Follow all the action from The Opening New Orleans regional and the IMG Southeast regional this weekend. Coverage begins Saturday at 9 a.m. ET.

Bobby Johnson’s dry wit is legendary among those who know him best, and it just so happens that he bears a striking resemblance to comedian Steve Martin.

Go ahead and cue the “wild and crazy guy” jokes.

But what’s not a joke is this: Johnson is an absolute home run replacement for Archie Manning on the College Football Playoff selection committee, and what’s more, just having him involved in the sport again is a big win for college football.

[+] EnlargeBobby Johnson
AP Photo/ Butch DillFormer Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson is excited to look at the game in a different way.

The former Vanderbilt coach is the epitome of integrity. He’s smart, thoughtful and widely respected. He also loves college football, knows the game inside-out and has made a career of doing things the right way.

From all accounts, the chemistry on the committee was outstanding last year, and Johnson will fit right in, while not being afraid to ask the tough questions and look deeper into teams’ strengths and weaknesses.

“I’m honored to be a part of it,” Johnson told Friday. “It was a big change for college football last year. I think everybody really enjoyed the fact that you had one more game, two games counting the semifinals, and that you actually got some proof that somebody was better than somebody else.

“I thought the committee did a fantastic job last year. I really did. There are some sharp people on it, and being the new guy on the block, I want to learn from them and see what they’re looking at when they’re evaluating these teams and see what I can do to help out.

“I did tell them that I have a little experience watching film.”

Johnson, who played football at Clemson, will be one of four former FBS head coaches on the committee. He coached at Vanderbilt from 2002-09 and led the Commodores to their first bowl victory in 53 years in 2008 when they beat Boston College in the Music City Bowl. It marked Vanderbilt’s first winning season in 26 years and helped pave the way for the success James Franklin enjoyed at Vanderbilt in his three seasons in Nashville, the last two resulting in nine wins each year.

Johnson recruited and signed many of the key players on those Franklin-coached teams at Vanderbilt, including Jordan Matthews, Zac Stacy, Casey Hayward, Wesley Johnson and Andre Hal.

The antithesis of showy or flashy, Johnson has a genuineness about him that resonated with his players. He was a football coach -- and a good one at an exceedingly tough place to coach in the SEC -- but he always saw his role as being so much more than simply teaching kids to be good football players.

Sadly, I can still see the heartbreak in Johnson’s face and hear it in his voice following the tragic death of Vanderbilt signee Rajaan Bennett, who was killed in February 2010 by his mother’s ex-boyfriend in a murder-suicide while Bennett was trying to protect his mother and siblings.

“I knew how Vanderbilt would have changed his life,” Johnson said at the time, his voice cracking with emotion.

Six months later, Johnson decided to walk away from coaching and retired. He and his wife, Catherine, now live in Isle of Palms, South Carolina. Johnson is an avid golfer, but that doesn’t mean he’s strayed too far away from college football.

“People would say, ‘Come on over and watch the game,’ and I’d say, ‘Thanks, but I’m going to stay home and watch about six games,’” Johnson said. “The competitive juices still flow. You’ll see something happen and get upset with teams I don’t have any connections to. It’s almost like you’re coaching both teams when you watch a game now.”

One of the things Johnson especially looks forward to is zeroing in on teams from all over the country.

“When I was coaching, I hardly ever stayed up long enough to see a USC game or an Oregon game,” Johnson said. “To me, it’s intriguing with all the different possibilities and different styles of play now. That’s what makes it so fun. It’s sort of like people in the office hanging around the water cooler and arguing about who’s the best.

“We’ll be doing the same thing, but at a conference table.”

With some recent exceptions, Indianapolis is the epicenter of major Big Ten sporting events. But the Big Ten now must consider whether it wants to keep its biggest showcases in the Hoosier State after the signing of a controversial new Indiana law that some think could allow businesses to discriminate against gay people.

A day after NCAA president Mark Emmert issued a statement expressing concern about the new religious freedom bill, the Big Ten put out the following statement:

The Big Ten Conference and its member institutions believe in promoting an inclusive environment in which athletic competition can operate free from discrimination. The conference is aware of the bill that was recently signed into law in the state of Indiana and will further review its impact at the next scheduled meetings of its administrators, presidents and chancellors.

It's too late for the NCAA to move next week's men's basketball Final Four from Indianapolis, and Emmert said the NCAA, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, will "work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors ... are not impacted negatively by this bill."

But the Big Ten could change venues for one or more of its upcoming events if its presidents and chancellors believe it's warranted because of the new law. A spokesman for Indiana Gov. Mark Pence said the law would not undermine anti-discrimination laws already in place in the state.

The Big Ten's first four football championship games have taken place at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the league is contracted to have the game there through 2021. The Big Ten men's and women's basketball tournament is set to be played in Indianapolis next year. The men's tournament is scheduled for Bankers Life Fieldhouse in 2020 and 2022, and the women's tournament will be played there every year through the 2022 event.

Indianapolis is unquestionably a great location for major Big Ten events, but it's not the only option. The league has an opportunity to take a stand. Friay's statement wasn't as strong as the NCAA's, but commissioner Jim Delany and other top league officials eventually will have to speak more extensively about the new law.

Big Ten athletic directors, faculty representatives and senior woman administrators meet May 18-20, and the league's Council of Presidents/Chancellors next meets June 7. Both meetings will take place at Big Ten headquarters in Rosemont, Illinois.

Geoff Collins isn't a "swag stealer," he says. When he left Mississippi State to become Florida's defensive coordinator, he left the so-called Psycho Defense behind. That was their brand, he said, and in Gainesville under new head coach Jim McElwain, he's out to create a new identity with the help of creatures that may or may not live in a black lagoon.

One such example: The Cryptid, an award Collins and his staff hand out from time to time.

If there's one thing Florida fans need to know about Collins, who turns 44 in a few weeks, it's that he's not afraid to think outside the box. In order to connect with a younger generation, he hands out daily awards following each practice such as the "Apex Predator Award" for the most enthusiastic player or the "Swamp Beast Award" for the player who showed relentless effort. Unlike a lot of buttoned-up programs, he wants players to "play wild and fly around like crazy." He even encourages celebrating after big plays -- as long as it's not a me-first display.

[+] EnlargeGeoff Collins
Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon SMINew Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins says he will encourage celebrating big plays on defense, as long as it's a team-first mentality.

At Mississippi State, that confident, aggressive attitude translated to the football field last season, when the Bulldogs finished second in the SEC in sacks (37) and tied for third in interceptions (13). Playing a bend-but-don't-break style, they finished third in the conference in third-down percentage (35.0) and red-zone touchdown efficiency (43.2 percent).

During Collins' first conversation with the entire Florida defense, he said players already knew of his reputation.

"They knew I had been a part of the great run that we had at Mississippi State, probably the best season in school history, a top-10 scoring defense and all those other things," he said. "So they knew what we’d done on defense at places I’d been before, and one of the big things I stressed to them was that even though they had played really good defense in the past, there was room for improvement.

"We talked about that 10 percent and working together to find that 10 percent improvement, whether it be tackling, situational football, improvements in the red-zone defense, improvements in third-down defense, points after turnovers, things that I thought we’d done really well at Mississippi State and bringing that and adding to how well they’d played in years past."

Eyeing a roster he says is deeper than any he's ever coached, Collins isn't out to make wholesale changes to the defensive schemes developed by former coach Will Muschamp. It's a lesson he learned years earlier when he left Georgia Tech to become defensive coordinator at his alma mater, Western Carolina.

Returning to his old stomping grounds a bit overzealous back in 2002, he attempted to install an entirely new defense without once looking at the previous defense or the terminology players had become accustomed to. Like a lot of young coaches, he had to come to grips with that "four- and three-deep is four- and three-deep regardless of where you go." Only the buzzwords are different.

So rather than dumping a new playbook on everyone's locker at Florida, he took the studying upon himself.

"I spent a lot of time during December and January learning what they called everything," he said. "I’ve been doing this long enough to know that it’s easier for one person to learn a lot of words than for 33 18-to-22-year-olds to learn a lot of new words. I try to put the hard stuff on me."

Outside of acclimating himself to a new environment, though, there's not a lot of hard stuff Collins has had to encounter with a solid system and a solid roster already in place. He inherited one of the most promising secondaries in the country, whether it's starters Vernon Hargreaves III and Brian Poole or a reserve such as redshirt freshman J.C. Jackson, whom Collins says is "one of the most athletic kids I've ever been fortunate to be around." And where there's maybe not a lot of depth, Collins said there's certainly talent, whether it's Daniel McMillian and Alex Anzalone at linebacker or Alex McAlister on the defensive line.

It's a good situation all the way around, Collins says.

"I'm excited. We've got a lot of really good players. They're hungry. They're excited. They're competitive kids. Everything that Coach McElwain and the rest of the staff they've thrown at them, they're run with."

Texas A&M, Colorado set up series

March, 27, 2015
Mar 27

A couple of SEC schools have announced new future series in recent days, including Texas A&M, which has added a home-and-home series with Colorado in 2020 and 2021.

The former Big 12 mates will play at Texas A&M in 2020 and most likely at Colorado in 2021, although the game might also be staged in Denver.

In case you missed it, Vanderbilt and Stanford also announced a four-game series this week. Vanderbilt will host in 2021 and 2025 and Stanford will host in 2024 and 2027.

Vandy coach Derek Mason was a Stanford assistant before accepting his current position in Nashville.

Michigan’s cornerbacks will be operating in close quarters this season. The Wolverines want to play a more aggressive defensive scheme in 2015, which means more press coverage in the secondary.

Lining up facemask-to-facemask with opposing wide receivers was common in coordinator D.J. Durkin’s schemes when he was running Florida’s defense the past two seasons. Michigan dabbled in tight coverage in the recent past, but never fully committed to playing that way. This year’s team, says cornerbacks coach Mike Zordich, will make it a fundamental part of what they do. That might come with a few growing pains.

“That’s coach Durkin’s defense,” Zordich said. “We’re totally 100 percent committed. We just have to find the guys that can catch on the fastest and handle the technique the best. … It’s a lot of work. It’s new, a total concept for the defense for these guys that haven’t played it.”

[+] EnlargeD.J. Durkin
AP Photo/Butch DillD.J. Durkin's defense at Florida was built around press man coverage.

The new technique might be a challenge for players who have grown used to operating with a larger cushion during the past few years at Michigan, but they’re excited about the opportunity to do something different. Fifth-year senior Blake Countess said he’s slowly improving his footwork and learning to get his hands on opposing receivers at the line of scrimmage.

“It’s a more aggressive scheme, so we’re definitely going to be pressing,” he said. “We’re going to be up in receivers’ faces. It’s going to be fun.”

Countess is one of three cornerbacks who have separated themselves on the initial depth chart as spring practice winds to a close. Zordich praised Countess’ work ethic. He said returning starter Jourdan Lewis is the most natural press corner on the roster and junior Channing Stribling’s 6-foot-2 frame makes him a strong candidate for playing time as well.

Zordich is open to rotating as many as four or five cornerbacks onto the field on game days as long as the coaching staff believes they can trust all of them equally. The rest of the group in Ann Arbor still has work to do to reach that point, but reinforcements are on the way.

“They’ve been told. The room has been told that there are going to be three guys coming into this secondary,” Zordich said. “They know their backs are against the wall, and we’ve got to see how they handle it.”

Former Stanford starter Wayne Lyons is expected to be on campus this summer and to spend his final year of eligibility with the Wolverines. His 41 games of experience in the Pac-12 should be an immediate boost to Michigan’s depth in the defensive backfield. Freshmen Keith Washington and Tyree Kinnel will also have a chance to compete for spots among the cornerbacks.

Their progress will be monitored by Zordich and safeties coach Greg Jackson, who so far have split the defensive backfield responsibilities equally. In meetings, Zordich takes the cornerbacks and Jackson takes the safeties. At practice, each coach watches half of the field and directs both positions to make sure the unit is working together.

Zordich said the somewhat unorthodox arrangement has worked out well for the first full month of practice. Zordich and Jackson played on the same Philadelphia Eagles defense for two seasons in the 1990s, which he said made it easy to get used to coaching together.

“When I first walked in here and saw him, it was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy,’” Zordich said. “It absolutely helps. Greg and I were both very headsy players – lining people up, directing traffic, telling people where to go. Then to play two years together on a really successful defense, yeah, I think it helps, absolutely.”

Together they are responsible for getting as many cornerbacks as possible ready to play in a new, tougher, riskier defense than in the recent past at Michigan.

IMG Academy will play host to the loaded Southeast Regional 7-on-7 this weekend. Top 7-on-7 teams such as the South Florida Express, Florida Fire and Pro Impact will field teams that feature some of the top prospects in the region, including more than two dozen ESPN Junior 300 prospects. Here are five things to watch headed into the weekend.
NEW ORLEANS -- Many said the absolutely loaded 2014 recruiting class in Louisiana would never be matched. Somebody forgot to tell that to the players in 2016 class. The Bayou State is again stacked, and many of those national recruits will be on display at Saturday’s Nike Opening regional at Joe Brown Park. More than 20 players ranked in the ESPN Junior 300 will be in attendance, including nine of the top 20 players in Louisiana.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

The Kansas Jayhawks released the details of David Beaty's contract on Friday, and it's clear the first-time head coach isn't afraid to bet on himself. Beaty will receive a base salary of $800,000 in an incentive-laden deal which features $25,000 bonuses for every Big 12 game the Jayhawks win.

If Beaty is able to lead Kansas to a six-win season, the "professional services" portion of his salary receives a $100,000 raise for the remainder of his five-year deal. He'd also receive a $100,000 bonus for coaching KU in a bowl game.

You have to admire Beaty's confidence. Kansas needed a more affordable coach after paying more than $11 million to buy out Turner Gill and Charlie Weis. Beaty isn't afraid to bet on himself and take the incentives to lead a program that's lost 41 of its last 44 games in Big 12 play.

You can read more about Beaty's contract and incentives at The Kansas City Star.

By the numbers: Clemson's DBs

March, 26, 2015
Mar 26

Last year, the No. 1 passing defense in the country belonged to Clemson.

This shouldn't be a huge surprise. The Tigers' defense was tops in the nation in 11 categories, and its 157 passing yards per game and 5.3 yards per attempt averages were just the icing on the cake.

But the common wisdom is, despite returning a hefty dose of young talent in that secondary, it's a unit that's apt to take a step back in 2015. The reason is the loss of stars like Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Stephone Anthony in the front seven.

"They need to be better than what they were," Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "That ball may not come out [as fast]. They'll need to be tighter in their coverage, play better awareness and eliminate some mistakes. They need to make marked improvement."

If Venables says it, it's surely true. Then again, the engineer of Clemson's remarkable defense doesn't mind using blunt pessimism as a means of motivation. Venables wants Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse and Co. to get better, regardless of how good they were a year ago.

But there should be no question that this secondary is ready to play a leading role in 2015 after enjoying the spoils of Beasley’s pass rush in 2014. In fact, the numbers suggest that, even if Clemson's front seven hadn't been so dominant last year, the secondary would've been awfully good.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Clemson's D affected the quarterback (via either a sack or a hurry) on 29.6 percent of dropbacks last season, which ranked second in the ACC to Virginia Tech. That type of disruption obviously helps the DBs -- forcing the ball out faster and increasing the probability of an offline throw.

But what about the other 70 percent of the time when the quarterback wasn't under pressure?

The numbers show a pretty consistent performance for the Tigers' DBs regardless of the pass rush, with the ACC's lowest yards per attempt and fewest plays of 20-plus yards.

When the QB remained in the pocket, no team allowed a lower completion percentage than Clemson (53.7 percent) and the Tigers' YPA allowed (5.5) was nearly a yard better than any other ACC defense.

In other words, this was a secondary that held up well in coverage.

"I felt this way last year," Kearse said. "We want to show that we're the most talented on the field every time we step out there. It was great to have those guys up front and do what they did, but we held our own in the back end -- and we're going to do the same this year."

Still, Venables' concerns aren't without merit.

Last year, Clemson brought more than four rushers on just 24.7 percent of passing plays, according to ESPN. That was among the lowest rates in the ACC, a course made possible because Beasley and the rest of the line were so effective without additional help. That strategy might not be as effective this season, and Venables said he's willing to open things up if necessary.

"If four doesn't get there, you bring five," he said. "If five doesn't, you bring six. If you're desperate, bring seven. We're aggressive by nature. We want to be able to get there out of our base, but we're not afraid to bring pressure."

So there might be more times this season when the corners are left out on an island, and after Clemson's first spring scrimmage Wednesday, Venables wasn't entirely enthusiastic with his options there.

But perhaps the biggest worry for Venables isn't the shortcomings of Clemson's DBs when the pressure isn't there, but rather the amazing success when it was.

As good as Clemson performed when opposing QBs had time to throw, the numbers when they were hurried were absolutely off the charts -- an 18.1 percent completions percentage, 2.0 yards per attempt, no touchdowns and just one completion of more than 20 yards.

Clemson had 83 such plays last year. If that number is cut significantly in 2015, even those same solid stats the Tigers managed in non-pressure situations last year would be a serious step back.

So perhaps it's not fair to say that the DBs will suffer if the pass rush isn't as good. The numbers suggest they won't. What's more accurate is that if the pass rush isn't there as often in 2015, the DBs simply need to do more to make up for that lost production.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It’s a terrible cliche, but we’re going to have to let this thing play out.

Alabama’s quarterback competition, despite our incessant need for more information and more insight, is, for the most part, unknowable. That is, unless your name is Nick Saban or Lane Kiffin. And even then, their patience far exceeds the general public’s.

[+] EnlargeJake Coker
Brynn Anderson/AP PhotoJake Coker is more confident in his second spring at Alabama, but don't expect the Crimson Tide QB job to be decided any time soon.

Former Florida State transfer Jake Coker seems to be more confident, Saban has said.

Stud freshman Blake Barnett seems to have great leadership qualities, Saban said as well.

But are they frontrunners to replace Blake Sims, who threw for the most yards in a single season in school history last year? If not, where do they rank in relation to the other candidates at the position: Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell and Alec Morris?

Maybe we’ll get a clearer picture come A-Day when the final scrimmage of spring will be open to everyone, but for now it’s hard to tell.

The only thing we do know is that the staff has changed the way it looks at the position this year.

“We’ve tried to make it a little easier with what we’re doing at that position so that they don’t have the burden as some of the guys in the past have had so that the inexperienced players can develop a little more quickly,” Saban said.

While it’s unclear whether that means a trimmed-down playbook or fewer calls made at the line of scrimmage, it does add an extra layer of intrigue to the competition, seemingly opening the door for youngsters like Barnett and Cornwell, a redshirt freshman.

But at the same time it might be a relief to someone like Coker, too, considering his struggles a year ago learning a new offense. He was the more prototypical fit with a stronger arm and more ideal size than Sims, but Sims ultimately showed more comfort running the offense and won the job early on in the season.

When Coker spoke to the media prior to the Allstate Sugar Bowl in January, he said he had made strides in practice and during spot duty late in games.

“I’ve gotten better I feel like in all areas of playing quarterback, but especially as far as learning this offense and getting more fluid and on time,” Coker said.

Center Ryan Kelly, who spoke at the start of spring practice, said he’s seen a difference in Coker, too.

“He’s obviously more mature, obviously, being a fifth-year guy,” Kelly said. “You’ve seen the in and outs of college football, and I think he’s done a great job stepping into a bigger leadership role. Last year, being his first year, it’s just hard to step into a role like that when you don’t really know a lot of guys. Now that he’s had a little bit of time to meet everybody and kind of hang out and build people’s trust up, I think he’s going to have a good year.”

Of course, that’s only one player’s opinion, and we likely won’t hear from Coker or any of the other quarterbacks at all this spring. They’ll fight to win the job first, and then they’ll live to tell us about it.

For now, though, we’re left to read the tea leaves. Pretty soon we’ll have scrimmages, which may or may not include passing statistics.

If you’re looking for a starter to be named this spring, don’t hold your breath. It’s a competition, but another cliche you hear often in sports -- a sense of urgency -- isn’t part of the equation.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- When an all-time program great leaves a school, his presence is felt far longer than the last time he played.

This spring at Florida State, it’s not just Jameis Winston’s name being consistently thrown into that conversation. Former receiver Rashad Greene is talked about at length despite leaving almost three months ago, and he’s spoken about in a manner that can be described as nothing short of reverential.

After four seasons starring at Florida State, finishing as the program’s most prolific receiver, Greene is pursuing an NFL career. His absence leaves a gaping hole at receiver in both leadership and production, but his successors said they’re using the lessons Greene passed along to make up for his departure.

[+] EnlargeTravis Rudolph
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsTravis Rudolph caught 38 passes as a freshman -- the same number as Rashad Greene three years earlier.

“We’re going to take what he told us and do what we have to do,” junior receiver Jesus Wilson said.

Wilson is the most experienced receiver on the roster. He’s started seven games; Greene started 43.

The Seminoles will rely on a group of mostly freshmen and sophomores. Wilson and Kermit Whitfield are the only juniors at the position, which is why Wilson acknowledged it is his time to take on a bigger role. The 5-foot-9, 181-pound receiver registered 42 catches as a sophomore. He caught only three passes as a freshman.

While Florida State lacks experience and a proven commodity at receiver with Greene graduating and Kelvin Benjamin bolting for the NFL following the 2013 national championship, the current group of Florida State receivers has the talent to potentially make up for it.

Redshirt sophomore Isaiah Jones, who was academically ineligible last season, was an ESPN 300 recruit in the 2013 class. Whitfield also was a highly-ranked recruit in that 2013 class. Sophomore Ermon Lane was the No. 2 receiver in the 2014 class, and Travis Rudolph was not far behind at No. 6. Two 2015 receivers are already enrolled and participating in in spring practices: top-rated athlete George Campbell and sixth-ranked receiver Da’Vante Phillips.

“Just working on our craft and that goes into learning the playbook,” said Rudolph, about the key to turning the promise into on-field production. “What can stop a guy from his highest potential is not learning the playbook.”

Rudolph said he doesn’t assume he will be the No. 1 receiver in the fall, but that it is what he’s working toward -- and he expects his teammates to be doing the same. Rudolph arrived in Tallahassee as one of the more polished high school players, so the expectation was for the 6-foot-2, 187-pound South Florida native to play early. After failing to record a catch in the season’s first three games, Rudolph finished the season with 555 yards. He capped his freshman campaign with six receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown in the Rose Bowl.

“It went well, but not as well,” Rudolph said. “But I just got my feet wet and now I know how the system is and adjusted. … Now I’m at the point where everything is natural.”

Last season, Rudolph started six games and worked his way to becoming Winston’s No. 2 threat on the outside. Sean Maguire, the odds-on favorite to be the starting quarterback, worked with Rudolph with the second-string offense to start last fall and he said the difference between Rudolph then and now is “night and day.”

Then Maguire brought up the name from the past, inciting the hype and trying his best to curb it within the same breath.

“I’m not comparing anyone, but I slowly see him going toward Rashad, that route,” Maguire said. “... I was here when Rashad was a sophomore and this is going to be Travis’ sophomore year. They’re both great players, explosive, got that fifth gear to go get the ball and Travis is becoming a leader pretty much every day out there, too.”

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is not inviting the comparisons, but he isn’t squashing them, either. He said he will wait and see whether Rudolph is the next Greene.

For what it’s worth, Greene had 38 catches as a freshman -- the same as Rudolph. Greene used that season to springboard to 232 more.

“There’s nothing that says he won’t [be like Greene],” Fisher said, “but until someone does that, I’m not going to say they’re going to do that, you know what I mean?”

Nebraskans might be landlocked in their home state, but they're no strangers to sea change.

They saw Nebraska leave behind its history in the Big Eight/Big 12 for a new home in the Big Ten. They watched the program move from two handpicked successor coaches -- Tom Osborne and Frank Solich -- to an outsider (Bill Callahan) doomed by a historically bad defense, and another coach (Bo Pelini) doomed by a combustible personality and four-loss seasons. Their most painful adjustment has been the drop in prestige, as Nebraska hasn't won its league since 1999. Although Husker fans still invest greatly and demand great things from the program, the pragmatic ones know a national title run likely isn't in the immediate future.

The next reminder of Nebraska's new reality will come this fall when the offense takes the field. With rare exceptions, the Huskers are opting out of the option, the system that defined the program and its success for decades.

New Nebraska coach Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf are longtime pro-style practitioners. Langsdorf spent last season coaching Eli Manning and the New York Giants quarterbacks after nine years as Riley's offensive coordinator at Oregon State.

[+] EnlargeDanny Langsdorf
AP Photo/Nati Harnik"You look back at their history, they were a wishbone-option team," new Newbraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. "We're probably not going to get a whole lot into that."

"We’ve taken some things from the Giants and implemented them here, and then a mixture of stuff we’ve done in our history with Oregon State," Langsdorf said last week. "We even go back to our New Orleans [Saints] days when Mike and I were there [in 2002]. The coordinator in New York [Ben McAdoo], I was with him in New Orleans.

"We've combined a lot of different ideas over the years."

This isn't the first time Nebraska has veered from the option. Callahan brought in the West Coast offense from the Oakland Raiders. But Pelini used a scheme that featured option elements, mobile quarterbacks and prolific I-backs like Roy Helu, Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah.

"You look back at their history, they were a wishbone-option team," Langsdorf said. "We're probably not going to get a whole lot into that."

It's yet another reminder that times have changed in Husker Country.

"The offense that we ran is very obsolete," said former Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier, who triggered the option attack that helped the Huskers win consecutive national titles in 1994 and 1995. "There's not very many teams that still run option football. The ones that are still running it are very successful at it. Look at Georgia Tech, Air Force, Navy, teams like that, they're having success.

"But to get the type of player teams want, you have to change the offense to fit their style. That's what Nebraska has been doing over the years."

Frazier has followed Riley's offenses for years and is impressed with his schematics and player development skills. He also thinks Langsdorf's NFL experience will help Nebraska's quarterbacks, who in his mind have "the biggest challenge" in adjusting.

They will be under center more and running less, although Langsdorf wants to use their athleticism on bootlegs and sprint outs. The most significant shift comes in the way the quarterbacks must read defenses. So far this spring, it has resulted in more interceptions than the coaches would like.

"A lot of it's not knowing which defender to key or which safety to look at," Langsdorf said. "They're throwing the ball late because their footwork's not right, not throwing it on time or they're not anticipating throws. It’s an accuracy issue but it’s also a read-progression issue.

"All the stuff is probably a little tougher adjustment for them, but everyone’s doing a good job of working at it."

The Husker I-backs and offensive linemen could remain the big men on campus, as they have for decades. Riley had eight 1,000-yard rushers and six players with more than 250 carries at Oregon State, including Steven Jackson with a nation-high 350 in 2003. But Nebraska's wide receivers, who saw a spike in production under Pelini, will be an even bigger part of the offense now.

Riley had 10 receivers eclipse 1,000 yards at Oregon State, including Biletnikoff Award winners Mike Hass and Brandin Cooks. Nebraska never has had a 1,000-yard receiver. Its single-season receptions record is 63.

"We’re probably running a few things downfield a little bit more," Langsdorf said. "We're teaching them some timed routes where they have to count some steps and do some things a little differently than they have in the past."

Nebraska's offense will be doing quite a few things differently in its quest to recapture the program's past glory. Frazier, who lives in Omaha, thinks Husker fans will be fine with the new approach.

"Nebraska fans are very loyal to the program," Frazier said. "They just want to see a team play hard. Nebraska's a blue-collar state and they want the football program to represent them that way. Being almost 20 years since I played there, almost 12 years since Coach Solich left, I don't think the style of offense is really going to matter.

"Being productive, being consistent and playing hard matters more than anything."

Dave Clawson was only half kidding when he said the offensive line he inherited at Wake Forest last year would've struggled to match up physically with some high school teams. Talent was one problem, but the size and strength were the immediate concern.

A handful of incoming freshmen probably could've started, but Clawson redshirted them to give them time to bulk up. The rest battled through an unmitigated disaster -- one of the worst offensive performances by an FBS team in recent memory. But as the Demon Deacons hit the practice field this spring, there are only faint reminders of just how bad last year was.

"There will be some growing pains, kids getting out there for the first time," said Wake offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero. "But physically, those younger guys are good players. They're getting better every day, and that's really where you see the biggest difference in our football team. That's really the one spot that's been different, no doubt.

[+] EnlargeJohn Wolford
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsLast season Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford struggled behind an offensive line that allowed 26 more tackles for loss than any team in the country.

To truly appreciate the current state of affairs, it's best to understand rock bottom.

Last season, the line coughed up 26 more tackles for loss than any other team in the country.

Quarterback John Wolford was sacked once every 8.2 attempts, the worst rate of any QB in the nation.

When the QB wasn't on the ground, the running game mustered just 2.47 yards per rush -- the worst rate by any FBS program in more than 10 years.

For the year, Wake averaged just 3.4 yards per play. That's a half-yard less than any other Power 5 team in the last decade.

Turning those numbers around is a daunting task, but as gory as the results were at times last season, the momentum for Clawson's program is clearly pointed in a positive direction.

"We survived it," Ruggiero said. "Now, they're executing the offense a little better and things aren't breaking down as quickly. We've got to keep getting better and do that against Florida State and Clemson and Louisville, so it's certainly not going to be an overnight thing. But there's definitely optimism."

Ruggiero said he's confident that he'll at least have a solid five -- and maybe a few more for depth -- to start the season on the line.

Josh Harris, last year's best blocker, returns at left guard. Redshirt senior Dylan Intemann is getting work at both tackle and guard this spring, providing some much-needed versatility. Junior Will Smith got his first year of real experience under his belt last year, and he's shown marked improvement. Redshirt freshmen Justin Herron, Phil Haynes, Patrick Osterhage and Ryan Anderson have all looked vastly improved from where they were a year ago.

Most importantly, the entire group simply looks like a contingent of real ACC linemen.

"Just looking at the numbers they're lifting, it's just a lot different," Ruggiero said. "You add up the poundage, and we're just playing stronger and more physical. That's just guys in the weight room for one year."

It's not a fully-stocked cupboard yet, but when the Deacons line up during practice, they actually look like a functioning offense routinely.

There's a trickle-down effect. The line does its job, and everyone else can finally do theirs.

"John was avoiding disaster most of the time last year as opposed to actually running plays," Ruggiero said. "This year, he's getting to run some plays and actually execute things and get to the second receiver and third receiver in a progression and have guys in the right spot."

It may sound like marginal progress, but the starting point was so low that the steps Wake is taking this spring appear immense comparatively.

There are still concerns. Experience is lacking. The skill positions are young, too. There's no established depth at running back.

It's a process, and Wake's coaches are still digging for answers. But for the first time, there's a hint of what could be in store, a faint outline of the offense Clawson and Ruggiero envision for the future.

"The young guys are definitely giving us a chance to be a little more optimistic than we were last year," Ruggiero said. "As they continue to improve not just this year but next year and the year after, we'll keep on an upward swing."

One day, Brandon Harris will look back at 2015 and either smile or wonder what could have been. This is the year that will potentially make or break his LSU career.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertLSU needs Brandon Harris to win the starting job in 2015.

 If the Tigers are going to take a stab at the SEC Western Division, Harris has to be the starting quarterback. The sophomore is too talented as a passer and too gifted an athlete, and LSU is in desperate need of a spark under center.

With all due respect to Anthony Jennings, who went 8-4 as a starter last year with 1,611 passing yards, Harris is the present and the future for LSU at quarterback. He just has to be. Yes, most of this has to be based on potential and his schooling of high school kids, but we saw glimpses of brilliance from Harris at times last year. There was the valiant comeback attempt against Mississippi State in which he threw for 140 yards on 6 of 9 passing and had two touchdowns. A week later he overwhelmingly out-dueled Jennings in a win over New Mexico State with his 178 yards and three touchdowns on 11 of 14 passing.

But there was also a dark side, like his dreadful 3 of 14 performance a game later against Auburn, which was his first -- and only -- start of the year. After that, Harris threw just one more pass during the Tigers' final seven games.

Harris not seeing time in other games is on him, and he knows it. His preparation wasn't good enough to beat out Jennings during practice, and it certainly wasn't good enough for him to try and best him in games.

That has to change because there's just no getting around the fact that he's more physically gifted than Jennings. He might not have had the mental part down last year, but Harris' throwing and running ability can't be wasted this season. For as admirably as Jennings played at times this season, he's held back in ways that Harris isn't when it comes to arm talent, and he isn't a consistent passing threat for defenses to fear. Jennings' 47. 1 percent completion percentage on third downs is a problem, especially when he's completing just 40 percent on third downs between 7 and 9 yards. Completing less than 48 percent of your passes in the second and third quarters of games just won't cut it either.

There's no reason Jennings can't grow and evolve too, but Harris has all the physical tools needed to be a bigger threat for LSU. The decision-making part is yet to be seen, but Harris appears to be progressing this spring.

"I’m going into my second spring. Obviously I know everything I need to know now," Harris said earlier this spring. "I feel more comfortable with everything we’re going to run. Obviously it’s a wide-open quarterback position, quarterback job, so everything is still even reps-wise. Again, going into my second spring, so I’m more comfortable. I don’t have to have someone telling me what to do or this and that. I’ll get everybody on the same page ... I expect to help this team win. I just expect to play more this year. I think with the ability God’s blessed me with, with Cam [Cameron] and them teaching me, I think I’ll play a big role this upcoming season."

Last year, the younger, more immature Harris was both wide-eyed and a little carefree during his first year at LSU. The supposed next big thing at quarterback for the Tigers was everything but that, as he watched his hype sink into the bayou from the sidelines for most of the year.

The No. 2 dual-threat quarterback by ESPN's RecruitingNation arrived with a mountain of hype strapped to his back, but started just one game and saw time sparingly during a season of passing ineptitude that left the Tigers at the bottom of the league when it came to throwing the football.

 When a highly-touted prospect can't do better than a starter who completed just 48.9 percent of his passes and averaged a paltry 123.9 passing yards per game, something's wrong. Harris clearly wasn't ready to be the guy.

Say what you will about how LSU's coaching staff used its quarterbacks last year, but even Harris knows he wasn't fit to be LSU's starting quarterback in 2014.

"Looking back, I would say I wasn’t ready," Harris said.

And that's fine. For every freshman phenom, there are hundreds who just aren't ready or don't even see playing time. But for LSU to advance in 2015, Harris has to be the guy.

There's a reason Harris was one of the most sought-after quarterbacks back in high school, and everyone picked him to come out of last spring as the starter. Harris now has the chance to take the huge steps needed from Year 1 to Year 2, which are crucial for both he and LSU.

So far, Harris' play has been met with mixed reviews this spring, but improvement is there, and so is a drive he hopes propels him this spring and beyond.

"I’ve always carried a chip on my shoulder, and I carry a chip on my shoulder now," he said. "People are going to talk about you until the day you die. I’ve always carried a chip.

"My thing is not letting me be my downfall, improving, overutilizing our coaches and looking for every way to improve."