BRISTOL, Conn. -- Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze isn't sure how the Rebels will use highly-regarded junior-college transfer Jeremy Liggins this coming season.

Liggins will start training camp working as a tight end, but Freeze also plans to install a package in which Liggins will play quarterback in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

[+] EnlargeOle Miss' Jeremy Liggins
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisJeremy Liggins, who reported to Ole Miss this past winter weighing 310 pounds, will start as a tight end, could play quarterback and may finish as an offensive lineman.
Liggins' long-term role with the team might very well be determined by his appetite and waistline.

"He might end up being an offensive lineman before it's all over -- an NFL one," Freeze said.

Freeze said Liggins reported to Ole Miss this past winter weighing about 310 pounds. Liggins has dropped about 30 pounds over the past several months, but Freeze said he's still too big to play quarterback in his spread offense.

Plus, the Rebels have senior Bo Wallace, who is one of the SEC's top returning quarterbacks.

"He can throw it, but he couldn't be our full-time quarterback right now with the tempo and everything else," Freeze said. "I do think he can handle short yardage and some other things."

Liggins has been something of a local legend around Ole Miss, so fans will be clamoring for him to see the field quickly this coming season. Liggins grew up in Oxford, Mississippi, and after leading Lafayette High School to 23 consecutive wins and back-to-back Class 4A state championships in 2010 and ‘11, he spurned the hometown Rebels and signed to play for LSU in February 2012. Predictably, Liggins was heavily criticized for his decision.

But Liggins failed to academically qualify after signing with the Tigers and bounced around the next season. He enrolled at Northeast Mississippi Community College last year, where he played three games at defensive end and four games at quarterback. He was ranked the No. 2 juco athlete and No. 20 juco prospect overall by ESPN Recruiting.

"He's just an athlete," Freeze said. "He's really a freak."
video
GREENSBORO, N.C. – If you need to find Quayshawn Nealy this summer, head to the Georgia Tech College of Computing.

Then look for the big football player filing reports and shredding paper.

Nealy had some downtime while taking two classes and working out, so he decided to get a job. That is a bit unusual for athletes, who generally have a tough time finding any free time between all their responsibilities. Nealy is an even more exceptional case.

He has had a job three summers in a row, all while finding a way to get his assignments done and grow into one of the better linebackers in the ACC. Over the past several months, Nealy has worked every day as an office assistant for a few hours. But that is pretty light work compared to what he did the past two years.

After his redshirt freshman season, Nealy decided to get a job for the first time in his life. He worked as a parking attendant at the historic Fox Theatre, collecting money and handing out receipts. When asked whether that job got a thumbs up or thumbs down, Nealy laughed.

“Thumbs up, because I was getting money,” he said.

It is safe to say he enjoyed collecting parking fees and risking paper cuts better than the internship he had last year, working as a telephone operator in a large call center just outside Athens, Georgia. Every day, he and a group of teammates would carpool one hour to the office building, trying to sell HP products to third-party vendors.

Nealy dealt with a barrage of hang ups and a lot of nos. On top of that, he was in enemy territory. Lots and lots of Bulldogs around.

“It was a good experience, but it wasn’t for me,” Nealy said.

Despite the setbacks, Nealy did make a few sales. As a business management major, the experience is one he would never trade.

Neither is the chance to earn some extra spending money, either.
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- It isn't surprising that quarterback news led Day 2 of Pac-12 media days. This is, after all, the Conference of Quarterbacks, and this bumper crop of 10 returning starters might be the Pac-12's best-ever collection gathered behind center.

Yet it was the impending absence of the 11th quarterback, the Washington Huskies' expected starter Cyler Miles, that provided the top headline, as Huskies coach Chris Petersen announced that Miles would be suspended for the season-opener at Hawaii. Miles, of course, was involved in a notorious pair of altercations after the Super Bowl. Those incidents were notorious because it seems positively buffoonish that Miles and receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow thought it justifiable, as Denver Broncos fans, to have thin skin that particular evening in the city of Seattle.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
AP PhotoChris Petersen said that quarterback Cyler Miles, Washington's expected starter, would be suspended for the first game of the season.
What were they thinking amid the Seattle Seahawks revelers? We don't know, as neither has explained himself, and Petersen didn't even try to guess Thursday -- "We're dealing with the dumbest age group in America," he volunteered. Even the most sympathetic sorts struggled to make sense of it.

"I wasn't there so I don't know what happened," Huskies offensive tackle Ben Riva said. "Obviously, he was probably the one Bronco fan walking around Seattle that night. I think someone tried to rip his jersey off, and he got in a fight. If it were 20 years ago, probably no one would have heard about it. But this day and age, he got in trouble. It was kind of out of character for him. He's not the kind of guy who goes looking for something like that. He's responded well to it and he's ready to put it behind him."

Stringfellow, charged with two counts of fourth-degree assault and one count of malicious mischief, opted to transfer. Miles, who was never charged with a crime, was suspended for all of spring practices. Petersen said Miles has done enough, however, to earn his way back into the quarterback competition with sophomore Jeff Lindquist and redshirt freshman Troy Williams. He could win the starting job in the preseason, only then whoever comes in second will call the signals at Hawaii.

This, by the way, will have little effect on Petersen's debut game, as the Huskies will be double-digit favorites whoever plays quarterback. But it did provide some richer meat upon which the Pac-12 media could get its first taste of the coach. Without Miles' and Stringfellow's brain cramps, reporters would have focused their efforts on revisiting Petersen's leap from Boise State to the Pac-12, one of the biggest stories of the offseason, yet one that has become a bit ripe on the vine.

Petersen, who often ends up within shouting distance of Nick Saban and Urban Meyer on lists of the nation's best coaches, seemed perfectly comfortable explaining himself and his thinking vis-a-vis Miles, while not providing reporters too many details. It will surprise no one that a coach who won two BCS bowl games at Boise State was not overwhelmed by the larger stage afforded Pac-12 coaches -- even faced with the prickly topic of his quarterback having some embarrassing off-field trouble.

"I would say the fact he didn't have one day of spring football probably sent a pretty strong message to him," said Petersen, who was speaking for the first time about Miles since his reinstatement. "I think he will be a better person, a better teammate, a better everything after going through it. Guys make mistakes. Most important thing is to learn from it going forward."

This won't qualify as a great relief to Huskies fans, who already had a pretty good idea that Miles would be back in the quarterback mix after he wasn't charged. It does provide a comforting clarity. Miles has flashed plenty of potential, playing well when coming off the bench against the UCLA Bruins and winning at the Oregon State Beavers in his lone start replacing Keith Price.

Though the Huskies are not among the 10 teams with a returning starting quarterback, they have enough coming back at other spots, starting with a veteran offensive line, to hint that Petersen's first year should be at least interesting.

"Quarterbacks are great, but what would a quarterback do without an offensive line?" Riva said. "We've got all five offensive line starters back. So that's our bread and butter this year."

Petersen operates as another plot thickener for the conference. After listing the impressive returning talent at quarterback, observers next note the top-to-bottom depth of the conference. Then they see the coaches, whose Q-ratings seem to be at all-time highs. Day 2 of Pac-12 Media Days featured Petersen, Todd Graham, Jim Mora, David Shaw, Mike Riley and Mike MacIntyre. That's a crew with a lot to recommend it.

Further, there's the intertwined trio of Petersen, Mora and Steve Sarkisian, who inevitably will be compared going forward. Sarkisian bolted Washington for USC. Mora turned down overtures from Washington, his alma mater, to remain at UCLA. Petersen was the home run hire who helped Huskies fans quickly recover from that rejection.

Mora and Sarkisian are battling for Los Angeles bragging rights, which tends to get bitter. There will be plenty of commentary on whether Sarkisian or Petersen has better met or exceeded -- or fallen short -- of expectations. Mora already has a national title contender. Sarkisian and Petersen are expected to build ones, too.

Yes, Huskies fans expect to return to the national title discussion under Petersen. While it's been more than a decade since such talk seemed anything but laughable, Petersen is widely viewed as that sort of extreme difference-maker.

Now if he can only find a quarterback, preferably one who will behave as well as throw touchdown passes.
BRISTOL, Conn. -- Auburn coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t said whether or not quarterback Nick Marshall will miss playing time as punishment for his recent citation on misdemeanor charges of possession of marijuana.

Even if Marshall doesn’t miss any action, Malzahn still seems intent on playing his backup, Jeremy Johnson, this season.

Last season, Marshall, a former Georgia defensive back, led the Tigers to a 12-2 record, an SEC championship and appearance in the VIZIO BCS National Championship in his first season at Auburn.

“Even before [Marshall’s arrest on June 11], at the end of spring practice, [offensive coordinator Rhett] Lashlee and I made a commitment that Jeremy was going to have a role,” Malzahn said. “He’s an NFL quarterback, no doubt.”

While it might be hard to imagine the Tigers sitting a quarterback who guided them to within seconds of winning a national championship -- Florida State’s Jameis Winston threw a 2-yard touchdown to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds to go for a 34-31 victory in the title game -- Malzahn believes Johnson is every bit as talented as Marshall.

Last season, Johnson, a 6-foot-5 sophomore from Montgomery, Alabama, completed 70 percent of his passes for 422 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions in six games. In his college debut against FCS foe Western Carolina on Oct. 12, Johnson threw for 201 yards with four touchdowns in a 62-3 rout.

“He’s got a lot of talent and he’s a good one,” Malzahn said. “He could start for a lot of people.”

Before Marshall's recent setback, Malzahn said Marshall had done nearly everything the Tigers coaching staff had asked of him during the offseason. After spending the 2012 season at Garden City (Kan.) Community College, following his dismissal from Georgia’s team, Marshall didn’t arrive at Auburn until last summer, which didn’t give him a lot of time to digest Malzahn’s spread offense.

With a full offseason under his belt, Marshall should be even better in Year 2 as an SEC quarterback. Last season, he completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 1,976 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also ran for 1,068 yards with 12 scores.

But at times last season, it was obvious Marshall was far from a polished passer. He threw for fewer than 150 yards in eight of Auburn’s 14 games.

“After this past spring, he had just a completely different mindset and understanding of the game, offense and everything,” Malzahn said.

Malzahn said Lashlee really worked to improve Marshall’s footwork, which should help his accuracy this season.

“That’s the main thing,” Malzahn said. “He has a strong arm, but we worked hard on his feet and his balance.”

Malzahn also encouraged Marshall to stay at Auburn this summer instead of working with private quarterback coaches such as George Whitfield or Tom House, like other high-profile quarterbacks have done in the recent past.

“I’m sure there are some great quarterback coaches out there,” Malzahn said. “But we want our guys to think exactly like us. When his eligibility is gone, he can work with whoever he wants.”

Butch Jones: Vols have 'momentum'

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
2:00
PM ET
The Tennessee Volunteers are coming off its fourth straight losing season and faces what could be another difficult season in 2014, especially with a killer schedule.

But spend a few minutes with second-year coach Butch Jones, survey the Vols’ recruiting and talk to a few of their fans, and it’s anything but gloom and doom on Rocky Top.

“We have great momentum,” Jones explained. “We have the greatest resource of all – people. You couple people with the vision of what’s going on at Tennessee, the new dormitory, the new football complex, but I also think it’s what Tennessee can be and what it will be.

“Everything in life is about timing, and this is the right place at the right time.”

In other words, Jones sees pretty clearly through all the dark clouds that have engulfed Tennessee’s program ever since Phillip Fulmer was forced out at the end of the 2008 season.

The Vols pulled in the No. 5-ranked recruiting class nationally last year and are currently ranked No. 10 by ESPN in the 2015 class.

“Our players are compelled, and they’ve been our greatest ambassadors,” Jones said of the Vols’ recruiting success.

The good news for Tennessee is that the Vols are starting to reel in four- and five-star prospects with regularity the way they did back in the 1990s when Fulmer had the program rolling. The bad (or scary) news is that a lot of those freshmen are going to have to play key roles this season.

Tennessee is the only team in the country that doesn’t return a single starter on the offensive or defensive line, although Curt Maggitt is moving to defensive end after missing last season with an injury and starting as an outside linebacker two years ago.

“We’re going through the realities of building a football program,” Jones said. “Sometimes, I think of us as an expansion team. But our players have done a great job. They’ve really embraced everything. Our older players are really mentoring the younger players. The whole key for us is how we manage the natural adversities that a football season brings about.”

Jones said first-year players will be a staple in the defensive line rotation this season, and the offensive line will be equally inexperienced.

“But we have great competition heading into camp,” he said. “Last year at this time, we had zero players who could squat 600 pounds, and we were a veteran group. This year, we have nine.”

The Vols were able to get all 32 signees in this class in school, which includes the ones they counted back as part of the 2013 class. Several of those players are expected to play key roles, namely running back Jalen Hurd.

Jones said the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Hurd doesn’t look like a true freshman, nor has he performed like one since enrolling early back in January.

“He’s got the elusiveness of a smaller back. He can make you miss and get the tough yards like a big back and has good speed,” Jones said. “For his size, he’s able to do some things I haven’t seen from a back in a while.

“He’s one of several young guys we’re going to be leaning on this year. It’s never ideal when you’re playing so many of those guys, especially when their first road trip is going to be Oklahoma. But that’s just where we are right now.”

It’s not where the Vols expect to stay, though.
Can the two-year slide in the Virginia football program be directly tied to a piece of paper?

Quite possibly.

Let us start back in spring 2012. Quarterback Michael Rocco had just taken UVa to an 8-5 season and bowl appearance. Mike London won ACC Coach of the Year honors. The Cavaliers became the first program to ever win road games at Florida State and Miami.

The trajectory pointed up.

[+] EnlargeGreyson Lambert
Dannie Walls/Icon SMIVirginia will be looking for Greyson Lambert to provide stability at quarterback this fall.
Rocco had made strides in the second half of the 2011 season, throwing only four interceptions in his final six games. Though London said in the spring the quarterback competition was open, it seemed pretty clear Rocco was the best, most solid choice to start. Then came word after spring practice ended that Phillip Sims had transferred to Virginia.

Two months later, that piece of paper came into play. The NCAA granted Sims a waiver for immediate eligibility. Now, Rocco not only had to hold off David Watford to keep his starting job, he had to hold off the former ESPN150 prospect, too. Sims was too tantalizing a player to keep on the bench, so London decided both Rocco and Sims would play. The plan worked briefly before completely collapsing. Rocco took a step back, perhaps because he felt he could not truly lead his teammates. Sims, for all his talent and athleticism, was largely ineffective.

Frustrated with his role and the way London managed the quarterbacks, Rocco decided to transfer after the season ended. He clearly had enough, calling it an "unhealthy situation" on his way out the door.

Sims appeared to be the next man up. Except he landed in the doghouse before spring practice ever began and never won the starting job. He flunked out of school, leaving few viable options for the 2013 season.

After another quarterback competition, Watford won the starting job. Virginia won two games, and Watford threw eight touchdowns to 15 interceptions while completing just 57 percent of his passes.

Heading into 2014, Virginia will start yet another quarterback: Greyson Lambert. During ACC Kickoff, London was asked why he believes Lambert will bring consistency to a position that has been a weakness at UVa for years.

"You look around, every team has a quarterback that can distribute the ball, be accurate and make good decisions, it makes the team go,” London said. “Greyson can be that. I think he’s smart enough; he’s got the skill and ability to do that. Now, he’s got to do it on the field. He’s shown it in spring practice."

Now back to that waiver. What if Sims was not granted immediate eligibility and had to sit out a year? Rocco would have been the definitive starter, bringing a known commodity to quarterback. Rocco was not without his flaws, but at least UVa would have had much-needed consistency at the position. Virginia lost three games that season by a touchdown or less. Wins in two of those games (say Wake Forest and Maryland, two non-bowl teams) would have meant bowl eligibility. Sims would have had a year to learn the system, to learn from Rocco, figure out how to balance football and academics and be groomed to take over as the starter.

Instead, Virginia has won six games in two years and still has no true identity at quarterback. Perhaps the search for a solid, unquestioned starter ends in 2014.
video

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- In between breaking down pass-rushers and drawing up passing trees, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher wanted to watch some basketball. Last month’s NBA Finals provided little drama, so he loaded Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals onto the screen. The "Flu Game."

This wasn’t a reprieve from preparations for the 2014 season, though. This was a lesson in history, one that will have a profound impact on the Seminoles’ 2014 season, Fisher believes. He didn’t so much wonder how Michael Jordan played through the flu-like symptoms, but why.

Why did Joe Montana play through six concussions? Why did Larry Bird refuse to retire from a back injury so bad that his surgeon was bewildered as to how he played through it?

“We study guys who had attitudes of domination who won for long periods of time -- Joe Montana, John Elway repeated, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson,” Fisher says. “Those guys all had that killer instinct and were guys who wanted to be on top, stayed on top, and one championship wasn't enough.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJimbo Fisher said that Florida State's biggest obstacle in 2014 may not be an opponent, but complacency.
“A picture’s worth 1,000 words. Your actions speak, your drive, your commitment to excellence. Michael Jordan, you never saw him not play to the max, and that, to me, to the players, sends a message. It’s a constant education to me, to these kids, to get them to think in that type of mold, because it’s human nature to win and relax.”

There are certainly questions on Florida State’s roster, but it is still considered the best in the country. Where the Seminoles could trip up is mentally, an aspect of the game Fisher has worked so hard to strengthen within his program. He’s spent the past year praising the 2013 team for its work ethic and desire to return the Seminoles to the pinnacle of the sport they once dominated.

Now that they’re there, the next task -- admittedly his toughest yet -- is keeping the Seminoles there. So if you happen upon Fisher wandering through the Florida State library, it’s because he is looking for a book on a very specific topic. He’s soliciting suggestions, but perusing the bestsellers list and Oprah’s book club will be fruitless. The coach needs reading material on how to maintain the Seminoles' status as one of college football’s elite programs.

"Can't find many books on it,” Fisher says. “All of them talk about how to get there, not many of them talk about how to stay there.”

He’s turned to friend and confidant Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher during their time at LSU. Saban won the national championship at Alabama in January 2010, but a talented team failed to meet expectations during the 2010 season. Saban found the formula again, however, and the Tide won the title after the 2011 season; they repeated the next year.

As the confetti fell in Pasadena, California, in January when Fisher won his first national championship, the two coaches sat on the "College GameDay" set. They celebrated, they reminisced but, most importantly, they advised.

“He said, ‘Now you got some challenges, now is when the problems start,’ and I understood that,” Fisher recalls of their conversation inside the Rose Bowl. “He’s been through it, and he fixed it after a while, didn’t he? He had that one year and then came back and did it twice.”

But Saban isn’t going to spell it out for Fisher -- even Saban is constantly tinkering to quell complacency. They’re friends, but increasingly they have become rivals. Florida State is the biggest threat to end an Alabama dynasty that has three of the final five BCS crystal balls in a trophy room in Tuscaloosa.

Fisher says he believes he has a Jordan in Tallahassee, Florida: quarterback Jameis Winston, a player who wants to win two more than he wants to win one. The redshirt sophomore won a national championship and a Heisman Trophy before losing a game, which he still has yet to do. Winston says a loss is “definitely not in our vocabulary.”

With Winston, Fisher is confident that the “attitude of domination” has been instilled throughout the program, which means there is not as much of that annual concern as to whether his current team has the needed motivation for a national title run. What Fisher still needs to discern is how the 2014 team is different from last season’s. He has an idea, but the pads won’t come on for another two weeks, and two-a-day practices have not worn down this particular squad yet. One of the underrated aspects of being the head coach is identifying the personality and drive of a team, Fisher says, and pushing the wrong buttons at the wrong time can derail a season.

“There’s no formula for it,” Fisher says. “I think it evolves and don’t think you ever have the answer. It’s a constant battle that challenges you all the time. That’s one of the things that makes it so hard to duplicate that success. You’re constantly fighting that battle.”

Pac-12 media days live: Day 2

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
11:00
AM ET
Pac-12 media days resume in Los Angeles Thursday. Keep this page open beginning at noon ET/9 a.m. PT as ESPN.com reporters bring you the latest from the day's proceedings. Scheduled to appear Thursday are players and coaches from the Colorado Buffaloes, Arizona State Sun Devils, Oregon State Beavers, UCLA Bruins, Washington Huskies and Stanford Cardinal.
 
You may have heard, Big Ten media days is right around the corner. The event runs Monday and Tuesday at the Hilton Chicago, with all 14 league coaches and 42 players set to attend.

Here are 10 storylines to watch next week:
  • Jim Delany on the state of college football. Don’t expect the Big Ten boss to drop any bombs in line with the comments made by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby this week in Dallas. But Delany speaks his mind, and he feels strongly about the need for fixes in college athletics. With the NCAA Division I Board of Directors’ vote on power-conference autonomy set for next month and the verdict due soon in the Ed O’Bannon antitrust lawsuit -- Delany was a key NCAA witness -- the commish will no doubt make news with his comments.
  • Rutgers and Maryland, you’re up. Let’s see what these Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Maryland Terrapins look like as their long wait to play Big Ten football is nearly over. It’s been nearly two years since these schools made plans to join the league. And they enter the Big Ten in different places than what may have been expected back in 2012. Maryland is trending up and Rutgers down, but things can change in a hurry. For now, it’ll be nice to hear from the Terps’ sixth-year senior QB C.J. Brown and dynamic receiver Stefon Diggs. Rutgers defensive tackle Darius Hamilton looks like one of the league’s best.
  • The Big Ten goes back on the big stage in September. Who remembers Week 3 last season? It was the Saturday that the UCLA Bruins, Arizona State Sun Devils and Washington Huskies beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Wisconsin Badgers and Illinois Fighting Illini, respectively. Fyor good measure, Central Florida Knight won at the Penn State Nittany Lions. The poor Big Ten showing drew a collective eye roll from fans and media nationally and stomped out any early-season momentum for the league. Well, it’s a new year, and Michigan State’s Sept. 6 visit to Oregon might rank as the No. 1 intersectional matchup nationally. Wisconsin-LSU in Houston on Aug. 30 is almost as intriguing. Other important games for the league include Ohio State-Virginia Tech, Nebraska-Miami and the last scheduled installment of Michigan-Notre Dame.
  • Ameer Abdullah shares his message. Nebraska’s senior I-back will speak from the heart, for sure, on Tuesday at the league’s annual kickoff luncheon. Abdullah has a great story to share as the youngest of nine siblings raised as a devout Muslim in Alabama. Under-recruited out of high school, he chose Nebraska as the least heralded of three backs in his signing class. This year, he’s got the chance to become the first three-time 1,000-yard rusher at Nebraska, a program filled with tradition at his spot in the backfield.
  • Braxton Miller, the best player without any titles to show for it. Miller is 22-2 in his past 24 starts. Sure, the losses came to end last season in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State and the Orange Bowl to Clemson, but his record speaks for itself. He’s the two-time reigning offensive player of the year in the Big Ten, and with another season like the past two, he’ll race past the statistical marks of nearly every player to precede him in Columbus. But what is Miller’s legacy without a championship? He’d rather face that question in December.
  • James Franklin talks and people listen. The first-year Penn State coach ranks atop the list of must-see speakers in Chicago. Since taking the Penn State job on Jan. 11, Franklin has wowed crowds with his energy, and he’s revitalized the Nittany Lions’ profile as a recruiting power in spite of lingering NCAA sanctions. As the lone new head coach in the league – not counting Kyle Flood and Randy Edsall – Franklin offers a breath of fresh air. And because of his SEC background, observers outside of the conference will take note of his comments.
  • The dawn of the playoff era. Ready or not, the Big Ten is set to enter the first year of the College Football Playoff. A year ago, Michigan State likely would have earned a spot in the semifinal round. But can the Big Ten produce another team worthy of football’s final four? The Spartans remain a contender, though that trip to Oregon in Week 2 looms large. Ohio State is another team to watch and probably the most popular pick from the Big Ten to make it to a New Year’s Day semifinal in Pasadena or New Orleans. It'll be a topic at media days.
  • Michigan, now is the time to look like Michigan. The honeymoon is over for coach Brady Hoke, entering his fourth year as he tries to avoid a third consecutive season of declining win totals. The Wolverines slipped to 7-6 a year ago amid major offensive woes after a 5-0 start. Hoke’s offensive line still looks ill prepared to stop the Big Ten's top defensive fronts. The schedule is again somewhat backloaded, with Michigan State and Ohio State among the final five games, so Hoke’s hotshot recruits may get a few more weeks to mature.
  • Jerry Kill’s health. Minnesota’s fourth-year coach, as much as he’d like to avoid the topic, will face more questions in Chicago about the epileptic seizures that forced him to coach from the press box for much of last season. The Gophers rallied behind their ailing coach. It was a feel-good story, though one that no one in the Twin Cities or elsewhere would like to relive. Kill has made excellent progress in the past several months. The coach and his players are anxious to put this issue to rest.
  • The quarterbacks. Don’t look now, but the Big Ten is turning into a league of quarterbacks. If nothing else, it appears better, for the time being, than the SEC in this category. Seven of the league’s signal callers are scheduled to appear in Chicago, including Miller, MSU’s Connor Cook, Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Trevor Siemian of Northwestern. It would be nice, of course, to hear from Penn State sophomore Christian Hackenberg at this event and other rising field generals like Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Jake Rudock of Iowa. But hey, we’ll take what we can get.
video
HOOVER, Ala. -- The question had to come. At some point during SEC media days, someone was going to ask Nick Saban about Texas. The rumors. The $100 million offer. The chance to leave Alabama.

It took more than 20 minutes but the question finally came, the last from the horde of reporters in Hoover: I was curious if Texas did make you an offer to be their coach, was it anywhere close to $100 million, and what was your level of interest in that job?

Saban handled the question with grace. He denied any interest. He denied any offer. He denied ever speaking to anyone about it. And to his credit, he didn't explode despite giving the same response for what must have felt like the millionth time.

"Well, I didn't have any conversations with them," he said. "Nobody offered me anything. So I guess if I didn't have any conversations with them, I didn't have very much interest."

But what came next is why we in the media ask the same question 600 times. Because every once in a while you'll gain a little insight.

"I think the University of Texas is a fantastic place, and they've got a lot of wonderful people there, it's a great institution," Saban said. "But this is about the station in my life where we are. We moved around a lot. If I had to do it over, I'd have just tried to stay in one place and establish a great program, not have all these goals and aspirations of things that eventually, you know, you weren't happy doing."

There it was: "If I had to do it over ..." Saban wasn't talking about Texas anymore. He was speaking to Toledo, Michigan State, LSU and even Miami. He was speaking to every place he'd ever been and every fan base he'd ever let down by leaving. He was speaking to his family, too. If anyone was affected by the packing and unpacking, it was them. He was finally looking back on his career and wondering, "Why?"

Saban was a nomad before arriving in Tuscaloosa in 2007. As a head coach or assistant, he never stayed in one place more than five years. He always left for the next challenge, the next opportunity. He fled Toledo for the money and a shot at coaching in the NFL. He left Michigan State after growing tired of playing little brother to Michigan. He got out of LSU when the itch of the NFL returned. He realized the pro game wasn't the right fit, so he got back into the SEC as soon as possible.

But what if he'd just stayed put? Maybe not at Toledo, but Michigan State. Maybe not at Michigan State, but LSU. What would have happened?

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
AP Photo/Butch DillAlabama coach Nick Saban says if he had his career to do over, he would "have just tried to stay in one place and establish a great program."
It's scary to think what he could've done at Toledo. In his first season, he won nine games and very nearly went undefeated. Had he stayed, he might have created a Boise-esque program, dominated the mid-majors and made a run at the NCAA's all-time wins total.

If he'd stayed at Michigan State, he would've become a cult hero much like his successor Mark Dantonio. "Yeah, I thought he'd be successful," Dantonio said this spring, "and he told me that as he was leaving. He said, 'We can win a national championship,' and I believed him." Together, Saban and D'Antonio might have shattered the Michigan little brother complex once and for all.

He probably never should have left LSU. It was the perfect program for him. There wasn't the handicap of being a mid-major like at Toledo and there wasn't an in-state rival to deal with like at Michigan State. In Baton Rouge, he had it made. He won a national championship early on and would have stacked up more titles had ambition not drawn him back to the NFL.

Really, though, Saban could have won anywhere. But like so many other talented men, he was unable to rest until he felt as if was at the top of his profession. He could have stayed at Toledo or Michigan State or LSU, but he would have always wondered, "What if?" He would have wondered about the SEC and the NFL and all the challenges he'd never tackled. Every job offer would have been enticing. No raise would have been enough.

He may regret the path, but he can rest easy now knowing the NFL wasn't right for him and that Alabama was. Seven years later, he's glad to have roots firmly planted in Tuscaloosa.

"'I'm very happy at Alabama," he said. "Miss Terry is very happy at Alabama. We certainly enjoy the challenges we have there, the friends we have established here. This is where we just choose to, you know, end our career someday. It wasn't anything about any other place, it was just about where we are and what we want to try to do with the rest of our career."

Five years ago things might have been different. He might have seen all those millions Texas offered and jumped at the opportunity. But now he understands there's something to staying put, there's something to establishing a great program and enjoying the fruits of your labor.

For a man so intent on never looking back, it was refreshing to hear him wonder aloud what he'd done if he could only start over.

Media Days are here: Day 2

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
8:00
AM ET
We're halfway through Pac-12 media days, which continue Thursday at the Studios at Paramount in Hollywood. Here's a look at who is on tap for Day 2:

Thursday's schedule: Leading off


The big "news" of the day was that Oregon was picked to win the Pac-12 conference in 2014. Predictions aren't always solid -- unless they come from the Pac-12 blog.

Still, it's noteworthy that 24 of 39 writers (including the #pac) all picked the Ducks to win -- especially since Stanford is the two-time defending champ. The Cardinal will be up Thursday, so no doubt coach David Shaw will be asked for a reaction.

More Levi's games?

During the Stanford nonconference primer, the Pac-12 blog lamented the fact the Cardinal and San Jose State put the Bill Walsh Legacy game on hold. Now it looks like talks have started again.

According to Jimmy Durkin of the San Jose Mercury News, initial conversations have started to reboot the game. Here's what San Jose State coach Ron Caragher had to say:

"There's some fringe talk about it," Caragher said. "Has anything been finalized? Not necessarily. But I think it'd be great."

The Pac-12 and Mountain West are already heavy scheduling partners. But for Bay Area fans, this game holds some special significance. Would be nice to see it up and running again.

Healthy and happy birthday

Cal safety Stefan McClure, oft injured in his career with the Bears, tells Sportswatch.com he's 100 percent healthy and ready to make his move from cornerback to safety. (He also plugs his birthday).

Cal obviously suffered through a bumpy 2013. A lot of that had to do with injuries on defense. So a healthy McClure is welcome news for the Bears.

Oregon storylines

Aaron Fentress of Comcast Sportsnet broke down his big three major storylines of media days. His thoughts:
  1. Oregon picked first
  2. Marcus Mariota in high demand
  3. Derrick Malone making improvements
Strike a pose

Just because the Cardinal weren't on the podium Wednesday, doesn't mean they (and the other five teams) didn't have media days responsibilities. You can see Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan doing his best Blue Steel here:

 
Landing spot for Bruggman

Former Washington State quarterback Tyler Bruggman is going to land at Louisville, according to InsidetheVille.com.

In case you missed it a week ago, Ted Miller broke down what that means for the Cougs.

Enjoy Day 2! We'll be tweeting again all day.

Video: Oregon coach Mark Helfrich

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
10:34
PM ET
video
Chantel Jennings talks to Oregon Ducks coach Mark Helfrich at Pac-12 media day.

Media Days takeaways: Day 1

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
8:57
PM ET
Some thoughts, observations and musings about Day 1 of Pac-12 media days from the Pac-12 blog's Kevin Gemmell, Kyle Bonagura and Chantel Jennings.

Biggest football-centric takeaway?

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsRich Rodriguez said on Wednesday that he hasn't determined who will start at QB for Arizona this fall.
Kevin Gemmell: Arizona still doesn’t have a quarterback. Not that that’s shocking. We knew it was going to take awhile for Rich Rodriguez to find the right guy to run things in 2014. But with a really talented stable of wide receivers ready to break out and get all freaky on secondaries, you’d think he’d be at least a little bit closer to whittling down his pecking order. You’d be wrong: “Even if I knew who the starter was, I wouldn’t tell you all. Why would I tell you and tell our opponents? I really don’t know who not just No. 1 is, but I don’t know who No. 1, 2 or 3 is.” Maybe it’s a lot of coachspeak and he knows exactly what the offense will look like. Maybe he really doesn’t know. Feel like we’ve been here before …

Chantel Jennings: I knew there was a high interest in USC this year, but I guess I didn’t realize how high. The reporter crowd around Steve Sarkisian was about three times as large as for any other coach who attended today (including Mark Helfrich, whose team is the favorite for the Pac-12 title). Obviously, it’s USC and by nature, people will care. But with the program being back on track, a new coach, some exciting players and a new offensive scheme, the Trojans are going to be in a complete pressure cooker. Quarterback Cody Kessler talked about how last year -- and the amount of change and adversity they faced -- will help them this season. Yes, certainly the whole “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” argument is valid. But how much stronger is USC? And are the Trojans strong enough to put up a fight in the South? Are they strong enough to handle the growing pains under a first-year coach? Are they strong enough to handle the increasingly high expectations of the public?

Kyle Bonagura: When it comes to quarterback play, believe the hype. And while, by nature, these types of events exist almost primarily to generate hype, everyone seemed to be in agreement that the quarterbacks have a chance to be considered one of the best conference groups in college football history. That’s not hyperbole, either. There have been comparable years if you take a look at the top five or six, maybe, but to have 10 returning quarterbacks — and so many decorated players among that group — might be unmatched.

Biggest nonfootball takeaway

Gemmell: Oregon and Washington fans might not like this, but the chances their bitter rivalry will grow frostier are slim. When asked about his relationship with new Washington coach Chris Petersen, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich offered this: “My relationship with Pete will be great forever. I’m going to hate him on certain days and some days he’ll hate me, whether it’s recruiting or on game day. But the guy is a lifelong friend of mine and that won’t change. I know that’s going to make both of our fan bases very unhappy.” But it’s oh-so bromantic.

Jennings: The event today had a few different activities set up for the players, including a game of corn hole (for you non-Midwesterners, you’ll know this as "the game with the angled boards with holes in them that you try to get bean bags in"). I, myself, am a connoisseur of the sport and will challenge anyone. However, I wasn’t too impressed with some of the guys and coaches playing today. Especially some of the QBs. You can throw a football 60 yards, but you can't toss a bean bag 20 feet? C’mon.

Bonagura: The conference’s new buzzword is “innovation.” Commissioner Larry Scott used it nine times in his lengthy opening remarks to begin the day and seems focused on using the conference’s home near Silicon Valley to help aid the use of technology in as many ways as possible. He specifically referred to a partnership with AT&T, Sporting Innovations and Stanford that includes the development of an app that will supposedly make more information — videos, stats, etc. — more accessible to fans while in attendance. I’ll take a wait-and-see approach on how innovative this innovation ends up being, but long term it’s not a bad thing.

Best quote of the day

Gemmell: Had a nice little chat with WSU linebacker Darryl Monroe about the fallout from the bowl game and what he thinks when he hears someone use the expression, "Coug’d it": “For me, Coug’d should mean you just went out there and dominated. I don’t understand where this impression of 'Coug’d it' means you did something in a negative light. Maybe the Urban Dictionary should think about rewriting that definition to 'Coug’d it means completely dominated your opponent.'”

Jennings: Can we just insert Mike Leach’s news conference transcript here? (Follow up: Can we just give Mike Leach a reality TV show?) But really, to give you the full experience … I walked up to the media scrum midway through Leach’s news conference. This is the exact moment I walked in. Enjoy.

“The gnats rarely got too hot, I guess. And then finally this one high school coach, as I'm recruiting there, he says, 'Try this.' Now I have big, old fat lips, so it didn't work very good. But he could fire up a little pucker, kind of blow the gnats off, then they had Skin So Soft [lotion], which is big. And I don't know what that is, but evidently gnats don't like it. They rub that all over [their faces]. But it looked kind of oily, you know? What I think is the gnats don't care about it, but it probably puts a little sheet of oil on there so it's harder to bite you. You don't feel the bite. That's just one guy's theory. I'm sure I'm wrong.”

Bonagura: “We've got a brand-new facility that's great, but everybody's got new stuff. Oregon changes it out like Porta-Potties. Like every four or five years like we need a new this, and they go do it.” -- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez on the facilities arms race in the conference

A couple of things to address here: (1) He’s right. As a whole, the conference has done a great job upgrading its facilities across the board. It’s nearly impossible to get a sense of how each construction project has helped each individual school — mainly from a recruiting standpoint — because it’s about keeping up with the Joneses as much as anything. (2) Who knew RichRod had a working knowledge of Porta-Potty lifespans?

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota, a topflight NFL prospect, said he isn't sure if he will turn pro after this season.
Best lie of the day

Jennings: Marcus Mariota said he hasn’t made his mind up on whether or not he’d leave for the NFL after this season. Now, I will say that this is a hard case because it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. If he came in and said, “Yep, no matter what happens, I’m out,” then he’d be criticized. So I’m not necessarily criticizing him for this -- he’s saying what he needed to say and that’s the right thing to do. But the moment it came out of his mouth, all the reporters silently went, “Riiiiiiiiiiiight.”

Bonagura: Agree wholeheartedly with Jennings. When asked if this will be his final year at Oregon, Mariota simply replied: “I’m not sure.” He sounded sincere, too, but it’s tough to envision a scenario in which he’s not beginning training camp with an NFL team at this time next year. Seeing one of the best talents in college football pass up potentially becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft back-to-back seasons doesn’t happen.

Gemmell: Have to agree with my colleagues. It was nice for Mariota to say there is a chance he could come back for another season. And everyone in emerald land just got all giddy at the prospect of maybe seeing Mariota rocking the "O" beyond 2014. But I think we all know it ain't going to happen. He took out an insurance policy for a reason. Enjoy him while you can for now, Oregon fans. Because he's as good as gone.

Which player made a good impression on you?

Gemmell: I’ve long been a fan of Connor Halliday’s play. Is he reckless sometimes? Sure. Does he throw too many interceptions? Yeah. But I also like a guy who will throw a pick and then on the next drive make the exact same throw for a 60-yard touchdown. I like the moxie. And I thought that confidence came through during his podium session. He fielded all of the questions about turnovers and bowl games and still had time to crack wise about his head coach. You need poise to play for Mike Leach. And Halliday showed me a little of that today.

Jennings: Utah WR Dres Anderson isn’t a guy who has had a ton of media training or been in too many situations in which he’s crowded by the media. But even so, he handled it very gracefully. He was energetic, funny and engaging without seeming disingenuous (which some players do when they’re so over-the-top). He told anecdotes without needed to be asked, “OK, do you have any examples of that?” by reporters. He was a player who it seemed was really just having a bunch of good conversations with strangers.

Bonagura: Cal quarterback Jared Goff was in a tough spot last year getting thrown into the fire as a true freshman on a historically bad team, but you wouldn’t have known that based on his demeanor today. Goff was polished, personable and said all the things you’d want your team’s starting quarterback to say. If there were any doubts about how well he’d evolve into a leadership role, there shouldn’t be. With 10 returning starters at the position, Goff might fly under the radar in the conference, but he’s as talented a young quarterback as there is in the country and has a chance to compete statistically with the nation’s best.

And of course, no recap would be right without a series of Leach tweets:

video
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby pursed his lips at college football on Monday and announced that "cheating pays." He warned his quaking audience of reporters that NCAA "enforcement is broken." His conference made a mistake by not including ominous organ music to punctuate his remarks.

A week before, SEC commissioner Mike Slive, after quoting Muhammad Ali, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela, among others, sternly informed the media that the NCAA better provide the Big Five conferences autonomy so they can do what they want.

Or else.

ACC commish John Swofford went with snark. Hey, NCAA, he said, "The good ship Status Quo has sailed." If embattled NCAA president Mark Emmert were on stage, Swofford, the likely winner if the Big Five commissioners competed in a cage fight, would have given him a wedgie.

[+] EnlargeScott
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was all sunshine and smiles as he opened the Pac-12 media days Wednesday.
You can be sure when the Big Ten's maestro of dour, Jim Delany, takes the stage Monday, he will opt for a most vigorous finger shake at the NCAA after he references several important historical figures, so as not to yield any highfalutin ground to Slive and the SEC.

Ah, but out here on the lovely West Coast, we are more sunny. In contrast to his Grinch-like colleagues, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was positively ebullient as he addressed his gathered media throng. The Pac-12, he told us, is ... awesome. Pac-12 football? It's awesome, too. College football in general? While there are important challenges and changes ahead, it's, well, awesome!

"While I understand the concerns of my colleagues that have been expressed -- we've heard some doomsday and some threats over the last week," Scott said. "I am very confident and optimistic about where college sports is going and some of the recent reforms that we are seeing."

Curiously, the Big Five commissioners are pretty much on the same page and are almost certain to get what they want when the NCAA votes on granting them more autonomy in August. There is a general agreement among the Big Five on goals and how things will move forward. This contrast, then, was more about style and presentation. While other commissioners glowered, Scott and the Pac-12 went with the, to borrow a phrase from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," "let's not bicker and argue about who killed who ... this should be a happy occasion," approach.

Of course, Scott has reasons to be cheerful as he lauded his conference in Hollywood, "the entertainment capital of the world," and celebrated its new neutral site conference championship game at sparkly Levi's Stadium in Silicon Valley, "the innovation capital of the world."

His conference welcomes back 10 starting quarterbacks and an average of 15 starters per team. Several teams are worthy of a preseason rankings, including national-title contenders Oregon and UCLA. Further, there is an impressive handful of Heisman Trophy contenders, led by Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota.

"We had a record nine teams qualify for bowl games last season, the most in our history," Scott said. "Put simply, our conference has never been stronger or deeper than it is today, and that's why I'm filled with so much optimism as we look forward to the upcoming season."

Scott's address, which featured 4,400 words according to the official transcription, didn't mention the Pac-12 Network's inability to strike a deal with DirectTV. Scott was all about the positive. That included celebrating 10 new national titles -- though none in revenue-producing sports -- and lauding the conference's academics and programs for student-athlete welfare, noting the conference would invest $3.5 million in research aimed at improving the health and safety of athletes.

Scott's jauntiness was not without motive, which was notable as he gently chided the media to "resist the temptation to oversimplify these issues" brought to the public eye by the Ed O'Bannon versus the NCAA trial. He and the other commissioners, after all, are trying to pacify an athletic revolt, a storming of the NCAA's Bastille, if you will. While excited about potential reforms to college sports, Scott also again expressed concern about "radically changing the collegiate model into a professional model."

"From my vantage point, college athletics is working exceedingly well," said Scott, who is the highest paid conference commissioner, hauling in over $3 million in 2011-12, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Did Scott mention that the Pac-12 won 31 nonconference games, most in conference history, and went 6-3 in bowl games? But of course he did.

Scott was followed to the podium by Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, who immediately made the typically grumpy media feel right at home again.

Said Rodriguez, "I could be like every other coach in America and tell you how excited I am to be here, but that would be lying. Truth is, I'd rather still be on vacation or meeting with my coaches."

Rodriguez apparently didn't get the memo that everything, including Pac-12 media days, is awesome.

Fun in the photo booth, Pac-12 style

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
8:10
PM ET
The Pac-12 introduced some silliness to its media days, as players and coaches took a reprieve from media questioning to have some fun with the props and costumes in the league's selfie photo booth.

Marcus MariotaCourtesy of the Pac-12 Conference via Life of the Party PhotoboothsOregon's Derrick Malone and Marcus Mariota
 
USCCourtesy of the Pac-12 Conference via Life of the Party PhotoboothsUSC's Cody Kessler, Leonard Williams and Steve Sarkisian
 
Mike LeachCourtesy of the Pac-12 Conference via Life of the Party PhotoboothsWashington State's Darryl Monroe, Mike Leach and Connor Halliday
 
Dres AndersonCourtesy of the Pac-12 Conference via Life of the Party PhotoboothsUtah's Dres Anderson and Nate Orchard
 
HillCourtesy of the Pac-12 Conference via Life of the Party PhotoboothsArizona's Austin Hill and Jared Tevis
 
Jared GoffCourtesy of the Pac-12 Conference via Life of the Party PhotoboothsCal's Stefan McClure and Jared Goff
 

SPONSORED HEADLINES