Articles By David Fox
Until recent months, the No. 1 name atop the list of top freshmen in the American Athletic Conference would have been clear. SMU’s Emmanuel Mudiay may have been the top freshman in the country.
The Mustangs may still be an NCAA Tournament team even without one of the NBA’s top prospects at point guard. That’s partly due to another influx of transfers into Larry Brown’s program. New arrivals from Xavier and Texas Tech — both eligible immediately — will give the Mustangs players with experience at a high level.
But SMU won’t have the AAC’s top freshman. That honor belongs to UConn, which adds Daniel Hamilton as one of several new faces in a backcourt looking to fill the void left by Shabazz Napier.
1. Daniel Hamilton, UConn
Shabazz Napier is gone, but hopes are high for Hamilton to be UConn’s next star. He’s a lanky, athletic wing with a multi-faceted game who should give the Huskies the scoring boost they need.
2. Rodney Purvis, UConn
Transfer from NC State
All Purvis has to do is help fill the void left by Shabazz Napier in the backcourt for the defending national champions. OK, so maybe it’s not that drastic. Still, he’s a key cog in a talented backcourt that returns Ryan Boatright and adds freshman swingman Daniel Hamilton. Purvis averaged 8.3 points per game on an NCAA Tournament team that featured five double-digit scorers in his only year at NC State.
3. Justin Martin, SMU
Transfer from Xavier
Martin will be a major addition for the Mustangs if for no other reason than his experience. Martin played for two NCAA Tournament teams at Xavier in 2012 and 2014. In his final season at Xavier, the 6-6 forward was second on the team in scoring at 11.7 points per game while adding 5.2 rebounds.
4. Jordan Tolbert, SMU
Transfer from Texas Tech
Like Martin, Tolbert gives SMU another source of high-major experience, even if none of it was in the NCAA Tournament. Tolbert was in the rotation all three seasons at Texas Tech, averaging 10.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in Lubbock. The 6-7, 225-pound forward added 3-point shooting to his repertoire last season (10 of 33).
5. Markel Crawford, Memphis
Departures have left Memphis with a ton of inexperience and no clear answers in the backcourt, especially at point guard. Crawford may be the first guy up at the point even though he’s like the rest of the candidates here — he’s not a natural fit at the position. At 6-4, he’s the biggest of the major contenders. Crawford (ACL) and Pookie Powell (academics) both missed last season.
6. Farad Cobb, Cincinnati
Junior college transfer
Cobb may be able to play the point, but his most important contribution may be long-range shooting. The Bearcats shot 33.5 percent from 3-point range last season, ranking 204th nationally.
7. Avery Woodson, Memphis
Junior college transfer
Woodson may be in the mix at point guard for Memphis, but he’s considered to be a standout 3-point shooter. With the logjam at the point, perhaps that would be his best fit.
8. Octavius Ellis, Cincinnati
Junior college transfer
Ellis will be one of the nation’s most interesting second-chance stories. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin kicked Ellis off the team in May 2012 and was one of three Bearcats suspended in the aftermath of the brawl with Xavier earlier that season. After a stint in junior college, the 6-10 forward will return to Cincinnati.
9. Sam Cassell Jr., UConn
Junior college transfer
Yet another name boosting UConn’s backcourt, this one the son of the former NBA player. Cassell will keep Ryan Boatright company at the point guard position as they replace Napier for the defending national champs.
10. Terry Whisnant, East Carolina
Transfer from Florida State
Whisnant started 19 games at Florida State in 2012-13 before his playing time dwindled down the stretch. The 6-3 guard returns to his home state to offer an outside shooting boost. Of his 128 shots from the floor as a sophomore in Tallahassee, 90 were from 3-point range.
Arizona has restored its spot atop the Pac-12 thanks to back-to-back signing classes headlined by major recruits. The trend should continue.
Aaron Gordon spent one season surrounded by veterans last season. Now, Stanley Johnson will do the same for another Final Four contender.
UCLA under Steve Alford hopes to follow the lead of the Wildcats. Alford will have two impact newcomers who were major recruits in Kevon Looney and, after a one-year delay, Isaac Hamilton.
No program in the Pac-12 is able to match Arizona and UCLA in recruiting, even though Stanford was able to add a McDonald’s All-American this season. Other programs are relying on Division I and junior college transfers to keep up in 2014-15.
1. Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Arizona trades out one star freshman (Aaron Gordon) for another in Johnson, who was the No. 4 prospect in the 247Sports Composite. Like Gordon, Johnson steps into a veteran cast ready to compete for the Final Four. Johnson figures to be more of an offensive threat who could fill the scoring void left by Nick Johnson. The 6-foot-7, 226-pound shooting guard will be a threat to score from all over the court.
2. Kevon Looney, UCLA
UCLA was thin in the frontcourt last season, but that may not be the case anymore with the arrival of the 6-9, 208-pound power forward Looney. Of course, without Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine, the Bruins will need help everywhere. UCLA is counting on Looney, the No. 12 prospect in the 247Sports Composite, to contribute on the boards and in the post.
3. Isaac Hamilton, UCLA
Hamilton sat out last season after backing out of his Letter of Intent to UTEP and coach Tim Floyd. The 6-foot-5, 185-pound McDonald’s All-American is expected to split time with Bryce Alford at point guard. Hamilton figures to be a more dynamic scorer than Alford for a team replacing most of its key players from a year ago.
4. Reid Travis, Stanford
The arrival of Travis, a McDonald’s All-American, is a major recruiting victory for Stanford, giving the Cardinal a chance to capitalize on the momentum from a Sweet 16 appearance. Travis should become an contributor right away thanks to his relentless rebounding on both ends of the court.
5. Kadeem Allen, Arizona
Junior college transfer
Allen was the National Junior College Player of the Year after averaging 25.9 points per game. Clearly, he’s not going to replicate that in the Pac-12, but he’ll be a key addition in the backcourt for a team that struggled to find its offense at times. Allen is expected to battle for the starting off guard spot.
6. Katin Reinhardt, USC
Transfer from UNLV
Andy Enfield needed to replenish the roster in a major way in his first season at USC, a year that yielded only two Pac-12 wins. Reinhardt, who sat out last season after his transfer, will be a major part of that. He started 34 games as a freshman at UNLV, averaging 10.1 points and 2.5 assists per game. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound sophomore will be a combo guard in Enfield’s system in Los Angeles.
7. Quevyn Winters, Washington
Junior college transfer
Washington already has point guard locked down with Nigel Williams-Goss, one of the few sure things on the roster next season. Winters, then, will step in for C.J. Wilcox at the two guard spot. Winters averaged 9.6 points as a freshman at Duquesne before transferring to junior college. Winters was 55-of-145 from 3-point range (37.9 percent) during his only season with the Dukes.
8. Kyle Kuzma, Utah
Utah is expected to have a breakout season with Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge returning. One key pice, though, will be the freshman Kuzma. He’s a 6-foot-8 small forward who should be a matchup problem on both ends of the court.
9. JaQuan Lyle, Oregon
Scandal cost Oregon three players from the 2014-15 roster, so the Ducks need their top recruit to contribute immediately. Even that, though, is in question as Lyle’s academic situation is unsettled. If he’s on the court, Lyle can hold down either guard spot.
10. Robert Upshaw, Washington
Transfer from Fresno State
Upshaw could be an impact player in the Washington frontcourt, but his situation is uncertain. He was suspended three times while at Fresno State and is not certain to play with the Huskies. His production was meager at Fresno State, but the 6-11 explosive big man has plenty of potential.
With nearly every major conference operating its own television network — we see you, SEC Network, finally joining hands with DirecTV — fans have unprecedented access to their favorite college teams.
There’s one area, though, where we’d like to see college teams take a cue from HBO and NFL Films. Every season, HBO provides an inside look at training camp for one NFL team. Today, the ninth season of Hard Knocks premieres with a behind-the-scenes look at the Atlanta Falcons.
The series has shown a rarely seen side of the pro game, from the personalities of players to the gut-wrenching process of cutting a player or being cut.
College football, too, should provide plenty of content for a Hard Knocks-style program. Certainly, TV networks and the schools themselves have shown glimpses, but all feel a little sanitized. Here are the schools we’d like to see get the full-on Hard Knocks treatment.
The defending national champions are the easy choice for the top team for a behind-the-scenes look. Jameis Winston has had a quiet offseason since the crab legs incident, but there’s still plenty of intrigue on how the defending Heisman winner handles his season. He’s been in the news for off-field scandal, but his command over the locker room has never been questioned. Meanwhile, fast-talking Jimbo Fisher tries to keep his squad hungry as it starts the season at No. 1.
Again, we’re enjoying the fantasy world where Nick Saban peels back the curtain just for fun. This is the same coach who allows his coordinators to speak to the media just once a year — and unfortunately for us he has one of the most compelling coordinators in the country. Offensive boss Lane Kiffin says he’s enjoying concentrating on coaching football this season rather than the other obligations of being a head coach. That in and of itself would be interesting as Kiffin tries to work integrate new quarterback Jacob Coker into a loaded offense.
Who knew Bo Pelini would be the comic relief of the preseason? The coach says he’s always had this sense of humor, but it’s just never been on display. This is the chance for Pelini to show the whole picture — and more than just riffing on @FauxPelini and the cat. Beyond the Bo Show, running back Ameer Abdullah and wide receiver Kenny Bell have personality in spades.
On this week’s episode: A grad assistant teaches a confused Will Muschamp how to use Twitter. Muschamp, of course, has bigger problems than sending direct messages intended for recruits to the general public. He has a new offensive coordinator working with a quarterback returning from injury. The results of that tandem may determine if the Gators coach has a job next season.
Ann Arbor is quite the pressure-cooker this offseason. Brady Hoke may or may not be a hot seat guy as his chief rivals, Ohio State and Michigan State, are riding high. Streaky quarterback Devin Gardner has a new coordinator, and defensive end Frank Clark likes to talk. All of this leads into an uncomfortable rematch with Appalachian State.
What’s life like behind the scenes with Les Miles? Players say he’s the same wacky personality with his players as he is with the media. Players indeed have impressions ready for his post-meeting sign (“Well, men, see ya!”). He generally has compelling teams, but this year will be more interesting than most. LSU has an unsettled quarterback situation and a young defense getting ready for the rough-and-tumble SEC West. Miles also has one of the top freshmen in the country in Leonard Fournette.
Rich Rodriguez is sealing his spot as the best talker in the Pac-12. His football team will have plenty of intrigue, too, as he tries to sift through a four-man quarterback race.
The opulent new football facility would probably be more appropriate footage for MTV or E! programming, and Johnny Manziel is off to the NFL. Still, we’d like to take a peek at Kevin Sumlin’s program. The defense is a mess, the quarterback situation is uncertain, and his squad has discipline issues resulting in dismissals of key players during the summer. All of this in the face of an opener against South Carolina.
Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury is a draw all on his own with his movie-star looks, sense of fashion and whatnot. He’s also entering his second season as a head coach with only a bowl win over Arizona State giving his program momentum after a five-game losing streak to end the Big 12 season. Davis Webb is the last quarterback standing after Kingsbury had to play three last season.
Might as well finish up the tour around the Lone Star State with a look at Texas. Charlie Strong isn’t the most dynamic personality for the cameras, but he’s certainly laying down the law. His fire-and-brimstone approach to the roster would be an episode all to itself. He dismissed five players and suspended three more last week alone.
Like Strong, Chris Petersen might not be the most compelling coach for the cameras, either, but he’s taking over a program that likes to think of itself as a national power. Washington has one of the top defensive players in the nation in Shaq Thompson, who could also find himself on offense during camp. Petersen also has a quarterback question with Cyler Miles. The Huskies’ top player at the position missed all of spring and is now suspended for the opener against Hawaii.
The Bruins arguably have the two biggest football stars in Los Angeles in Brett Hundley and Myles Jack. UCLA has higher expectations this season than its crosstown rival.
Offensive line coach Herb Hand has already appeared on the Food Network’s Chopped, so you know Penn State’s new regime is OK with unconventional publicity. How does a force of personality like James Franklin take over a Penn State hampered by scholarship limitations and its own troubled pass? With a quarterback like Christian Hackenberg, that’s how.
Mike Leach wrote a book on the leadership strategies of Geronimo during the offseason. Just another day in Pullman.
Bret Bielema talks like he’s 8-0 in the SEC. His record is 0-8. What does the big guy have in store for Year Two?
How does Kansas keep winning the Big 12 regular season title year after year? For starters, take a look at two of the top three newcomers in the league for 2014-15.
In a season after the Jayhawks lost Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to the top three picks in the NBA Draft, Kansas replaces them with another pair of standout freshmen. Granted, Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre might not be top draft picks in 2015, but they’ll make sure Kansas remains the favorite for an 11th consecutive Big 12 title.
Kansas, though, will have company. Texas adds big man Myles Turner to a veteran roster that surprised by winning 24 games and saving Rick Barnes’ job. Turner will be another feather in the cap for the longtime Longhorns coach.
Of course, no list of Big 12 newcomers would be complete without transfers. Thank Fred Hoiberg and Iowa State for that.
1. Cliff Alexander, Kansas
Kansas replaces Joel Embiid, who flirted with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft before injury concerns dropped him to No. 3, with another highly rated big man to team with Perry Ellis. Alexander was the third-ranked prospect in the 247Sports Composite. The 6-9, 240-pound power forward will replace Embiid’s offensive skill with a physical presence in the paint.
2. Myles Turner, Texas
Texas already returned every key player from one of the surprise teams in the country. The Longhorns bolster their chances to contend for the Big 12 title by adding the Turner, the final major recruit from the 2014 class to pick a school. Turner gives the Longhorns a 6-10, 223-pound skilled big man, but more important, the Euless (Texas) Trinity product gives Rick Barnes a sorely needed in-state recruiting victory.
3. Kelly Oubre, Kansas
Kansas figures to have plenty of able bodies at the 2 and 3 in 2014-15 season, but Oubre should have plenty of opportunity to shine. The 6-7, 190-pound McDonald’s All-American wing has a varied offensive game. He can hit the 3 and get to the rim. He’ll be an All-Big 12 contender.
4. Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State
Transfer from UNLV
The Iowa State transfer trend continues with Dejean-Jones, who is on his third stop after transferring from USC to UNLV to Ames. Dejean-Jones averaged 13.6 points per game in 31 games in his final season with the Runnin’ Rebels. He’s an effective scorer who will have to integrate himself into a lineup including returning point guard Monte Morris and Georges Niang.
5. Jonathan Holton, West Virginia
Junior college transfer
Iowa State isn’t alone in the Big 12 in bringing in a slew of transfers. West Virginia has added Juwan Staten (Dayton) and Aaric Murray (La Salle) and now another player who started his career in the Atlantic 10. Holton averaged 10.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game as a freshman at Rhode Island in 2011-12. Holton, who was dismissed from Rhode Island, pleaded no contest to a charge of video voyeurism when he was accused of secretly recording a sexual encounter and posting video to Facebook. Holton spent a season at junior college and then a redshirt season at West Virginia, where he’ll be a regular double-double threat.
6. Anthony Hickey, Oklahoma State
Transfer from LSU
Oklahoma State will need a number of players to fill the gaps left by Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. At least Travis Ford will have a veteran point guard in the mix in Hickey, who was a three-year starter at LSU. Hickey’s scoring output dropped in his final season in Baton Rouge, but he finished second in the SEC with a 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio and averaged 3.8 assists per game in his career. He averaged nearly three steals per game as a sophomore.
7. Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Scott Drew has brought in his share of highly touted recruits, but Motley was more of a project. Motley redshirted last season and is poised to become an impact player in his second season on campus. The 6-9, 210-pound forward could be one of the Bears’ top post players while bringing an expanded offensive game away from the basket.
8. Justin Edwards, Kansas State
Transfer from Maine
Edwards was a prolific scorer at Maine before leaving for a more high-profile program in the Big 12. The 6-foot-4 guard from Ontario led America East in scoring with 16.7 points per game in 2012-13 before sitting out a year at Kansas State. The Wildcats will hope a better supporting cast will improve his efficiency numbers: Edwards has shot 27 percent from 3-point range and averaged 3.6 turnovers per game in his career.
9. Michael Cobbins, Oklahoma State
Returning from injury
Cobbins’ Achilles injury at the end of December was one of the first dominoes in a season that unraveled in conference play for the Cowboys. Oklahoma State went 12-1 with Cobbins in the lineup and 9-12 the rest of the way. The 6-8, 230-pound forward contributed far more than his 5.4 points per game. His interior defense forced coach Travis Ford to shuffle the lineup with limited success.
10. Jameel McKay, Iowa State
Transfer from Marquette
Dejean-Jones won’t be the only impact transfer for Iowa State. McKay will join Niang in the frontcourt. McKay has yet to play a game in the Division I level after transfer from junior college to Marquette. He comes from the same JUCO as Cyclone Dustin Hogue and should be a factor on Iowa State’s defense.
Even in a year when Kentucky will have an uncharacteristically veteran team, the Wildcats will feature some of the top freshmen in the SEC.
Karl Towns, Tyler Ulis and Trey Lyles all could be impact players in the league for Kentucky even as they fight for playing time on the national runners up. Meanwhile, many other SEC teams are counting on transfers — from Division I and junior college — to keep them competitive in the league.
Florida is looking toward a transfer and the brother of a former All-SEC performer to keep the Gators atop the league. Alabama and LSU are bringing in transfers to play point guard in an attempt to push the Crimson Tide and Tigers into the NCAA Tournament.
Our breakdown of the top freshmen, transfers and players returning from injury continues with the top newcomers who will impact the SEC standings.
1. Karl Towns, Kentucky
Kentucky may have been loaded in the frontcourt even without this freshman class. Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee all return, meaning perhaps Towns won’t be quite as prolific as recent Kentucky freshman big men. Still, he’s a 7-1, 250-pound center who can can stretch a defense. Towns was named the Gatorade High School Male Athlete of the Year in July, the second Kentucky player under John Calipari to win the award. Towns joins 2010 point guard Brandon Knight as a recipient of the award.
2. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
With guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison back, Ulis won’t be asked to score from the backcourt. That’s no problem. He’s much better as a distributor. As the Harrisons took time to grow into their roles as facilitators, the 5-9 Ulis already has that ability locked down. His vision will be an asset to another loaded Kentucky team.
3. Ricky Tarrant, Alabama
Transfer from Tulane
Tarrant will compete with freshman Justin Coleman for minutes at point guard, where Trevor Releford departs. Tarrant was a second-team All-Conference USA selection in his last season at Tulane in 2013-14. Tarrant averaged 15.3 points and 3.4 assists per game in two seasons at Tulane, needing only 66 games to cross the 1,000-point mark.
4. Trey Lyles, Kentucky
John Calipari may need to get creative to keep Lyles, Towns and the rest of his big men happy. Lyles’ natural position may be power forward, but he can also play small forward. Lyles, though, may be off to a slower start as he (and junior Willie Cauley-Stein) will miss Kentucky’s tour of the Bahamas in early August. Lyles is recovering form a procedure on his left leg.
5. Yante Maten, Georgia
Maten was a big get for Mark Fox as the Bloomfield Hills (Mich.) Andover product was considered a strong Michigan State lean in the recruiting process. Instead, Maten will head to Georgia where the 6-8, 225-pound power forward be a player off the glass.
6. Josh Gray, LSU
Junior college transfer
Sophomore forwards Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin need someone to get them the ball with point guard Anthony Hickey transferring to Oklahoma State. Gray from junior college may be the answer. Before heading to Odessa (Texas) College, Gray averaged 9.6 points and 3.3 assists as a freshman at Texas Tech. He’ll be more than a facilitator, though, as Johnny Jones expects him to score in a variety of ways.
7. Alex Murphy, Florida
Transfer from Duke
Florida may have to wait until the second semester to add Murphy to the lineup. When he’s eligible, Murphy will be a stretch four and another transfer on a roster that includes Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech), Jon Horford (Michigan) and Eli Carter (Rutgers). Murphy is the brother of Erik Murphy, who averaged 12.2 points per game in 2012-13.
8. Antoine Mason, Auburn
Transfer from Niagara
Bruce Pearl isn’t the only interesting newcomer at Auburn. The Tigers at Mason, who was second behind National Player of the Year Doug McDermott in scoring last season. Mason averaged 25.6 points per game, but he took an average of 18.5 shots per game to get there. Auburn’s not going to be a great team in the SEC, but the Tigers won’t need to lean nearly as heavily on Mason as 7-26 Niagara did last season.
9. Cameron Biedscheid, Missouri
Transfer from Notre Dame
Biedscheid is another SEC transfer who will have to wait until the second semester to be eligible. New Mizzou coach Kim Anderson is counting on the 6-foot-7, 205-pound guard to be one of his leading scorers, but he averaged only 6.2 points per game during his freshman season at Notre Dame. Biedscheid will join Deuce Bello (Baylor) and Keith Shamburger (Hawaii) in another round of transfers for Missouri.
10. Robert Hubbs, Tennessee
Returning from injury
As the coach who recruited him left for Cal, Hubbs elected to stay with his home-state school. From Newbern, Tenn., Hubbs was was a five-star recruit out of high school but played only 12 games in an injury-shortened freshman season. Hubbs scored in double figures only twice and shot 30.7 percent in limited duty. New coach Donnie Tyndall will need more from one of the few holdovers on his roster.
CHICAGO — At first, Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah wasn’t thrilled when Nebraska's sports information director put his name in the running for the featured player speech at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon without his knowledge.
“I didn’t want my name on the ballot at all,” Abdullah said during a small roundtable interview session Tuesday before his speech. “I’m terrible at speaking. Ironically, they picked me, so here goes nothing.”
He was being self-deprecating. Abdullah did just fine during his comments to hundreds of Big Ten fans and media.
Abdullah mentioned “capitalism” in college athletics as a reference to the ongoing unionization issue at Northwestern and the autonomy and cost-of-attendance discussion going on around the power five conferences.
Instead of dwelling on those hot-button topics, Abdullah focused on the advantages of being a student-athlete. Nowhere was that more evident than when he returned home to Alabama to find one of his high school friends, who went to college as an athlete himself, kicked out of school and facing a drug addiction. Another was in jail.
“These aren’t people I read about or saw on TV,” Abdullah said. “These are my friends. If it can happen to them, it can happen to any student-athlete in this room.”
Abdullah’s growth in Lincoln has been stark, he says.
By his own admission, Abdullah was “socially awkward” as a high school senior from Homewood, Ala. At a high school all-star game — at a time when Abdullah was still being recruited as a defensive back — he and eventual Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon struck up a friendship that would last into their college years.
Both were introverts, so they ate breakfast together all week. By last spring, they were Nos. 1-2 in the Big Ten in rushing and contemplating going to the NFL Draft. They talked it over and elected to return to school.
“We’ve been clicking ever since then,” Gordon said. “We talk all through the season. He’s a great person to know. We’re good friends.”
At Nebraska, Abdullah had no choice but to come out of his shell. Nebraska recruits nationally, so Abdullah arrived in Lincoln around a handful of players from all walks of life.
Abdullah will talk anything now. He’ll joke with reporters. A day before his speech to Big Ten fans and media, he joked: “Speech? I’m making a speech? Uh oh.”
But if you really want to get Abdullah going, start talking draft trends and running backs. No running back has been drafted in the first round since three did it in 2012. What does that mean for Abdullah and his pal Gordon?
“Now we’re talking. Now we’re talking,” Abdullah said.
A self-described film junkie since age 7 when his father filmed park league games, Abdullah said he watches NFL Live on ESPN regularly. That leads him to believe the days of running backs are coming back.
“Football works in fads,” Abdullah said. “This is the D-end fad.”
Abdullah sees tall, stand-up defensive ends and outside linebackers like South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and UCLA’s Anthony Barr — both first-round picks last year — and sees his future. Those two players are built to rush the passer.
The answer? Abdullah says its the running back.
“Everything eventually comes full circle,” Abdullah said. “At some point, the NFL is going to come to the conclusion that the stand-up guys aren’t the best guys against the run. To beat those guys, you’ve got to get more running backs. It’s going to come back around to running backs in the first round.”
But just in case the running back pendulum doesn’t swing back to Abdullah in time for the 2015 draft, he’s doing everything he can to improve his pro potential.
Abdullah is a slippery back and tough to tackle. But he’s only 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds. Even if running backs become en vogue in the next year, he’ll need to round out his skill set. He’s playing on special teams in 2014. He says he wants to block punts, return punts and return kickoffs.
If that makes him a Heisman contender, he won’t say. And what’s the point of projecting? Abdullah remembers last season’s surprises all too well.
“I don’t like to get caught up in preseason accolades because (Boston College running back) Andre Williams didn’t know he was going to win the Doak Walker award. (Oregon State wide receiver) Brandin Cooks as well with the Biletnikoff.
“You never know when it’s your time.”
CHICAGO — Braxton Miller has been good — very good — the last two seasons. Only now, though, is Ohio State coach Urban Meyer starting to see his quarterback nearing his potential.
“He’s real close,” Meyer said from Big Ten Media Day Monday. “I made the comment that you couldn’t see the ceiling (before). You can see the ceiling with him now.”
That ceiling is a mix of a lethal run-pass threat at quarterback and a leader of a potential national title-contending team. To reach that ceiling and for Ohio State to remain in championship contention, Miller may have to get through a season unscathed.
Meyer tried to deflect some attention away from Miller to an offensive line that returns only one starter, but it’s clear the quarterback is the key. Ohio State has sent him to work with Jon Gruden and brought in a former NFL general manager to meet with him.
“We’ve pulled out every possible stop to make sure he’s ready to go and he embraced it,” Meyer said.
Miller isn’t shy about talking about the possibility of what could happen if he has a season at his potential. This is a guy who walks past seven Heisman Trophies on his way through the Ohio State football facility. He’s twice finished in the top 10 and appeared on several watch lists.
“I’ve been in the Heisman talk since my sophomore year,” Miller said. “I walk past that all the time, and I think about what I need to do to walk across that podium.”
With a Sept. 6 game against Virginia Tech — ranked 27th by Athlon Sports in the preseason — Miller will need to get off to a healthier start than he did a year ago if he's going to achieve those kinds of goals.
Miller missed two full games and most of a third in September last season with a knee injury. Lucky for Ohio State, those games were against San Diego State, Cal and Florida A&M. Miller, though, returned to the lineup at full strength, throwing four touchdown passes in a 31-24 win over Wisconsin on Sept. 28.
But Miller also struggled by the end of the year. He was a combined 14-of-36 for 234 yards passing against Michigan and Michigan State, though he rushed for nearly 300 yards and five touchdowns as the Buckeyes split games against the Spartans and Wolverines. He also played through a shoulder injury in the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson, in which he accounted for three total touchdowns but also threw two interceptions.
Miller attempted to rehab the shoulder without surgery for the first seven weeks of the offseason before deciding to undergo outpatient surgery in late February. The surgery kept him out of spring practice, which may not have been all bad for Miller.
"It's probably what I needed," Miller said. "Just learning the game from the defensive coaches. Learning how practice is without you practicing."
Since his offseason surgery, Miller says he's been throwing for two weeks, and he has returned to full strength.
The margin for error, though, will be slim. Ohio State is counting on Miller like never before. Perhaps that’s a strong statement for a quarterback who has passed for more than 2,000 yards and rushed for more than 1,000 the last two seasons. But it’s accurate.
Ohio State will need to replace Carlos Hyde, who rushed for 1,521 yards in 11 games last season. Two starting receivers return, but Meyer was displeased with the progress of the entire position group during the spring.
Perhaps most important is the departure of Kenny Guiton, a senior who flourished in his role as backup the last two seasons. Guiton completed 68.4 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions in September last season, and a year earlier, he led Ohio State to an overtime win over Purdue in relief of an injured Miller.
Ohio State’s backup quarterback is now sophomore Cardale Jones, who has thrown two career passes. Of course, the Buckeyes hope the season doesn’t come down to a backup.
A healthy Miller may be the difference between a solid Ohio State team and one looking to make up for near misses the last two seasons.
In 2012, the Buckeyes went 12-0 but missed a chance at a Big Ten championship and a potential national championship game while serving a bowl ban. Had Ohio State served its bowl ban a year earlier — when the Buckeyes wrapped up a 6-7 season with a Gator Bowl loss — the 2012 team may have been able to play for a national championship.
And last season, Ohio State started 12-0 before losing 34-24 to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and 40-35 to Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
In addition, a healthy and productive season could make Miller the most prolific quarterback for Meyer and the Big Ten.
With a career year, Miller could top Florida’s Tim Tebow in career total offense among Meyer quarterbacks. Miller enters his senior season 3,886 yards short of the 2007 Heisman winner. With a monster year, Miller could challenge Purdue’s Drew Brees’ for the Big Ten record of total offense. Miller is 4,346 yards short of Brees’ record of 12,692 total yards.
Granted, Miller’s average the last two seasons is 3,236 yards per year, both times in 12 games. Ohio State, ranked No. 3 in the Athlon preseason top 25, has aspirations of playing more than a dozen games, though.
The goal isn’t the numbers. It’s the balance. Meyer needs Miller to improve his ability in the passing game to reach that ceiling that’s now in his quarterback’s sights.
“We have to be very balanced,” Meyer said. “We have been too one-dimensional with him. He’s got the skill set and we believe he has the knowledge, and we believe the personnel around him is better.”
CHICAGO — This is not the Penn State program Mike Hull thought he was joining.
Now, that’s not a bad thing, but the James Franklin style is not one Hull thought he’d be embracing when he was a recruit from Canonsburg, Pa., in 2009.
“My perception of Penn State was straight-edge, take-care-of-business kind of team,” Hull said from Big Ten Media Day on Monday. “But (Franklin) is putting himself out there. That’s what you need to do as a program these days.”
Putting himself out there is Franklin talking up Penn State, continuing to hang out in the SEC territory and boasting of the work he’ll put in to recruit the backyards of new Big Ten foes Maryland and Rutgers.
“From time to time that gets me in trouble, but I don’t want to lose that aspect of who I am,” Franklin said. “I come to things like this and don’t want to be this boring standard coach who gives these dry answers. I want to have fun.”
This is a strange sight, a Penn State coach who doesn't mind ruffling feathers.
Predecessor Bill O’Brien may have been the perfect figure to lead Penn State as it recovered from the death of Paterno and Jerry Sandusky scandal. O'Brien was more consumed with the product on the field far more than pleasing various factions around Penn State.
Paterno every now and then would take a dig at Jackie Sherrill and Barry Switzer, but before the scandal that tainted his legacy, Paterno aimed to keep college athletics as a place of humility and virtue.
Franklin may try to re-establish that message. At the same time, though, he’s shown no sign of backing down from poking other programs. In a speech to boosters in Baltimore, Franklin said he considers the states of Maryland and New Jersey to be in-state as far as recruiting is concerned, a shot across the bow for the Terrapins and Rutgers. “They might as well shut them down because they don’t have a chance,” Franklin told the crowd, according to the Baltimore Sun.
“I get up and talk to our fans and try to get them excited,” Franklin said. “I probably said a few things I shouldn’t have said because I’m trying to get our fans excited.”
Franklin said he’s not surprised by the attention. Poking a potential rival drives clicks to web sites, he says.
Franklin also kept his Southeastern ties alive as he and his staff served as guest coaches at Georgia State and Stetson football camps in June. The camps in Atlanta and Central Florida mean Franklin can do something SEC coaches cannot — work camps in the Southeast. SEC rules prohibit league coaches from working camps more than 50 miles away from campus; Big Ten rules have no such limitations.
SEC coaches and administrators weren’t impressed.
Franklin has at least a few good reasons for his bravado.
He led Vanderbilt to three consecutive bowl games without a quarterback garnering serious consideration for All-SEC. At Penn State, he’ll have Christian Hackenberg, who is already one of the nation’s top passers as a sophomore.
As a true freshman, Hackenberg was third in the Big Ten at 246.3 passing yards per game. He was arguably the top passer in the league in the final month of the season. In November, he threw eight touchdowns to two interceptions and averaged 8.2 yards per attempt. Penn State also returns its entire stable of running backs, led by Zach Zwinak.
But the Nittany Lions also lose Hackenberg’s top target in Allen Robinson and have a line that may be among the worst in the league. Left tackle Donovan Smith is the lone returning starter on a thin unit filled out by freshmen.
The schedule, at least, includes no non-conference opponent tougher than a UCF team without Blake Bortles and no crossover games with Athlon’s top three teams in the West (Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa).
As a rival coach might say, “talk is cheap.” Franklin will find out soon if the edge he’s brought to Penn State will yield dividends.
“Sometimes we think it’s too much,” Hull joked. “But it makes you want to play for someone who is that passionate.”
CHICAGO — The Bo Pelini image makeover isn’t a makeover at all, at least as far as his players are concerned.
Pelini’s sideline blowups have been well-documented. During the season, he can be short and gruff with answers to the media.
But his players are perplexed the outside world is starting to see the new, looser side of their embattled coach.
“It’s funny, man, everyone keeps saying he’s changed. He hasn’t changed a bit to me,” Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah said from Big Ten Media Day on Monday. “He’s the same guy as when he sat on my couch recruiting me.”
The coach Abdullah knows is the one who brings a cat to the spring game and hoists the feline into the air to present the him in to the crowd. The coach Abdullah knows is the one who teamed with former defensive tackle Thad Randle for a prank in which Pelini smashes a cell phone with a hammer during a team meeting.
That’s the coach Nebraska safety Corey Cooper knows, too.
“The cameras are on him when he’s at his most stressful point — when he’s coaching,” Cooper said. “We see him every day, and he’s a player-friendly guy. I wouldn’t want to play for any other coach.”
That’s the side those around Pelini — those he trusts and sometimes the staff, he says — want him to show more often.
“Some people around me have encouraged me to show that side,” Pelini said. “I guess I’ve always chosen not to. I guess I’m I private person. When I’m away from the office I’m to myself. I spend 99 percent of my time away from football with my kids. I haven’t really let a lot of people in.”
That’s starting to change, especially compared to where he was near the end of last season.
Pelini wrapped up his sixth regular season in defiant fashion, telling reporters that Nebraska could “go ahead” and fire him if the administration wanted. The frustration of another four-loss season had boiled over.
Nebraska didn’t fire Pelini and instead extended his contract. At the least, it’s a vote of confidence that Pelini is the coach who will keep Nebraska nationally prominent. At this stage, though, the program has been stagnant. Pelini has lost exactly four games every season at Nebraska. He’s also won nine or 10 games each season and reached a conference championship game three times.
But Pelini’s record isn’t an outlier in recent Nebraska history. The Cornhuskers haven’t lost fewer than four games since 2003 and haven’t finished in the top 10 since a national title game appearance in 2001.
If Nebraska is going to struggle again, Pelini seems determined to make sure he isn’t the one contributing to the “negativity” he says played a role in the Huskers’ inconsistency in 2013.
Pelini’s public persona may have done little favors for Nebraska’s season, but it’s been a part of him since he played safety at Ohio State.
“They see this part of you, and they think that’s you all the time,” Pelini said. “But that was the case when I was playing. They see that side of me and then they get to know me and it’s night and day. That’s the case with a lot of people."
Which brings us to the cat.
Younger Nebraska fans, good luck explaining to your parents or grandparents why Bo Pelini hoisting a cat into the air at a spring game is a meaningful gesture.
First, explain the parody Twitter account @FauxPelini, a caricature of Pelini’s explosive temper. And in that parody, an image of Pelini holds a cat in a cheesy Olan Mills pose.
Then, on the night of the national championship game, Pelini (the real one) does this:
@FauxPelini ok enough is enough... I want my cat back. You've had her long enough!— Bo Pelini (@BoPelini) January 7, 2014
Nebraska went all-in on Pelini’s spontaneous interaction with his Twitter parody, posting an image of a cat in Pelini’s office and an image of an assistant leaving for a recruiting trip with a cat carrier.
Then came this:
So, this is a long way to explain show that Pelini and Nebraska is going to great lengths to shed the coach’s stern exterior. Pelini seems conscious his image could use a makeover, if for no other reason than to do his part to keep "negativity" from harming his team.
After Nebraska lost 41-21 to UCLA on Sept. 14, a tipster leaked to Deadspin an audio recording from 2011 of Pelini’s profane comments regarding fans and local media. (Warning: Bad words) “We'll see what they can do when I'm (expletive) gone,” Pelini says in the recording.
Was it unfair for a tipster to release audio from two years earlier? Perhaps. But Pelini didn’t really help his case at the end of the year after wrapping up another four-loss season with a 38-17 loss at home to Iowa.
“They want to fire me, go ahead,” Pelini told reporters. “I believe in what I’ve done. I don’t apologize for what I’ve done. I don’t apologize to you. I don’t apologize to anybody."
The question now is if 9-4 or 10-4 should be considered a success with this season’s group. Gone is Nebraska career passing leader Taylor Martinez, who played only four games last season.
On the plus side, Nebraska returns Tommy Armstrong, who went 7-1 as a starter after Martinez was lost to injury. Abdullah returns after rushing for 1,690 yards, the fourth-highest total in school history. The Huskers also have an Athlon second-team All-America pass-rusher in Randy Gregory. But the offensive line returns only one starter, and only five starters return to the defense.
The schedule may be more manageable with a home game against Miami replacing the series with UCLA. The Big Ten West figures to be easier to navigate than the East, but Nebraska must visit division contenders Wisconsin and Iowa while facing Michigan State on the road.
So the next question is if Pelini will have as much fun with the on-field performance as he is with his players.
“He’s a very passionate guy. He loves football,” Abdullah said. “You don’t want to play for anyone who isn’t passionate about football.”
The Big East perhaps would like to say that help is on the way. The league produced four NCAA teams in its new alignment. And while the league had the national player of the year in Doug McDermott, no team made it to the Sweet 16.
Reinforcements, though, aren’t immediately clear.
Granted, Villanova returns the bulk of last year’s team and won’t need to rely on freshmen or transfers. But the impact newcomers in the league largely are going to teams that didn’t reach the field.
Marquette, Seton Hall and Butler are among the teams counting on transfers, freshmen and players returning from injury in 2014-15. Those moves might keep those teams competitive, but won’t make any of them top-flight programs next season.
Beyond those three, Georgetown and Xavier welcome new players that will be key to their hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament. Our look at the top newcomers for 2014-15 continues with the Big East, profiling the freshmen, the transfers and players returning from injury who will impact the league race.
1. Matt Carlino, Marquette
Transfer from BYU
Steve Wojciechowski will be off to a rough start roster-wise at Marquette. Lucky for the first-year coach, a point guard in the transfer market had an uncle who played at Marquette and a mother who is from Milwaukee. Carlino should step in immediately and play point guard for the Golden Eagles after averaging 12.5 points and 4.6 assists per game in three seasons at BYU.
2. Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
Whitehead could be the key player of Kevin Willard’s tenure at Seton Hall after the Pirates slipped to 17-17 overall and 6-12 in the new Big East. Seton Hall’s first McDonald’s All-American since 2000, Whitehead joins a backcourt that already includes Texas transfer Sterling Gibbs and Jared Sina. Whitehead, at 6-4 and 195 pounds, should add scoring punch to a team that ranked 123rd nationally in offensive efficiency on KenPom.
3. Isaac Copeland, Georgetown
Copeland, at top-25 prospect in the 247Sports Composite, will help improve a lackluster Hoyas frontcourt from last season. He’s a slender 6-10 at 187 pounds, but he can be a matchup problem at the 3 and the 4. He and fellow freshman Paul White should give Georgetown the presence at small forward they lacked as the Hoyas slipped from Big East champions to 8-10 in the league.
4. Roosevelt Jones, Butler
Returning from injury
Butler was due for a down year after the departure of Brad Stevens and a move into a more competitive Big East. A season-ending wrist injury to its top wing Jones before last season was just another blow to the team. Jones averaged 10.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 2012-13 and should be one of the key veterans in second-year coach Brandon Miller’s program.
5. Duane Wilson, Marquette
Wilson was one of the top players in Marquette’s freshman class a year ago with expectations to contribute right away. Instead, a broken leg in October forced him to redshirt, depleting the Golden Eagles at the point guard position. He’ll be ready this season in a remade backcourt.
6. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
Bluiett is the top prospect in a signing class that includes three 247Sports Composite top-100 players. As Xavier loses its top two scorers — Semaj Christon to the draft and graduate Justin Martin to a transfer — Bluiett needs to step in and contribute immediately. The 6-6 wing from Indianapolis was the runner up for Indiana’s Mr. Basketball to Kentucky freshman Trey Lyles.
7. Ricky Kreklow, Creighton
Transfer from Cal
Kreklow’s experience will be key for a team that loses mainstays like Doug McDermott, Grant Gibbs, Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat. No combination of players will be able to match their production, but Kreklow could be a playmaker. The 6-6, 210-pound forward averaged 5.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists in his final season at Cal.
8. Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
Delgado may be overshadowed by the McDonald’s All-American Whitehead, but the four-star recruit is nearly as important. A prospect from the Dominican Republic, he should challenge for a starting job at power forward.
9. Luke Fischer, Marquette
Transfer from Indiana
With the departures of Davante Gardner, Chris Otule and Jamil Wilson, Marquette needs a major upgrade in the frontcourt. It will have to wait until the 6-11 center is eligible in December, though. Fischer was a top-100 prospect in the Hoosiers’ 2013 signing class.
10. Myke Henry, DePaul
Transfer from Illinois
Oliver Purnell has said the 6-foot-6 Henry was one of DePaul’s best players while he sat out due to NCAA transfer rules. He’ll need to be an impact player now that he’s eligible of DePaul is going to escape the Big East cellar.
The ACC may again be the home of the nation’s top freshman, only this time, there may be little room for debate.
Duke’s Jabari Parker and Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis took turns as the nation’s most decorated freshman. At the same time Kansas’ duo of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid weren’t that far behind.
The freshman of the year award eventually went to Parker, though. The award may stay at Duke once again thanks to the arrival of center Jahlil Okafor and the departure of challenger Emmanuel Mudiay from SMU to China. Okafor, then, may be unquestioned.
Okafor won’t be the only impact newcomer in the ACC and not the only one from Duke. Our series looking at the top new faces around college basketball, continues with the ACC with a look at the top freshmen, transfers and players returning from injury and academic issues since last season.
1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Duke has not had a ton of great big men in recent years, Mason Plumlee’s senior season notwithstanding. Now, Duke will have not only one of the top freshmen in the country at center, but also an elite player with a skill set that has become increasingly rare. The 6-foot-11, 270-pound freshman from Chicago already has a well-developed post game that will make him one of the top true centers in quite some time. His combination of size and skill makes him an All-America contender and a likely one-and-done.
2. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
Grant was playing the best basketball of his career when he was sidelined after 12 games. Though he was averaging 19 points and 6.2 assists and shooting 51.8 percent from the floor, Grant didn’t have his academics in order and was removed from the team for the remainder of the season. Notre Dame went 8-4 with Grant and 7-13 without him, missing the postseason for the first time under Mike Brey. There’s no guarantee of an NCAA bid when Grant returns, but it may be impossible without him.
3. Angel Rodriguez, Miami
Transfer from Kansas State
Miami cobbled together 17 wins with depleted roster largely because two of its better players — Rodriguez and fellow Big 12 transfer Sheldon McClellan — were sitting out. Now ready to play, the 5-foot-11 Rodriguez will man the point for Miami. In his last stop at Kansas State, Rodriguez averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 assists per game for a team that wow 27 games.
4. Trevor Lacey, NC State
Transfer from Alabama
Trevor Lacey is the latest addition for an NC State program that’s seen its share of roster turnover under Mark Gottfried. Lacey won’t be asked to fill the scoring void left by T.J. Warren, but he will need to be a complement to emerging sophomore point guard Cat Barber in the backcourt. Lacey is a strong guard who can score around the basket.
5. Kaleb Joseph, Syracuse
Joseph will be Syracuse’s fourth point guard in four seasons and its second freshman in a row. Expectations are high after the run of Michael Carter-Williams and Tyler Ennis. Joseph, though, won’t have the supporting cast his predecessors enjoyed.
6. Tyus Jones, Duke
The other half of a package deal with Jahlil Okafor, Jones gives Duke a point guard to compete with Quinn Cook. The senior didn’t start the final 10 games of the season, so Jones could play alongside Cook or supplant him at times during the season. Jones is known for his court vision, and he already has chemistry with Duke’s star center.
7. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State
Rathan-Mayes, a high school teammate of Andrew Wiggins, was slated to be an impact freshman last season before he was declared academically ineligible. The guard is ready in 2014-15 to deliver a much-needed scoring punch to a Florida State team that ranked ninth in the ACC in points per possession.
8. Justin Jackson, North Carolina
North Carolina’s signing class contains three top-30 prospects, all at positions where they will have to fight for playing time at point guard (Joel Berry) and small forward (Jackson, Theo Pinson). Jackson is the highest ranked (No. 9) in the 247Sports Composite and he may be the best shooter of the group, giving him a leg up on a team that shot 33.6 percent from 3-point range last season.
9. Sheldon McClellan, Miami
Transfer from Texas
McClellan will join Rodriguez for an all-transfer backcourt that should have Miami back in postseason contention. McClellan averaged 13.5 points per game for a bad Texas team, but he had a similar KenPom offensive rating (104.1) to Rodriguez (107.1).
10. Durand Johnson, Pittsburgh
Returning from injury
Johnson was averaging 8.8 points and 3.0 rebounds per game off the bench through the first 16 games before a torn ACL ended his season. His recovery will be closely watched, but when healthy, the 6-6 forward could be a key weapon from long range for the Panthers.
HOOVER, Ala. — When Bo Wallace caught a glimpse of himself on film from Ole Miss’ bowl game, the Rebels quarterback saw something that needed an immediate change before the 2014 season.
Wallace threw one interception against Georgia Tech in the bowl game, but he was otherwise solid in the Rebels’ 25-17 win.
No, it wasn't necessarily his performance. Instead, Wallace bristled at the shoulder-length hair peaking out of his helmet. During the offseason, he visited the only person he’ll let cut his hair — a woman in Nashville — and trimmed it to a more presentable shagginess.
“This is as long as it’ll get,” Wallace said from SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. “I want to take a more professional approach to my senior year.”
Part of that professional approach entering his final season is proving that Ole Miss hasn’t seen Wallace at his best. Certainly not since the end of last season.
The postseason was a bit of redemption after his disastrous performance in the Egg Bowl, but Wallace talks as if he knows winning a Music City Bowl isn’t going to make anyone forget that he threw three interceptions and lost a fumble in a 17-10 loss at Mississippi State.
The loss put a damper on a season in which Ole Miss otherwise exceeded expectations. The Rebels navigated a tough schedule to start the season with road wins over Vanderbilt and Texas and a home victory over LSU. The only losses during a 7-3 start were to Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M.
Game 11, though, is when Wallace’s arm — and confidence — started to fail him.
“I think about it every day,” Wallace said of his flop against Mississippi State. “I work every day to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I don’t think it will.”
Beyond the hair, Wallace says he’s undergone a “complete overhaul” of his throwing mechanics during the offseason. He worked with Tom House, a former major league pitcher who works with quarterbacks and pitchers on mechanics.
The problems that culminated in three interceptions in the Egg Bowl started in the fourth game of 2012 against Tulane when he sustained a shoulder injury. Wallace finished out the season, but he threw 17 interceptions. Offseason shoulder surgery helped, but only for a time.
Wallace’s 2013 season started in fine form, he threw 17 touchdown passes to five interceptions during the first 10 games. He doubled his interceptions in the last three.
Here’s a look at how he started and how Wallace played in losses to Mississippi State and Missouri.
|Bo Wallace Season Splits|
|First 10 Games||209 of 323||2,664||8.2||17||5|
|vs. Missouri and Mississippi State||52 of 82||426||5.2||0||4|
Wallace had worn down during the second half of the season, and he knew his arm wasn’t there. For a quarterback who had the reputation of a gunslinger in junior college, this was tough to swallow. The quarterback who averaged 9.2 yards per attempt in JUCO averaged 5.2 in two losses. He still tried to play like he had a big arm, leading to questionable decisions.
“You see that throw down the field and know you can make a big play on it, but you don’t want to try it because you might underthrow it and get picked,” Wallace said.
After working with House, Wallace said he’s able to get more velocity on the ball. In an ideal throwing motion, Wallace’s hips come first and the shoulder creates the torque. After his injury, his hips and shoulder were in sync, and he couldn’t get any torque on the throw.
That, presumably, has changed. Wallace says he’ll be able to stretch the field, something that hasn’t been part of his game for stretches of the last two games.
In year during a changing of the guard at quarterback in the SEC, Wallace could quickly move to or near the top of the pack
“He's just been overshadowed by some really good players,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “The guy has a chance to own every passing record in Ole Miss history before he leaves there.”
The latter may be a stretch. Wallace will have trouble catching Eli Manning in a few areas — Wallace is 41 career touchdowns short of Manning. But Wallace needs 3,779 passing yards to catch Manning’s career total. If Wallace hits that, he’ll also eclipse Manning’s single-season record of 3,600 yards.
If Wallace’s shoulder holds up, those kinds of marks may be attainable.
“He feels finally healthy and confident,” Freeze said. “I really think he's at a point where he certainly has every avenue right now to step in and be one of the guys in this conference.”
The top programs in the Big Ten, for the most part, take a more traditional route for building rosters. Sign high school players and develop them into veterans.
Sure, there are outliers. Ohio State pulls five-star recruits as well as any program in the country. Illinois under John Groce has been active in the transfer market.
Even though the standard practice in the Big Ten tends to follow Michigan State, Wisconsin and Michigan, plenty of new arrivals should make an impact in the league.
In the first of our series breaking down the top newcomers around college basketball, we take a look at the top freshmen, transfers, redshirt freshmen and players returning from injury around the Big Ten.
1. Anthony Lee, Ohio State
Transfer from Temple
The 6-foot-9, 230-pound Lee will give Ohio State a key player in thin frontcourt. He was one of the top rebounders in both the Atlantic 10 and the American as the Owls changed leagues. Lee ranked in the top 200 in offensive and defensive rebound rate last season and ranked 11th nationally in defensive rebound rate two years ago, according to KenPom.com. He also averaged a career-high 13.6 points per game last season.
2. James Blackmon Jr., Indiana
Like his father, James Blackmon Jr. came down to Indiana and Kentucky in recruiting. Unlike his father, the son picked Indiana. Blackmon’s arrival is good for other psychological reasons for IU as the Hoosiers kept another top prospect in-state. Blackmon he’s also a McDonald’s All-American shooting guard who will take some of the pressure off junior point Yogi Ferrell.
3. Kameron Chatman, Michigan
Michigan will be a team in need of some new stars in 2014-15. Caris LeVert is the next in line, but Chatman will be an intriguing name to watch. He’s a 6-foot-7, 197-pound who could be one of Michigan’s most versatile players. The Wolverines have an opening at the 4, but Chatman’s also a skilled passer. He'll be small for a power forward, but not to play the position in the Michigan lineup.
4. Mark Donnal, Michigan
Donnal was going to have trouble cracking the lineup last season, so he redshirted. His development on the practice squad puts him in line for a starting role this season. As is typical for a Michigan forward, Donnal can hit the 3 but his post play is in question.
5. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Russell didn’t become eligible until late June, but his arrival means Ohio State will have the most highly touted member of its signing class available this season. The McDonald’s All-American is a combo guard who should give the backcourt a much-needed scoring jolt.
6. Leron Black, Illinois
Black, a 6-7 forward from Memphis, will give Illinois some much-needed toughness. He’ll be a quality rebounder on a team that already has a top-notch rim protector in Nnanna Egwu.
7. Melo Trimble, Maryland
Maryland will need Trimble, a top-40 recruit, to take a bigger role than perhaps anticipated. Trimble may step into the point guard spot vacated by Seth Allen, who transferred to Virginia Tech. Trimble is the Terrapins’ first McDonald’s All-American since 2003.
8. Ahmad Starks, Illinois
Transfer from Oregon State
Illinois was one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country last season, hitting only 31.7 percent of shots from long range. The Illini will boost this by adding Starks, who was Oregon State’s most prolific 3-point shooter with 185 in 97 games.
9. Vic Law, Northwestern
Law, a 6-6 forward, could be one of the most important recruits Northwestern has signed in a long time. He’s an elite athlete who will give second-year coach Chris Collins a versatile player on both ends of the court.
10. Aaron Cosby, Illinois
Transfer from Seton Hall
Cosby is another key name for the Illinois backcourt, which already includes Rayvonte Rice. Cosby can play both guard spots and averaged 12.6 points and shot 42.6 percent from the field during his final season at Seton Hall.
No one will need any push to watch a rematch of the Iron Bowl. No college football fan will need to know why Alabama’s return trip to Auburn will be loaded with drama.
Same with another matchup between Oregon and Stanford that may determine the Pac-12 South.
Those games all have worthy backstories attached, but we wanted to look a little deeper at the games that mean a little extra something in 2014.
We're taking a look at rematches of classic games, meetings of non-conference foes that rarely happen, if ever, coaches with axes to grind. As usual, there are plenty on the slate. These are the games in 2014 that have an extra little juice.
Aug. 30: Appalachian State at Michigan
"The Unhappy Michigan Man Bowl"
Michigan fans are probably not thrilled to have this game on the schedule given the flood of bad memories this brings back. The first meeting was one of the biggest upsets in college football history, making Armanti Edwards and Dexter Jackson stars for a week by beating Chad Henne and Mike Hart. Appy State is now a Sun Belt program, and Michigan isn’t a top-five team. At least if Michigan loses again, it won’t be as much of an upset.
Aug. 30: Arkansas at Auburn
"The Tempo Bowl"
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn both said at SEC Media Days that they’ve mended fences since Bielema floated rules changes to slow down the pace of play by citing health concerns. Such limitations, of course, would make offenses like Malzahn’s less effective. Malzahn said he thought such a proposal was a joke, and there's been a perception of bad blood ever since. They’re not breaking bread together, Bielema says, but they’re not throwing bread (or rocks) at each other. No word on if Malzahn will try to run up the score, though.
Aug. 30: Alabama vs. West Virginia (Atlanta)
"The Monongah Bowl"
Not only is this the first meeting between Alabama and West Virginia, this is the first time Nick Saban has faced the top school from his home state. Saban’s father operated a service station in rural West Virginia and his mother operated an ice cream shop. The Saban name still carries considerable weight in Fairmont and Monongah, W. Va., even with the governor.
Aug. 30: North Dakota State at Iowa State
"The FCS Showcase"
Not only has North Dakota State won the last three FCS titles, the Bison have defeated an FBS opponent in four consecutive seasons (Kansas State in 2013, Colorado State in 2012, Minnesota in 2011, Kansas in 2010). Iowa State certainly isn’t invincible.
Aug. 30: FAU at Nebraska
"The Carl Bowl"
At one point, this game could have set up a brother vs. brother coaching matchup between Bo and Carl Pelini. Instead, Carl was fired amid accusations that he did not report "certain conduct" of a member of his coaching staff. The accusation at first, though, was that of drug use by Carl Pelini and a staff member. Pelini denied these allegations.
Sept. 6: Missouri at Toledo
"The Pinkel Bowl"
A career like Gary Pinkel’s is becoming more and more rare: He’s been a head coach since 1991 and had only two jobs. The first was at Toledo, where he won 113 games. The run included an 11-0-1 season in 1995 and 10-1 in 2000. This game will be the first Pinkel has coached at Toledo since he took the Mizzou job in 2000.
Sept. 13: Tennessee at Oklahoma
"The We’ll Play Sooner or Later Bowl"
Hard to believe, but this is the first regular-season meeting between these two powerhouse programs. The Volunteers and Sooners have split their two meetings in the Orange Bowl in 1968 and 1939.
Sept. 20: Miami at Nebraska
"The Former Powerhouse Bowl"
Three times between 1983 and 2001, the national championship went through Miami and Nebraska. Miami beat Nebraska in bowls for its first and most recent national titles in 1983 and 2001, and Nebraska beat the Hurricanes in 1994 in a bowl for the first of back-to-back titles. Neither has been in the national title race for a decade, and the two teams haven’t played during the regular season since 1976.
Oct. 25: Ohio State at Penn State
"The Larry Johnson Bowl"
Larry Johnson was offered a chance to stick with a third Penn State coaching staff under James Franklin, but he instead joined Urban Meyer at Ohio State. The defensive line coach should spice up Big Ten recruiting with his track record in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Oct. 25: Alabama at Tennessee
"The Kiffin Bowl"
Derek Dooley may have been worse, but new Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is more hated in Knoxville. Kiffin signed a washout recruiting class, went 7-6 in one season and unceremoniously dumped Tennessee to return to USC. The Tennessee fanbase was angrier than most when a coach leaves for another program, gathering outside of the athletic facility as Kiffin conducted a bizarre news conference the day he announced his resignation. Tennessee hasn’t had a winning season since.
Nov. 1: Maryland at Penn State
"The Revenge of James Franklin Bowl"
James Franklin’s first head coaching break never actually materialized. Franklin had been named the coach-in-waiting under Ralph Friedgen at Maryland, but a new athletic director was lukewarm to the idea of honoring such a commitment. Instead, Franklin left for Vanderbilt and later Penn State, where he’s vowed to dominate recruiting the state of Maryland. To which, current Terrapins coach Randy Edsall said talk is cheap.
Nov. 8: Iowa State at Kansas
"The Mangino Bowl"
Mark Mangino built Kansas into a respectable program from 2002-09. He reached four bowl games in eight seasons, including the Orange Bowl in 2007. But he also had a bit of a mean streak with players, leading to his firing from Lawrence. After time on the staff at Youngstown State, Mangino returns to the Big 12 to revive the offense at Iowa State.
Nov. 15: Oklahoma at Texas Tech
"The Baker Bowl"
Former Texas Tech starting quarterback Baker Mayfield bolted Lubbock with no guarantees of being able to play quickly or gaining a scholarship. The Red Raiders tried to block his transfer to Big 12 foe Oklahoma, but the Sooners are appealing to the NCAA to grant him eligibility. OU coach Bob Stoops says Mayfield’s status as a walk-on at Tech means he should eligible right away. Of course, that’s self-serving for a team that moved a backup quarterback to tight end. Either way, the latest transfer issue will surely be a topic when these two teams meet in November.
Nov. 29: Rutgers at Maryland
"The Fridge Bowl"
Ralph Friedgen hasn’t coached since he was fired from Maryland in 2010 despite going 9-4 and winning ACC Coach of the Year honors. Friedgen, a Maryland alum, never matched his 31-7 start with an ACC title in his first three seasons, but the Terrapins haven’t exactly thrived without Friedgen either. Given the record it’s easy to sympathize with his feeling that he got a raw deal. Friedgen’s return to coaching as Rutgers’ offensive coordinator means at least one trip to College Park for the big guy.
HOOVER, Ala. — An injury to Aaron Murray last season gave Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason a taste of the big-time. The injury that never happened, though, ensured Mason would have a full year as an SEC quarterback.
As it became clear Mason would have trouble earning playing time behind Murray, Mason and Georgia coach Mark Richt formulated a plan to keep the Marietta, Ga., native in Athens.
One plank of that was a redshirt year in 2012 so Mason would be able to start his final season once Murray graduated. The redshirt, though, was no sure thing. Mason remained Georgia’s No. 2 quarterback as the Bulldogs won the SEC East. Had Murray gone down anytime before the bowl game, Richt would have burned Mason’s redshirt.
“Even that season was a little bit crazy because at any given time if Murray would have got hurt ... Hutson would have played,” Richt said.
Murray stayed healthy that season, meaning Richt now has the luxury of a fifth-year senior running the offense in 2014. Mason is a rarity, not only that he didn't transfer like many in his shoes would have, but he's also spent five seasons entrenched the same offensive system under Richt and Mike Bobo.
"He's really sacrificed a lot for this team," Richt said. "He's staying because he loves Georgia, and he especially loves his teammates. But he also knew that this season was going to come and he was going to be surrounded by a lot of skill guys — a lot of great backs, receivers, some veteran linemen, a defense that should be matured from a year ago."
Mason isn’t the only quarterback in the Southeast who needed to be patient for his turn. He’s one of three QBs at power programs who bucked a trend. South Carolina and Clemson will join Georgia with a senior under center in 2014.
As Mason waited for Murray to leave, South Carolina senior Dylan Thompson needed three-year starter Connor Shaw to move on before he could take over the job full-time. Clemson senior Cole Stoudt finally gets his shot after backing up three-year starter Tajh Boyd.
Murray and Boyd were their respective school's career leading passers. Shaw was South Carolina's all-time winningest quarterback.
Many quarterbacks in similar situations as Mason, Thompson and Stoudt would have sought a better chance to start at another school. Instead, this trio stuck around and each will play key roles on teams with high aspirations in 2014. Both Georgia and South Carolina have eyes on an SEC championship while Clemson is eager to prove it can be a player on the national stage without Boyd and All-America wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
Of Thompson, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said he'll need to "pack his college career into one season." The same could be said of any of the three.
Thompson has the most experience, even if it’s all relative.
He’s 3-0 as a starter and helped South Carolina complete a 28-25 win over Fiesta Bowl champion UCF when Shaw was hurt in the first quarter.
But there was also Thompson’s start against Missouri. He went 15-of-27 for 222 yards with an interception as South Carolina fell behind 17-0. Out of desperation, Spurrier turned back to Shaw, who led South Carolina to a 27-24 win in double overtime despite a knee injury.
“I was just forcing the issue a lot,” Thompson said. “I’ve watched that tape I don’t know how many times, just learning to be patient and taking what the defense gives me. That’s what Connor did such a good job of.”
Thompson’s cross-state rival has thrown 118 career passes, but none in a contested game. Stoudt has completed 72.2 percent of his passes, almost all in lopsided games against the likes of South Carolina State, Ball State, Wake Forest and Virginia.
Stoudt had to win the job in spring, aided in part by the dismissal of Chad Kelly and the youth of Deshaun Watson. A top-100 freshman, Watson may be the quarterback of the future, but Clemson felt confident enough in Stoudt to hand him the keys to Chad Morris' offense.
“It's a huge thrill ride constantly,” Stoudt said at Media Day. “There's always something new every single day, and I've had a blast. I've never been more excited in my entire life.”
When Stoudt starts his first career game, he’ll do so against another first-year starter who at least got a taste last season.
The injury to Murray came in the final game of the SEC season, forcing Mason into duty. In his first start, he shook off a lackluster first half to lead a second-half comeback to beat Georgia Tech 41-34 in double overtime.
Where Stoudt inherits an offense run by one of the most dynamic coordinators in the country, Mason takes over an attack flush with skill position talent. Now healthy, running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Conley and Michael Bennett could form one of the best running back/receiver groups in the SEC.
“Hutson has done a great job,” Conley said. “He’s been a field general out here, a leader. He’s done a great job of getting the team to rally behind him. The offense will be in good hands.”
South Carolina and Clemson hope to be saying the same thing this fall.
HOOVER, Ala. — With nearly 1,300 media members at SEC Media Days, the same stories are bound to pop up from Gainesville to College Station.
One meme, though, may be premature. For example:
True, the standout quarterback class from 2013 is gone. Departures of Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray and AJ McCarron have left a void of experience. What’s left lacks starts and yards, but the class may be no less intriguing.
Only one of the top eight passers return, but the returning quarterbacks are far from green. Auburn’s Nick Marshall won the league a year ago. Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace is a multi-year starter. The new quarterbacks at Mississippi State and Missouri showed enough in part-time duty a year ago that they can be dynamic contributors.
“The quarterbacks are not any less talented than the ones that just left,” Wallace said. “There’s just going to be a turnover.”
And then there are the running backs. Four of the top seven rushers in yards per game return to the league. Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and South Carolina’s Mike Davis didn’t make the media day roster, but that doesn’t make them any less impressive.
So for anyone who is worried about a lack of star power in the SEC, we present this rebuttal:
Todd Gurley, Georgia
Gurley is as legitimate a Heisman contender as any running back around the country, even considering Reggie Bush and Mark Ingram are the only players at the position to win the award in the 21st century.
Before Gurley sustained an ankle injury against LSU on Sept. 28, he had rushed for at least 100 yards per game in 11 of 17 games. During that span he’s rushed for 20 touchdowns and topped 20 carries only six times.
“If he stays healthy, I think he's one of the better players in America, no doubt about it,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Hopefully he stays healthy. I see that he's getting into great condition. If we continue to get him in great condition for this season, I think the sky's the limit for him.
Mike Davis, South Carolina
Like Gurley, Davis saw part of his season derailed by injuries. At one point, Davis led the SEC in rushing before playing through shoulder, knee and ankle injuries to finish the season.
For a South Carolina program that has emphasized run-pass balance as well as any Steve Spurrier-coached team, Davis could be a workhorse. He topped the 100-yard mark seven times in the first nine games. During that span, he averaged 6.4 yards per carry.
“From Marcus Lattimore to him, there’s no drop off,” South Carolina defensive tackle J.T. Surratt said. “There’s something about him. He can make you miss. He has that power and he has that speed. If you don’t bring that extra something, he’ll blow past you.”
T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
Splitting time with Derrick Henry, who broke out for 161 yards from scrimmage in the Sugar Bowl, may cut into Yeldon’s ability to compete for postseason awards. But it also raises the possibility that Yeldon and Henry will be the best running back duo in the country.
On his own, Yeldon averages better than six yards per carry in his career to go with 26 touchdowns the last two years.
Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
Wallace is first to mention that the end of the season — when he threw five interceptions against Missouri, Mississippi State and Georgia Tech — changed the complexion of the season.
Before that, he had thrown 17 touchdowns to only five picks, not a bad mark for a quarterback whose decision-making has been called into question. Since the end of last season, Wallace visited with private quarterback coach Tom House for a “complete overhaul” on his mechanics to improve the velocity on his passes.
He also is another year removed from shoulder surgery that limited his confidence last season. And despite all that, Wallace was third in the SEC in total offense, and more than 30 yards per game more than anyone else returning.
“I’m throwing it the way I threw it in junior college,” Wallace said. “That was the best I ever threw it.”
Maty Mauk, Missouri
Speaking of quarterbacks with an unpredictability streak, Mauk said he’d like to model his game after former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (and what dual-threat quarterback wouldn’t?).
He’s not there yet, but he completed 18-of-36 passes for 295 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in a dominating 36-17 win over Florida in his first career start. He followed that in the next two weeks with 114 rushing yards and three passing touchdowns in a double-overtime loss to South Carolina and five touchdown passes in a win over Tennessee.
“Maty Mauk will surprise everybody, every week,” Missouri center Evan Boehm said. “He’s a playmaker. You saw it in Johnny Manziel, you saw it in AJ McCarron and you saw it in Aaron Murray.”
Nick Marshall, Auburn
The returning quarterback of the SEC champions was absent at SEC Media Day due to a marijuana citation, and his status for the opener against Arkansas is unclear.
He’s still a possibility to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 — he came 24 passing yards of the feat a year ago.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Mississippi State’s quarterback history is not nearly as illustrious as other programs in the league, meaning Prescott’s bid for the top single season in Starkville history is attainable.
Does Prescott have the ability to do it? Despite playing 11 games and splitting time with Tyler Russell early in the season, Prescott passed for 1,940 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed for 829 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Leonard Fournette, LSU
Long-term, the SEC player with the most potential may be a freshman running back at LSU. Leonard Fournette will start as part of a running back committee, as usual at LSU, to start the year.
By the end of the season, he may start living up to media day comparisons to Michael Jordan and Adrian Peterson.
“That’s the only guy play the running back position you can compare him to,” Terrence Magee said.
HOOVER, Ala. — Jacob Coker is the SEC’s mystery man.
Perhaps more than any other position, the quarterback at Alabama could determine the trajectory of the league. The Crimson Tide have a roster stocked with No. 1 recruiting class upon No. 1 recruiting class.
An above average quarterback, and Alabama is in national title contention. Below average, and it’s not quite clear.
On one hand, Coker went head-to-head with the Heisman Trophy winner before last season (says Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher). On the other, he’s still head-to-head with Blake Sims (says Alabama coach Nick Saban).
This is clear posturing by both coaches. No matter how clear it is Coker will be Alabama’s starter against West Virginia in Week 1, Saban isn’t going to say it in the middle of July.
“We really can't make that decision or prediction as to what's going to happen at that position, but the development of that position, regardless of who the player is, is going to be critical to the success of our team,” Saban said.
Absent during spring, Coker has begun the offesason workout program with Alabama after attempting 41 career passes at Florida State. Both receivers at Media Day — Christion Jones and Amari Cooper — praised Coker’s strong arm and mobility.
“He’s still learning the plays and working on trying to progress to be the starting quarterback,” Jones said. “He’s vocal, but he’s asking questions.”
At the same time, Jones said Coker has shown the “spark” to be one of the best quarterbacks to play at Alabama.
“The quarterback issue won’t be the determining factor of our season,” Jones said. “It’s just that it’s at a standstill right now because we don’t have a starting quarterback.”
HOOVER, Ala. — LSU is doing little to temper expectations for star running back Leonard Fournette.
LSU coach Les Miles compared him to Michael Jordan. Fellow running back Terrence Magee compared him to Adrian Peterson.
“That’s the only guy playing the running back position you can compare him to,” Magee said.
Magee noted Fournette’s ability to run on his toes brought about the comparison to Peterson. Fournette’s 6-foot-1, 220-pound frame helps, too.
For Miles, the comparison to Jordan is his drive to be great.
“He expects himself to be something very special,” Miles said. “I think if you look at Michael Jordan, he could not have been coached to be Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan accepted the role of expecting him to be better than any.
“I think he has a quiet confidence there that will benefit him, and I think we will always have an opportunity to play at that spot, the running backs that are fresh.”
SEC fans may call the Big Ten slow, but it had a head start on what the SEC will gain in less than a month.
The SEC Network will join the Big Ten Network and Pac-12 Networks as the nation’s big three college sports conference-oriented networks. With a partnership with ESPN and fueled by the SEC’s fans, the SEC Network could be the biggest of all of them.
That might not be the case when the SEC Network launches in mid-August, though. One major provider have not come to an agreement with ESPN on distribution, though it’s tough to see the holdout lasting much longer.
For those who will have the SEC Network, here’s what you can expect.
Where can I watch SEC Network?
The SEC announced Friday that Comcast will distribute the SEC Network, joining AT&T U-Verse, Cox and Dish Network as the biggest carriers. That leaves. That leaves DirecTV as the biggest remaining holdout. DirecTV is the biggest remaining holdout. ESPN senior vice president of programming Justin Connolly said from SEC Media Days that negotiations are ongoing.
“We’re confident and our confidence is based on the demand that’s out there from SEC fans,” Connolly said. “(The hold up is) long negotiations, complicated issues. A lot of times these things don’t come down until the very end.”
Update: ESPN announced in early August that DirecTV will carry the SEC Network.
Which football games will the SEC Network air?
CBS still retains the first pick of an SEC game each week, but ESPN and the SEC Network will continue to air secondary games. The SEC Network, though, ends CBS’ exclusive window in the 3:30 p.m. Eastern time slot. Sixteen games, including three conference games, are scheduled before Sept. 20. The entire season will feature 45 exclusive football games.
SEC Network: The first 16 games:
Aug. 28: Texas A&M at South Carolina
Aug. 28: Temple at Vanderbilt
Aug. 30: UT Martin at Kentucky
Aug. 30: Arkansas at Auburn
Aug. 30: Southern Miss at Mississippi State
Aug. 31: Utah State at Tennessee
Sept. 6: FAU at Alabama
Sept. 6: Arkansas State at Tennessee
Sept. 6: Eastern Michigan at Florida
Sept. 6: Nicholls State at Arkansas
Sept. 6: Lamar at Texas A&M
Sept. 6: Sam Houston State at LSU
Sept. 13: UCF at Missouri
Sept. 13: UL Lafayette at Ole Miss
Sept. 13: Kentucky at Florida
Sept. 20: Troy at Georgia
Which talking heads will be on the SEC Network?
Sports fans, especially in SEC land, will find plenty of familiar faces and voices on the SEC Network. Brent Musburger moves off the Saturday night game of the week spot on ABC to the top game on the SEC Network. Chris Fowler will take Musburger’s spot on ABC.
The other broadcast teams will be:
• Brent Musburger, Jesse Palmer and Maria Taylor
• Dave Neal and Andre Ware
• Tom Hart and Matt Stinchcomb
Other studio analysts will include former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, former LSU stars Marcus Spears and Booger McFarland and veteran journalist Tony Barnhart.
The SEC Network also will televise the Birmingham-based Paul Finebaum Show and, as Connelly put it, “some of the most colorful fans in the conference.” That may be one way put the show, which showcases the SEC, and specifically the Alabama and Auburn rivalry, at its most colorful, passionate and ugly.
“We’ve had Paul on air on the radio side for a year now. You can say he’s toned it down,” Connolly said. “It’s a different role. It’s going to change a little bit, but we want Paul to be Paul and we want him to bring that passion and that audience.”
What non-game programming will the SEC Network air?
The SEC Network aims to offer a treasure trove of non-game content. For Xs and Os fans, the highlight will be “Film Room,” a program every Wednesday night featuring an SEC coach breaking down game film.
The SEC Network will continue its SEC Storied series, a documentary series that has already included features on the Alabama-Auburn rivalry, the Manning family and Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson.
The first four documentaries on the SEC Network will feature Ole Miss’ Chucky Mullins (“It’s Time”), Florida and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier (“The Believer”), Auburn’s star athletes during the 80s (“Bo, Barkley and the Big Hurt”) and SEC Passion (“The Stars Aligned”)
“We’re not going to have the news infrastructure that ESPN has,” Connolly said. “We’re not going to do a lot of investigative journalism.”
How much of a cash cow is this?
In addition to the SEC’s broadcast deals with ESPN and CBS, the SEC Network has been estimated to bring $26 million to each school within a year.
HOOVER, Ala. — Here’s a fun party game for anyone steeped in SEC history: Pick an SEC school and start rattling off that school's great college or pro quarterbacks.
Alabama has Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, AJ McCarron. Tennessee has Peyton Manning and Heath Shuler. Auburn has Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton. Even Vanderbilt has Jay Cutler.
Where does that list begin and end for Mississippi State?
The only Bulldogs quarterback to reach the SEC championship game completed fewer than half of his passes. The last Mississippi State All-SEC quarterback ended up playing running back in the NFL. In the modern era, Mississippi State has only three All-SEC first-teamers at the position. Never mind a 4,000-yard passer, Mississippi State is the only program in the SEC that hasn’t produced a 3,000-yard passer in a season.
This may be the season Mississippi State has a quarterback star it can finally call its own.
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Dak Prescott has started only seven games in his career, but it speaks to that quarterback history that junior from Haughton, La., has a realistic chance to be the best Starkville has produced.
“It’s one one of those things where State fans go into it with a little bit of apprehension,” said Matt Wyatt, a Mississippi State quarterback from 1996-99 and now the color analyst on the Bulldogs’ broadcast team. “We’ll see it and then believe how good someone is because we’ve never really had a great one.”
When Mississippi State signed Prescott, coach Dan Mullen could tout his quarterback proteges from other stops — Alex Smith at Utah and Tim Tebow at Florida. The brag sheet of great Mississippi State passers wasn’t there.
That was enough to get Prescott to Starkville, but it may not be enough for other prep quarterbacks.
“I don’t really pay attention to the past,” Prescott said. “I control my destiny. If I can get better I don’t worry about it. I know coach Mullen has coached some good guys, and that’s all that matters to me.”
This is not to say Prescott could be an All-SEC first-teamer. Auburn’s Nick Marshall, Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace and Missouri’s Maty Mauk may have a head start, to say nothing about the quarterbacks at Alabama, Georgia or South Carolina.
This is not to say Prescott could be Mississippi State’s first 3,000-yard passer, even in an age where crossing that benchmark and more is commonplace even in the SEC grind. He may end up too productive in the run game and read option to put up prolific passing numbers. Prescott is a dual threat who passed for 2,134 yards and rushed for 947.
Prescott’s accuracy in the deep passing game needs work, but if he can add that to his repertoire, he may be the complete package.
For a quarterback, he doesn’t shy away from hits, earning the respect of his defensive teammates. More than that, Prescott impressed teammates by playing against Texas A&M in November last season, less than a week after he lost his mother Peggy to a long bout with colon cancer.
Prescott said it was the toughest time of his life but told his teammates that his mom would want him to play.
“When he lost his mom, you didn’t know something was wrong with him,” linebacker Bernardrick McKinney said.
That determination may bode well for a quarterback with a chance to do things no one else at Mississippi State has done.
“Everyone wants their name in the history books, but it’s not something I’m looking for,” Prescott said. “I don’t want to have the most yards in Mississippi State history. I want to be the winningest quarterback in Mississippi State history.”
HOOVER, Ala. — If you have a question for Kevin Sumlin about a quarterback, maybe start with Case Keenum, his record-breaker at Houston. Or Sam Bradford, whom he coached at Oklahoma.
Sumlin’s not going to talk about Kyle Allen or Kenny Hill, one of which will make his first career start against South Carolina to start the season.
And he doesn’t have time for your stinkin' questions about Johnny Manziel.
“Is this SEC Media Days?” Sumlin asked following a question leading with Manziel party photos. “That’s a great question about the Cleveland Browns. Anybody else got something?”
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Now, Sumlin’s not being mean-spirited. This is said in jest.
But it’s also clear that Sumlin believes the Manziel circus has left town. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner was one of the most important figures in A&M history, ushering the Aggies into the SEC era. The Manziel absence and the lack of a clear successor casts a shadow over the program.
Certainly, a worthy topic is how A&M moves on, but getting Sumlin to address it head on in a public forum may be a challenge.
“Let me get this straight, the question was: What's it like not coaching Johnny Manziel,” Sumlin said.
Indeed it was.
“You wouldn't be so excited if you hadn't recruited the Gatorade Player of the Year out of the state of Texas at quarterback and the No. 1 quarterback in the country behind him,” Sumlin said. “We understand, I understand there's not going to be another Johnny Manziel, the way he played the game, that's all part of it.”
HOOVER, Ala. — Steve Spurrier likes to squeeze in impressive facts on the sly.
He snuck in that his tenure has seen South Carolina's first win in Knoxville and first win in Gainesville since Carolina joined the SEC. “Somebody told me,” he amends. He’s not wrong either.
But one factoid surprised even Steve Spurrier.
He’ll be the first coach in SEC history to spend 10 years at two different schools when he completes his first decade at South Carolina this season.
That brings about the question: Is Spurrier’s second act in the SEC at South Carolina’s coach more impressive than his first act at Florida?
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If Spurrier stays at South Carolina until 2017 he would have been the Gamecocks coach longer than he was the coach for the Gators. When he retires, he’ll be arguably the most important coach in either program’s history.
At SEC Media Day on Tuesday, a Florida columnist asked Spurrier if winning the SEC at South Carolina would be more impressive than doing it at Florida. The NCAA record books — as Spurrier often says — credits him with the first SEC title in Florida history. (The 1984 title has been vacated by the NCAA).
The Gators won six official SEC titles and the 1996 title under Spurrier. The 1990 title, again, was won on the field, but it was erased due to sanctions.
Although Florida achieved more under Spurrier than South Carolina has so far, Spurrier notes the head start in Gainesville.
“When I got to Florida in 1990, the team was already there,” Spurrier said. “There was no recruiting to be done for about two years. ... They were ready to play, offense, defense.”
When Spurrier started at South Carolina, the Gamecocks had one booster who had donated $1 million. Now that number has exceeded a dozen.
“The big donors are very important, extremely important to all athletic programs. There's no question about that,” he said. “You got to have the facilities to keep up. Within the last eight, nine years at South Carolina, ours are up there amongst the best now. That's been a big reason for our success.”
That success has meant three consecutive 11-win seasons and three consecutive top-10 seasons. Before Spurrier, South Carolina had never even gone to bowl games in three consecutive seasons.
Not bad for a second act even Spurrier didn’t expect before a short-lived experiment with the Washington Redskins.
“When I left Florida after 12 years, I thought I was going to coach NFL five or six years and retire to the beach and play golf a bunch and travel around,” Spurrier said. “That was a bad plan. Later you found out, that was not a real good idea. But that's the way I was thinking back then. ...
“I wanted to go out a winner, not a loser.”
The middle of summer is upon us, and for many elite high school prospects, that means 7-on-7 competitions.
If quarterbacks, receivers and running backs aren’t working on passing skeletons in their spare time, they’re probably at one of the showcases or tournaments.
Last week’s 7-on-7 drills at The Opening in Beaverton, Ore., and this week’s National Select 7-on-7 championship in Hoover, Ala., have us wondering which college team would have the best 7-on-7 squad in 2014.
Take away the offensive line and the defense, which offenses would we want to watch play against air? We’ve noted the national unit rankings for quarterbacks, running backs and receivers as published in our 2014 preview magazines.
A silly exercise, but it is the middle of July.
1. Florida State
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 1 | RB: 7 | WR/TE: 4
Could it be anyone else? The returning Heisman winner at quarterback is the headliner here, but Jameis Winston still has plenty of company despite personnel departures. Kelvin Benjamin and his 15 touchdown catches are gone as are the top two running backs. Rashad Greene may become the school’s career-leading receiver, and Kermit Whitfield and Isaiah Jones are up-and-comers. Nick O’Leary, who averaged 16.9 yards per catch last season, could be the nation’s top tight end. Former safety Karlos Williams proved himself a breakaway threat at running back with 8.0 yards per carry last season. Even while playing against live defenses, Florida State led the nation at 7.7 yards per play.
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 4 | RB: 19 | WR/TE: 2
Baylor sure looked like a 7-on-7 squad early last season, when it racked up numbers at a record pace against an overmatched non-conference schedule. Eventually, the Bears proved it had depth, too. Receiver Levi Norwood and running back Shock Linwood stepped in for injured starters, and Baylor didn’t miss a beat. Both return in bigger roles this season. And then there’s Bryce Petty, who finished last season with 32 touchdowns and three interceptions in his first season as a starter. He’ll have two returning starters at receiver back in Antwan Goodley and Corey Coleman.
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 6 | RB: 14 | WR/TE: 7
In a league short on experienced quarterbacks, Auburn will have a leg up on the SEC with Nick Marshall. The Tigers want Marshall to develop as a passer this season. A year ago, backing off Marshall the passer and focusing on the run game helped turned Auburn into SEC champions. A year after averaging 21.5 yards per catch, Sammie Coates earned a spot atop Bruce Feldman’s annual “freaks” list. Auburn should have plenty of bodies in the run game to replace Tre Mason. The question is how Cameron Artis-Payne, the speedy Corey Grant, inside zone threat Peyton Barber and talented freshmen will end up in the rotation.
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: NR | RB: 1 | WR/TE: 1
Alabama is back to the two-man running back tandem after T.J. Yeldon rushed 115 times more than anyone else last season. Yeldon and Sugar Bowl star Derrick Henry may come closer to approaching the Yeldon/Eddie Lacy duo in 2012 that topped 2,400 yards. Breakaway threat Amari Cooper leads the a veteran receivers group, and O.J. Howard is a weapon at tight end few Nick Saban teams have had. The question is Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. Jimbo Fisher has talked him up since the quarterback left Tallahassee, but he’s still an unknown quantity.
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: NR | RB: 2 | WR/TE: 3
Georgia would have had one of the best 7-on-7 teams last season had this group stayed healthy. The Bulldogs will make another run for it this season, though with senior Hutson Mason replacing SEC career leading passer Aaron Murray. The star here, though, is Todd Gurley. Think he’s a big deal? Georgia averaged two yards per play more on drives when Gurley carried compared to when he didn’t. The receiver group is deep, especially if it can stay healthy. Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley missed significant time last season, but that allowed Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, who missed two games with an MCL injury, take more prominent roles.
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 2 | RB: 10 | WR/TE: NR
Marcus Mariota is much more effective when he can run, but he still finished last season with 31 touchdowns and four interceptions despite a balky knee for a stretch. Running back as usual is loaded for Oregon with Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner (1,739 yards, 23 touchdowns combined) returning. The question will be at receiver with sure-handed receiver Josh Huff gone and Bralon Addison out with a torn ACL.
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: NR | RB: 8 | WR/TE: 9
Cody Kessler’s season took off in 2013 after the coaching switch, culminating with 344 yards and four touchdowns in the bowl game against Fresno State. Receiver Marqise Lee is out, but USC as usual has another star No. 1 receiver ready to take over in Nelson Agholor. The underrated portion may be the running backs where Buck Allen emerged under the new coaching staff for 785 yards and 15 total touchdowns. The best news in all of this: Offensive coordinator Clay Helton is back.
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 5 | RB: NR | WR/TE: 18
Brett Hundley will keep UCLA in Pac-12 contention after passing for more than 3,000 yards and rushing for more than 700 to go with 35 total touchdowns. Leading receiver Shaq Evans is gone, but the next four players in line are sophomores and juniors ready to break out. Running back needs an upgrade after linebacker Myles Jack swooped in and propped up the run game with seven rushing touchdowns.
9. Michigan State
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 11 | RB: 11 | WR/TE: 17
Michigan State may not be the program anyone names when it comes to dynamic offense, but the 2014 skill positions are solid across the board. Mark Dantonio trusted Connor Cook with more of the offense as the season went along, and Jeremy Langford topped 100 yards in eight consecutive games before the Rose Bowl victory. The receiver group led by Tony Lippett is deep and underrated.
10. Ohio State
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 3 | RB: 15 | WR/TE: 19
Braxton Miller remains one of the nation’s most dynamic quarterbacks, and he’s continuing to get better. His completion percentage went up five points from last season with only a marginal change in yards per attempt. Devin Smith can be a deep threat at receiver, and Evan Spencer is a returning starter. Carlos Hyde is a major loss at running back, so Miller may be under more pressure to handle a heavy burden of the offense.
11. North Carolina
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 19 | RB: 24 | WR/TE: 12
Though his end of season statistics were boosted by a 409-yard, five-touchdown performance against Old Dominion, Marquise Williams did enough in the air and on the ground to signal he could be the best ACC quarterback not named Jameis. North Carolina has a pair of 6-4 receivers (Quinshad Davis and Bug Howard) who combined for 14 touchdown catches last season to go with an effective committee of running backs.
Others of note: BYU, Ole Miss, Stanford, Texas A&M
HOOVER, Ala. — In baseball, most pinch-hitters take their at-bat and head back to the dugout. It’s one hitter, one pitcher and the day is done.
Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah pinch hit for more than three hours, taking the best (and sadly, the worst) the SEC media contingent had to offer.
When Auburn coach Gus Malzahn pulled his SEC champion quarterback Nick Marshall from the media day roster Monday, he called on Uzomah.
Instead of a quarterback who passed for more than 1,900 yards and rushed for more than 1,000, Uzomah and his 17 career receptions represented Auburn at media day. Instead of a quarterback who had just been cited for marijuana possession over the weekend, Auburn sent a senior who otherwise expected to enjoy a quiet Monday.
“It is a privilege and a reward to represent Auburn here at the SEC Media Days,” Malzahn said. “Last Friday Nick lost that privilege.”
But is it really a privilege, hearing the same questions over and over again, many of which were the same questions back in the spring and the fall? There’s a way for a player to survive media day. Here’s what we learned from following Uzomah and asking some seasoned vets for the survival guide.
As Alabama quarterback-turned-ESPN and Sirius XM host Greg McElroy says, “appreciate the hassle.”
Lead image borrowed from @SEC.
Rule 1: Call mom
The first call to replace Marshall went from Mazlahn to Uzomah. The second was from Uzomah to mom.
Some teams will show up in suits. Some will show up in team polos. Auburn went for suits, and Uzomah didn’t have one on campus.
Never underestimate mom’s devotion to make a kid look good. His mom drove two-and-half hours from Suwanee, Ga., to Auburn, Ala., to bring him his suit.
Maybe mom didn’t bring dress socks. Maybe she did, but Uzomah wasn’t going to pass on a chance to turn his socks into a conversation piece. Uzomah is a U.S. soccer fan and used red, white and blue socks with a small flag hanging off the ankle.
Like Uzomah, Florida’s Dante Fowler called mom for a trip to Men’s Warehouse. Mom picked out the suit, but Fowler needed to accessorize.
“I saw a bow tie, and I said as long as I get this bow tie I’m fine,” Fowler said. “(Defensive lineman) Alex McCallister tied it for me. It was too tight on my neck, but Alex is 6-7 so his long arms helped out.”
Rule 2: Prep for questions
Even on media day, players need to put in some study time. Media has its own tendencies just like any offense or defense.
All of Auburn’s players had to answer to some degree for Marshall. Did he address the team (he did). Does he still have the team’s trust (he does).
“We prepared just like it was a game,” Uzomah said.
When McElroy came for media day before his senior season in 2010, he and his teammates knew most of the questions that were going to be asked.
“What’s Nick Saban like? What’s Trent (Richardson) like? What’s Mark Ingram like? Can you win the national championship? Can you do it again?” McElroy said. “We knew what the questions are going to be.”
Here’s where C.J. Uzomah was for SEC Media Day:
12:00-12:10 Fox Sports South
12:30-12:50 Print/Online Media
1:30-1:40 SEC Video
1:40-1:50 Sirius XM
1:50-2:00 SEC Radio
2:10-2:40 Radio Row
Jeff Driskel, another veteran quarterback, knew the drill Monday, too, although no one was going to ask about going to the national championship game.
He plopped himself down in front of the media horde.
“Do I just pick someone?”
“All right. Let’s do this.”
Then the standard series of questions on Florida’s new hurry-up offense, Will Muschamp on the hot seat, and his recovery from a broken right leg.
“I’m feeling great ... thanks for asking.”
Rule 3: Stay on schedule
There’s one person on media day whose influence trumps anyone but the coach: The 5-foot-4 woman keeping players on schedule from the main print media room to breakout rooms for SEC broadcast rights holders ESPN and CBS.
Uzomah may be on a roll. The lingering media may still have follow ups. Two more questions in the media pool means two more questions. Exactly.
“She’s the boss,” Uzomah said as he was whisked from newspaper reporters to TV reporters.
And a harsh reminder for reporters: The follow-up to the last question doesn’t start the clock over again.
“They always want to ask more questions,” grumbled one of Monday’s timekeepers.
Rule 4: Have patience
Not only is Uzomah pinch-hitting. He’s putting in extra time.
A radio row trip isn’t on the schedule, but Auburn wants to get its player to local radio outlets and another in the Atlanta area, where Uzomah played in high school.
The first question in one interview with Uzomah: “Is it ‘Ooh-zah-mah’ or ‘Ooh-zoe-mah?’” Answer: Ooh-zah-mah.
The final statement in said interview: “We’re here with C.J. ‘Ooh-zoe-mah.’”
In between: Several questions about Nick Marshall and yet more questions about how Auburn’s spread offense can improve.
“To me, it was a bit of a drag,” McElroy said. “Because it's room after room. You can’t hit everyone all at once, you’re hitting different questions at different times. I remember leaving here and taking a nap on the way home.”
Rule 5: Embrace the fans
The circus atmosphere of a media day is ramped up a notch for Auburn and Alabama in Hoover. The lobby of the Hyatt Regency on the day the Iron Bowl rivals speak is often laced with dozens of fans from 8 a.m. until the afternoon.
As Uzomah exited the main media ballroom onto radio row — the collection of stations conducting live radio shows in the Hyatt Regency lobby — he was greeted at the end of the escalator with chants of “War Eagle.”
In the middle of a TV interview, a fan walks by and says, “War Eagle.” Uzomah interrupts his own answer to respond in kind.
Uzomah is in the final minutes of being herded like cattle from interview to interview to autograph seekers back to interviews. Is this a privilege or a penance?
“I love it,” Uzomah said. “I’m having fun.”
HOOVER, Ala. — Will Muschamp opened his meeting with the media in Hoover with an 11-minute filibuster, acknowledging the business of his future employment but still putting off any real questions.
“There will be a lot of chatter about hot seat business,” Muschamp said, unprompted. “That's part of it. The way you combat that is having a winning football team and winning football games, which is what we're going to do.”
The “hot seat” is the media cliche of the preseason — who is on it, who is off, what does a coach need to do to get off of it or get fired.
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After a 4-8 season, Muschamp draws the hot seat straw in the SEC this year, joining names like Derek Dooley, Joker Phillips and Houston Nutt (twice).
“There was never any time in my mind that I didn't think I would be retained,” Muschamp said.
After home losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia Southern and one of the worst offenses in the country, Muschamp isn’t defending record as much as he’s trying to instill hope.
The record includes a Sugar Bowl but also the worst Florida season since 0-10-1 in 1979. The hope is that the offense won’t be ranked around teams like Eastern Michigan, Memphis, UConn and Idaho.
For that, Muschamp added Duke’s Kurt Roper, his third offensive coordinator in four seasons. The move is expected to add more shotgun offense, more quick passes and more running opportunities for quarterback Jeff Driskel, recruited in the spread option under former coach Urban Meyer.
The hope is also that Florida will stay healthier. Driskel was lost for the season in September. The injuries continued with Driskel’s backup, Tyler Murphy, and a host of other players on offense.
By the end of the season, trainer Paul Silvestri visited Muschamp in the defensive coaching room at 10 p.m. one day game week. Silvestri was rarely in the football office at that time of night. He was this night to tell to coach that offensive lineman Tyler Moore injured his elbow in a scooter accident.
“I can't tell you exactly what I said, but it wasn't good,” Muschamp said. “That was at a point where, you know, I asked him, You got to be kidding? That was a point where, you know, it was just very frustrating.”
Was it the injuries? Was it the offense? Was it bad luck? Or was it Muschamp?
Florida may find out this season.
“I’ve mentioned it multiple times today, there is no pressure,” Driskel said. “Every coach is on the hot seat.”