from the official's perspective, disregarding the previous qualifications in favor of "have you lined up inside the tackle box or as a tight end or not?" has simplified things. We think.
  • The panel gave final approval to two rules changes already decided on last year, the more noteworthy of which is the shift of taunting penalties to live ball fouls, giving the officials the right to revoke a touchdown based on unsportsmanlike conduct while the touchdown is being scored.. No doubt you've read -- and complained -- about this decision plenty already.
  • The other change? Coaches will be allowed monitors in their coaching booths to watch a live broadcast of the game--and, to the point, determine if a replay challenge should be issued or not. As a result, we could see a slight uptick in the effectiveness of challenges in college football this coming season.
Posted on: April 11, 2011 12:30 pm
Edited on: April 11, 2011 12:52 pm
 

UGA's Sturdivant tears ACL for third time

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Football is a cruel game. And though it is occasionally, it's not often more cruel than it has been to Georgia  senior offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant.

Sturdivant burst on to the scene as a true freshman in 2007, starting every game for the Bulldogs at left tackle to earn freshman All-SEC honors and a handful of freshman All-America nods. But in 2008, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament and missed the entire season. In 2009, he started the Bulldogs' season opener against Oklahoma State and tore another ACL, ending his season again. He battled back to start seven games in 2010, and entering Saturday's scrimmage had been penciled in -- though it was more like ink -- for one of Georgia's two starting tackle spots.

That won't happen. Sturdivant left the scrimmage  having torn his third ACL in four years . Per Georgia head athletic trainer Ron Courson, Sturdivant will have surgery this week to repair the ligament. He is expected to miss the entire 2011 season.

The blow is a severe one for the Georgia offensive line, a group that underachieved substantially last season, is working for a new position coach in Will Friend, and will now have to replace Sturdivant with either a converted guard or a player of limited (if any) SEC experience. If no unit on the team was as important this spring  as the offensive line, it's possible no injury aside from one to Aaron Murray could hit them as hard as this one.

But the blow is no doubt even more savage for Sturdivant personally. He had previously discussed his furstration with having to undergo rehab a second time after his second tear, and had considered leaping to the NFL a year early while he could. With his injury history, a sixth year of eligibilty is a certainty if he wants it, but there's a lor of arduous rehabbing work and consideration to be done before that bridge is crossed.

If Sturdivant does elect to return to the Sanford Stadium field,  we'll be wishing him nothing but the best. Football may be cruel, but there are times it  seems to be too cruel, and this is one of those times.



Posted on: April 7, 2011 11:47 am
Edited on: April 7, 2011 12:41 pm
 

Sun Belt to add new member?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen 

The 2011 offseason doesn't nearly so expansion-mad as the summer of 2010, but thanks to the Sun Belt, it look like we might have some intrigue after all.  

According to this report in the Miami Herald, the current nine-team conference (and 10-team league once provisional program South Alabama becomes a full FBS member) is on the verge of adding a new, as-yet-unidentified 11th future member (emphasis added): 

The conference has entertained expansion overtures from multiple programs in recent months, and the league has expressed keen interest in at least one of those candidates, The Miami Herald has learned.

Sources close to the situation would not specify which school is atop the list of contenders, but the pool of potential programs is relatively shallow when the conference’s top two criteria are factored in.

The Sun Belt would only consider universities with an established Football Bowl Subdivision program currently aligned with another conference. And the conference would want any new member to fit into its geographical footprint.

“We’re not afraid to expand if there’s someone out there who will add value to the league, but we’re not going to expand just to reach some arbitrary number,” Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters said. “I think we’ve got to find people who bring value to the conference.”

The report is correct that limiting candidates to current FBS programs within the Sun Belt's geographical footprint doesn't leave room for a whole lot of options. And in fact, barring a surprise defection out of Conference USA, there seems to be just one: Louisiana Tech.

Located hundreds of miles from its closest geographic neighbors, the Shrveport-based school has always been an odd fit in its current home in the WAC. Given the WAC's short straw in the expansion battles and impending plunge to the basement of the FBS (not to mention the possibility of losing its automatic NCAA Tournament berth in men's basketball), Tech's switch to the Sun Belt would make sense from any number of perspectives: better level of competition, substantially reduced travel costs, local rivalries with schools like the SBC's UL-Monroe and Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns, and all the recruiting advantages that those benefits would bring.

Meanwhile, the Sun Belt would be getting a firmly-established FBS program with a long history of producing high-quality teams, NFL players, and upsets of neighboring power schools (not to mention the aforementioned in-state conference rival for its Louisiana programs). Tech to the Sun Belt would appear to be a win-win on all sides.

That's not to say it's a certainty. Several schools in Conference USA also fit within the SBC's geographic footprint if they wanted out of C-USA for whatever reason, and if the league decided that footprint was wider than we'd expect, they could theoretically re-adopt former Sun Belt members New Mexico State or Utah State. And even if the school receiving "keen interest" from the league is Tech, it's far from a done deal.

But in any case, the move would make so much sense for both the Bulldogs and the SBC it would be a surprise if they weren't considering it. And if it's a move that indeed comes to pass, we'll have yet more confirmation that the Belt has decisively left the WAC behind as the FBS's bottom-barrel conference.

Posted on: March 29, 2011 11:11 am
 

'Cuse punter Long shows no sign of tumor

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

From the department of news that goes far beyond "good" comes this bulletin: the brain tumor afflicting former Syracuse punter Rob Long (which kept him out of his expected career finale in the Pinstripe Bowl) is entirely gone, as the Syracuse Post-Standard reports:
An MRI taken Friday of Long’s brain shows no more signs of a tumor.

Unlike three months ago, when [Long] and his family learned that a tumor removed from his brain had cancerous cells in it, this news was cause for relief and celebration.

“It was pretty wild,” Long said of his meeting with neurosurgeon Dr. David Andrews and other doctors at the center, which is part of the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital complex. “He basically put up a side-by-side of Friday’s MRI versus the MRI from before my surgery, and it was pretty unbelievable.”

“On one hand you could see the tumor, and on the other hand it just looked like a normal brain."

Though Long will continue to be monitored for any sign of the disease, the news at this point is nothing but positive.

In fact, it's so positive that Long -- a four-year starter at punter for the Orange and a universally respected team captain and leader -- is back in training for a possible tryout with an NFL team. And after Long so thoroughly kicked that tumor's [rear end], who's going to doubt him?

Posted on: March 24, 2011 7:39 pm
Edited on: March 24, 2011 7:46 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Arizona State

Posted by Bryan Fischer

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice. So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers. Today, we look at Arizona State, who started spring practice on Tuesday. 

Spring Practice Question: Are Brock Osweiler and Vontaze Burfict ready to step up and lead the Sun Devils?

Oh what a difference a year makes.

Coming out of spring practice a year ago, Arizona State was picked to finish in the bottom half of the Pac-10 and faced issues at just about every position group. Entering the spring this year, the Sun Devils are now considered the favorite to win a Pac-12 South title thanks to 18 returning starters from last year's squad that played top ten teams Oregon, Stanford and Wisconsin tough.

"I thought last year we were really close, now I feel like we're here," head coach Dennis Erickson said at his pre-spring press conference. "Now we've got to do it on the field. Numbers wise, even though we've got a lot of seniors, we do have a lot of young guys playing. We're finally at a place, where if we have the success we think we're going to have next year, that we can plug guys in the year after that and the year after that and the year after that."

One starter returning is junior quarterback Brock Osweiler but it might be a bit of a stretch to actually call him a returning starter. Osweiler played in just five games last season but came on strong in two starts at the end of the year, a blow out of UCLA and an upset win at archrival Arizona.

"Yes, without a question, he is the guy," Erickson said. "Now who is two...that's kind of where we are going into spring football."

In addition to refining the 6-foot-7 quarterback's game this spring, finding a backup (important considering the revolving door at the position recently) is an unexpected challenge for Erickson and staff. Former starter Steven Threet had to retire due to concussions and Samson Szakacsy left the team to pursue other interests. Despite the vacancy at backup quarterback, Erickson still feels as though he has a talented group of quarterbacks with Osweiler, redshirt freshman Taylor Kelly and early enrollee Michael Bercovici.

"It's the best I've ever been around in college, or any place I have ever been, I've never had it that deep," Erickson said "Three of them are unproven, of course. But physical talent...from what you can see is pretty amazing."

Quite a statement for the fifth-year head coach to make considering some of his stops in college and the NFL, such as with the Miami Hurricanes and the San Francisco 49ers. All three quarterbacks have strong arms and can throw it anywhere on the field but Osweiler's maturity and experience have him firmly planted atop the depth chart. The lack of a quarterback battle has allowed him to focus less on beating another player and more on just being himself.

"It's a lot different," Osweiler told the Arizona Republic. "I'm a lot more comfortable. I've been in the offense for a year, and it's a little different. There's not exactly a quarterback competition, so it kind of takes that weight off you and just allows you to play."

Fans in Tempe are hoping that he can duplicate his numbers from the games against UCLA and Arizona, where he threw five touchdowns and no picks in helping the team reach the .500 mark on the year. With the expectation that Osweiler can successfully pilot the offense, Arizona State is undergoing a few minor tweaks this spring in order to help him get the ball in the hands of playmakers like running back Cameron Marshall.

"I think we'll add a few things. It might even be simpler than it's been," Erickson said. "I think one thing we can do right now is line up and run the football without having to trick people. I don't know if that's more complex or simpler. But we're not going to change a lot of things. I think that happens sometimes when you look at this offense is you have success and start putting too much in and they don't become as good."

On the other side of the ball, personal foul machine Vontaze Burfict is expected to - and we're not joking - take on a leadership role as an upperclassman this year. Though he has typically been known for a lack of self control on the field, the recent offseason program has given the talented middle linebacker a chance to help his team instead of hurt it.

"It's amazing his change in the last three months. Now, he doesn't miss workouts, ever," Erickson said. "He's a leader out there doing all sorts of stuff. He's in the best shape I've ever seen him in. He's a big time leader out there.

"The light just came on. I think the light came on at the end of last year. I think from the Stanford game on. I think having some success and winning, and saying maybe that gray-haired (coach) knows a little bit about what's going on."

Spring Practice Primers
In addition to showing NFL scouts he has what it takes to play at the next level between the ears, the 6-foot-3, 240 pound linebacker has set a high bar for the season that goes beyond just a division title.

"I'm trying to get us to a national championship," Burfict said, "and to do that, I feel like I need to become more of a leader."

In addition to leading by example, Burfict will have to get used to playing behind two new defensive tackles following the departure of Lawrence Guy and Saia Falahola. Oft-injured tackle Corey Adams is talented but needs to stay on the field and Will Sutton will return after being academically ineligible last season. Despite a few new parts on defense, all eyes this spring will be on how the new and improved Burfict plays.

"I don't know why he had that chip on his shoulder. Maybe it was immaturity," Erickson said. "But it's totally different now."

The head coach hopes spring practice is totally different from years past as well. In addition to seeing Osweiler and Burfict step up their roles on the team, Erickson understands how much this spring means for the future of the program.

"I mean this is my fifth year. I have been going at this for four years," he said. "For me, I think it's a very important season for this program, no question about it."

If the Sun Devils are going to take the leap this upcoming spring and lay the foundation for a run, they'll have to hope Osweiler and Burfict take the necessary leap as leaders. The talk is certainly encouraging and there's no doubt that Osweiler is top dog on offense and Burfict has a better head on his shoulders on defense. But if Arizona State wants to see success in the fall, the next few weeks of spring practice are all about seeing if the two can start walking the walk and not mearly talking the talk.

Posted on: March 24, 2011 12:48 pm
 

Kiffin expecting Barkley to turn pro after '11

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Pete Carroll drew some criticism as USC's head coach in 2009, when he publicly chastised Trojan quarterback Mark Sanchez for deciding to forgo his senior season in Los Angeles and turn pro a year early.

Though Lane Kiffin has maintained many, many aspects of Carroll's program after taking over the Trojans, it seems those kinds of opinions on his quarterbacks' futures aren't going to be one of them. Bryan Fischer of our sister blog Eye on Recruiting (and our USC spring practice primer ) was on hand for Kiffin's post-practice comments yesterday, which included this on the future of junior quarterback Matt Barkley (emphasis added):
“Matt’s going into his third year here. Obviously, if he has a good year, I’m sure he’ll look to go to the NFL. Most guys do after their junior year.

“He needs to take the next step, to go from being a really good quarterback to a great quarterback. Obviously he’s not competing against the guys on this field, because he’s above that level. But he’s competing against the best guys in the country every single day.”

The very lack of competition for the Trojan QB job that Kiffin describes would be reason to think he'd all but beg Barkley to return. But Kiffin has always made his and his program's ability to put players into the NFL a cornerstone of his recruiting pitch; clearly he's not going to send the message to potential future quarterbacks that he won't make every effort he can to get them into the pros as quickly as possible.

But is Barkley really on track to make that kind of leap? Assuming he makes the same kind of progress in 2011 he made in 2010, he likely is; he improved his touchdown-to-interception ratio from 15-to-14 to 26-to-12, taking his QB rating from approximately 131 to 141 in the process. Another 10-to-15-point increase would put Barkley amongst the national top 20 in QB rating and one of a very few quarterbacks in that range playing in a pass-centric, pro-style system like Kiffin's. If an occasionally-erratic, spread-trained quarterback like Blaine Gabbert could go as high as No. 1 in this year's draft, it seems likely that a prospect like Barkley could find his way into the first round after a solid junior season ... if not all the way into the top 10.

So Kiffin's not exaggerating. But to see a head coach expect -- and almost hope , it seems -- that his best player will skip town a year early is just one more sign that Kiffin is marching to an entirely unique drummer amongst college coaches.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com