Oklahoma State cornerback R.W. McQuarters had an interception and a touchdown catch in the 1997 Alamo Bowl.
During Oklahoma’s national championship run in 2000, Andre Woolfolk, as a wide receiver and cornerback, became the first Sooners player in 21 years to go both ways.
Bill Snyder utilized Kansas State cornerbacks Chris Canty and Terence Newman at receiver.
In 2014, Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams could become the next in a short line of Big 12 two-way players.
Williams has been the Red Raiders’ starting running back the past two seasons, but he spent spring ball exclusively at outside linebacker. Williams didn’t take part in Texas Tech’s spring game Saturday because of a minor injury. But he took snaps with the first-team defense all spring, and turned heads doing it.
“Kenny has done a great job coming over and learning the system,” said defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt. “He’s a football guy, so it doesn’t take him a whole lot of time. He sees everything, understands the concepts.”
The impetus for Williams expanding his football résumé began with a simple request before the spring. The Red Raiders graduated outside linebacker Terrance Bullitt, and Williams was looking to help every way he could. That included asking for an opportunity to boost the other side of the ball.
“I talked to Coach [Kliff] Kingsbury and Coach Wallerstedt, and basically told them, whatever the team needs, I’d be willing to do it,” Williams said. “I’ve always considered myself a defensive-minded person, so switching over to linebacker, I didn’t think it would be very hard for me. It’s kind of been like second nature.”
At first, the position switch seemed merely experimental. That's what spring ball is for. Williams had been a tackling machine on special teams for the Red Raiders, but learning linebacker in one spring appeared to be a monumental task. Yet, as the spring waned on, Williams showed his coaches and teammates he was a natural for the position.
“I think he’s a guy [who] can help us,” Wallerstedt said. “He played on all our special teams last year. He knows the offense cold. Kliff wouldn’t have given him the opportunity if he didn’t feel like he could miss reps at running back, and go back on offense and do what he does. With all these reps he’s been getting at linebacker in the spring, he’s going to be a guy we can count on.”
Though it’s possible -- if not probable -- that Williams ultimately ends up on one side of the ball or the other, Kingsbury and Williams both indicated the plan right now for next fall is to use him on both sides.
The Red Raiders have DeAndre Washington, who rushed for 450 yards backing up Williams in 2013, returning at running back. Sophomore Quinton White is primed for more playing time. Texas Tech will also add four-star signee Justin Stockton in the summer.
That depth gave the Red Raiders confidence they could try Williams on the defensive side. But Williams has also proven to be a key and reliable offensive weapon, rushing for 1,321 yards and 13 touchdowns the past two seasons. Williams has also been Texas Tech’s best pass protector among the running backs, and it’s no secret Red Raiders can ill-afford for Davis Webb to get injured as the only experienced quarterback on the roster.
“I’m willing to go from starting offense over to defense, or starting defense over to offense,” Williams said. “Wherever I can get in and help.”
There’s precedent for a player taking on both running back and linebacker in the modern game. UCLA’s Myles Jack was named the Pac-12 offensive and defensive freshman of the year last season while manning both linebacker and later running back for the Bruins.
The next few months will dictate if Williams can become Texas Tech’s version of Jack. But coming out of the spring, one valuable Red Raider has the chance to become even more valuable next season.
“We have a lot of time to really push the envelope with this,” Wallerstedt said. “We’ll have to see how we end up defensively. … we’ll know more in August camp.
“But saying we could only have him 25 snaps, would we take him? Certainly. He’s the type of kid who’s going to do whatever it takes to help his football team, whether that’s offense, defense or the kicking game.”
Sophomore Chad Kelly was dismissed from the team Monday for what coach Dabo Swinney called, “conduct detrimental to the program,” after a sideline altercation between Kelly and coaches proved the last straw for the hot-headed QB.
“He has had a pattern of behavior that is not consistent with the values of our program,” Swinney said.
The personality conflicts come as no surprise to Clemson coaches, who hoped Kelly would mature throughout the QB battle this offseason, but that didn’t happen -- at least not at a rate fast enough for Swinney.
But Kelly’s dismissal couldn’t have been an easy decision. While senior Cole Stoudt and early enrollee Deshaun Watson are both capable alternatives, Morris gave Kelly every chance to win the job this spring -- even making scrimmages live for QBs so Kelly could showcase his mobility -- because his skill set was a closer fit for what the Tigers want to do offensively.
Morris said prior to Clemson’s first scrimmage of the spring that: “We have to be able to adapt to the personnel we have. If it’s Cole, he’s not quite the runner that Chad and Deshaun are, and we have to adapt to him. … If it’s Chad or Deshaun, you might be more zone-read than you are anything.”
Under Morris, Clemson has used QB runs effectively, and Kelly offered the Tigers their best chance to continue to do that.
Last season, only Maryland and Wake Forest (two of the ACC’s worst rushing offenses) had a higher percentage of their rushing yards come from quarterbacks. Only Duke and Maryland had a higher percentage of rushing touchdowns come from their quarterbacks. Mobility was important for Clemson, and Stoudt -- the presumed starter now -- doesn’t have much of it.
So what does that mean for the Tigers’ offense going forward?
As Morris indicated, the personnel and the playbook will need to be tweaked some to fit Stoudt’s skill set, but that doesn’t necessarily mean massive overhaul. While Tajh Boyd was an effective runner, a closer look at Morris’ play-calling shows that, even with a mobile QB, Clemson’s reliance on Boyd’s legs wasn’t excessive.
In 2013, Clemson’s QBs accounted for just 30 percent of the team’s rush attempts (not counting sacks), good for seventh in the ACC and well within the median group. Overall, just 14.6 percent of the Tigers’ total plays last year were QB runs -- roughly the same rate as NC State, UNC, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Duke. And those zone-reads Morris figured could be a crucial part of the playbook with Kelly at QB? According to ESPN Stats & Info, it was hardly a factor with Boyd running the show a year ago.
Yes, Clemson would’ve loved to have a quarterback who could make plays with both his feet and his arm, and Kelly certainly fit the bill. But in the end, the potential didn’t outweigh his combustible personality. And there’s no reason to assume the Tigers can’t win with a less nimble runner. After all, the four ACC teams that ran their quarterbacks the least in 2013 all made bowl games, including national champion Florida State. And while Clemson’s stable of running backs was beleaguered by injuries a year ago, the depth chart at the position projects as a serious strength for the Tigers’ offense in 2014.
And Kelly’s departure also assures one other thing: Watson, the freshman early enrollee who missed the spring game with a minor injury, won’t be redshirted this year. While Morris has suggested Watson has an uphill battle to master the playbook in time to win the starting job, Kelly’s loss virtually guarantees Watson will get routine playing time, and he’s more than capable of being that same dual-threat weapon in Clemson’s backfield. And given Watson’s profile as a star of the future, getting him on the field in small doses behind Stoudt could prove a major bonus in the long run.
WACO, Texas -- Last season, Baylor won 11 games, claimed a Big 12 championship and played in a BCS bowl game -- all first-time accomplishments for the once-woebegone program.
But as much as the Bears accomplished last season -- they also scored more points (52.4 per game) and gained more yards (618.8) than any other FBS team in the country –- their last performance left a bitter taste in their mouths.
Kind of like Texas dust.
After starting the 2013 season with a 9-0 record and then beating then-No. 25 Texas 30-10 to win a Big 12 championship, the Bears were embarrassed in a 52-42 loss to Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The Knights, who were 17-point underdogs, piled up 556 yards of offense and scored on four straight possessions after Baylor tied the score at 28 in the third quarter. The Bears were penalized 17 times for 135 yards.
Baylor coach Art Briles and his players haven’t forgotten the ugly loss more than five months after the bitter defeat in the Arizona desert. It figures to provide the Bears with plenty of motivation as they head into an unexpected Big 12 title defense this coming season.
“I don’t know how you describe sickening,” Briles said. “You hate to have your motivation fueled by getting slapped in the face, but that’s kind of what happened. We know [UCF] has a good football team, but we had to listen to how good we were for more than a month. Sometimes, reality isn’t perception. There was a hungry team on the field and a happy one on the field. We were the happy one.”
While its lackluster performance in the Fiesta Bowl might have sullied what had been a magical season, Baylor will enter the 2014 season as the team to beat in the Big 12. For a program that hadn’t been to a bowl game for 13 consecutive seasons when Briles arrived in 2008, it’s a rare position for the Bears.
“I think we take being the Big 12 champions as a challenge,” Baylor receiver Levi Norwood said. “Guys are targeting us and wanting what we have. We have to go out and do it again. We all know that when we got here, we weren’t that good and it’s not normal for us to be winning. We’re trying to make it normal.”
There’s nothing normal about Baylor under Briles. The Bears bring back much of the offense that shattered nearly every school record last season, although they’ll miss leading rusher Lache Seastrunk (1,177 yards with 11 touchdowns in 2013), All-America guard Cyril Richardson and receiver Tevin Reese (38 catches for 867 yards with eight touchdowns).
Petty, a senior from Midlothian, Texas, is back after completing 62 percent of his passes for 4,200 yards with 32 touchdowns and three interceptions in his first season as a starter.
“He needs to be better and he should be,” Briles said. “He’s expected to be better. You can have a lot of money, but you can’t buy experience. Some things should happen on pre-snap reads. We should know what happens before it happens. He’s a good player and a great leader. That’s why he’s who he is.”
Petty will be surrounded by plenty of proven playmakers in Briles’ high-octane offense. All-America receiver Antwan Goodley is back after catching 71 passes for 1,339 yards with 13 touchdowns last season, and three other Bears wideouts caught at least 32 passes. Tailback Shock Linwood returns after running for 881 yards with eight touchdowns.
“We’ve got some people who can play,” Briles said. “We feel really good about everybody who is around [Petty] offensively. We can be very diverse with everybody around him.”
“The Bears must replace seven starters on defense, but Briles feels much better about his defensive front. Boise State transfer Sam Ukwuachu and sophomore tackle Javonte Magee, who sat out last season after unexpectedly leaving the team, are expected to bolster the defensive front.
I had to be reminded that we won a Big 12 title. I didn't even remember it because of what happened in the bowl game, and it's the best thing that's happened to Baylor football in a long time.” -- Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty
“You’d have to shake the tree pretty hard to find three or four universities that have what we have up front,” Briles said.
Now, Briles’ challenge is to make sure his team doesn’t become complacent after last season’s unexpected success.
“That’s the first thing we talked about when we got back to campus,” Briles said. “We had to learn and grow up. We thought we were an accomplished football team and program. We lost [our edge] and got happy. We have to stay humble.”
If the Bears don’t, they might be a one-hit wonder. The Big 12 figures to be even more rugged this coming season. Oklahoma stunned Alabama 45-31 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to finish 11-2 last season, and former Louisville coach Charlie Strong replaced longtime Texas coach Mack Brown.
“To be honest, we got too happy with where we were,” Petty said. “We became complacent. Every game is a big game that you have to prepare for as a hunter. We kind of bought into what everybody was saying about us, and unfortunately UCF put us in our place. You don’t lose; you learn. We learned a lot from that game, and we’re not going to let it happen again. When you’re building a tradition and dynasty, you can’t talk about complacency. It’s not something that Coach Briles is going to allow.”
The Bears open the 2014 season against SMU on Aug. 31 at McLane Stadium, their new $260 million riverfront stadium. They’ll play at Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma and versus Texas Tech in Dallas -- opponents they defeated at home last year.
“I think it’s always tough,” Briles said. “If we jump back a year ago, I don’t think people were picking us to be an outright champion. We’ve got to lock our doors and windows. Everybody is coming for us, but we’re going to protect what we got.”
After two years in his new league and a 6-12 record in Big 12 play, TCU coach Gary Patterson knew it was time for a new approach.
He went out and landed a pair of offensive coordinators who know Big 12 ball to design a hybrid Oklahoma State-Texas Tech scheme that Patterson says will still have “some of the old TCU” in the run game.
But this is the new TCU. No playbook, no huddle, no looking back.
The struggles of 2013 weren’t the lone motivator for Patterson’s change of plans, but the evidence was hard to ignore. Last season, TCU’s offense hit 10-year lows in points per game (25.1) and yards per play (5.03) and 10-year highs in turnovers (30) and three-and-outs (49).
The Horned Frogs had an offense that averaged 8.8 points in the first half of games, behind an offensive line that Patterson admits got “pushed around” at times due to injuries and departures. You can’t keep up with high-speed Big 12 offenses that way.
Another motivator? Patterson’s belief that a seemingly unexciting Horned Frogs offense wasn’t helping his cause in recruiting.
“I had watched too many skill players leave the city. Right now, they don’t know what this offense is about,” Patterson said. “Right now, they think TCU has a defensive coach. But to be honest with you, I have no problem winning 45-31.”
He’s putting his full trust in Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie to build up the new-look offense, so much so that Patterson says he’s taken a hands-off approach to the transition. He just tried to defend it in spring practice, and that wasn’t fun.
Meacham spent eight years learning and teaching one of the nation’s finest spread offenses at Oklahoma State, then left to run his own at Houston in 2013. TCU’s new playcaller has already served as an OC at five other schools in his career.
He’ll collaborate with Cumbie, a Mike Leach disciple who coached the past four years at Texas Tech and will oversee the TCU quarterbacks.
As Tech’s quarterback in 2004, Cumbie put up 70 points on the Frogs -- two touchdowns more than a Patterson-led TCU team has ever given up. And yes, that came up in the job interview.
Both are respected offensive minds and recruiters in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and previous coordinators Rusty Burns and Jarrett Anderson are still on staff and have a say in game plans.
“Their relationship is awesome,” Patterson said. “I think the whole group has meshed real well. They’ve brought a lot of energy and new ideas.”
“It’s not so much you don’t know what’s coming, but can you out-execute it?” Patterson said. “It’ll be very important for us to be able to run the football, because I think going in that’s where our strengths are -- our offensive line and our running backs and our quarterback can run, especially Trevone [Boykin].”
The offensive line should be better and much, much bigger. Six of TCU’s best exiting spring ball -- Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Tayo Fabuluje, Frank Kee, Matt Pryor, Joseph Noteboom and Aviante Collins -- average 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds.
TCU’s top running backs all got hurt in spring ball -- literally -- but there are options there with B.J. Catalon, Aaron Green, Kyle Hicks, incoming freshman Shaun Nixon and a few others.
At receiver, Patterson says TCU has the guys needed to stretch a defense. Whether or not Brandon Carter returns, the staff is excited about speedsters like Deante' Gray and Kolby Listenbee and incoming freshmen Emanuel Porter and Corey McBride to go along with David Porter, Josh Doctson, Cameron Echols-Luper, Ty Slanina and Jordan Moore.
“I think we’ll have enough weapons to be able to move the football,” Patterson said.
Quarterback is still the question mark, especially if the versatile Boykin isn’t the choice. No matter who runs the show, the initial goal will be simple: first downs, points and a tempo that causes trouble.
“They’ve been awfully fast this spring,” Patterson said. “The biggest thing is to go fast enough to make people uncomfortable.”
That, after all, is the goal here: An offense that can prove as challenging as Patterson’s stingy defenses. The Horned Frogs’ mission for transformation isn’t guided by some sort of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” sentiment.
No, this is adaptation, and it’s necessary. After its first two Big 12 seasons ended in frustration, TCU is working on a new way to beat ‘em.
But come fall, in his words, it’s on.
“I’m going to run angry next season, and everybody’s going to know about it,” said Davis, who received only minimal contact this spring after rushing for 1,183 yards a year ago in his first season as the Gamecocks’ starting running back.
A second-team All-SEC selection as a sophomore, Davis was one of the breakthrough players of the year in the league. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry and rushed for 100 yards in seven of his first nine games.
But when November arrived, Davis was running on fumes. He injured his shoulder and ribs against Mississippi State, but it was a bum right ankle that he couldn’t shake.
Davis finished with 203 carries. The only two backs in the SEC (playing in 12 or fewer games) who carried it more were Tennessee’s Rajion Neal (215) and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon (207). By the time Davis got to Florida, Clemson and Wisconsin, all three with stout run defenses, he didn’t look like the same player.
He was still running as hard, but the wear and tear from the season had obviously taken a huge toll.
“I was hurting, but I was still playing,” Davis said. “That’s the time of year a lot of guys are hurting. But you keep going. You’re playing for the guys around you.”
Some of the best news for Davis is that he will have more guys around him at running back in 2014. He won’t have to carry it as much during the early part of the season, meaning he should be fresh for the stretch drive.
Junior Brandon Wilds is healthy again, and the Gamecocks also like junior Shon Carson’s versatility. One of the most physically impressive backs on campus is redshirt freshman David Williams, who has explosive speed.
“When one person is beat up, another can come in and our offense is still going to run the same,” Davis said. “We will be the same offense. We have four guys who can play for anybody.
“Brandon Wilds has done a great job. Shon Carson is killing it this offseason, and David Williams is a freak athlete. He has everything you want in a running back -- size and power -- and his speed will wow you with how big he is.”
The centerpiece of that deep running back stable, though, will remain the same -- No. 28.
And despite his 1,000-yard season last season, Davis still carries a big chip on his shoulder. It goes back to his recruitment.
The Lithonia, Ga., native was committed to Florida for several months, but he soured on the Gators when he found out they were also trying to recruit Keith Marshall late in the process.
“I talked to Keith Marshall, and he told me they sent the whole coaching staff to his house, and they told me that they didn’t,” said Davis, whose other brother, James Davis, played at Clemson.
“I knew Florida was going to take two running backs, and I knew Matt Jones wasn’t going to change his mind. I had asked if they were recruiting other running backs beside us, and they told me no. But when I found out they sent all their coaches to [Marshall’s] house for an in-home visit and only the tight ends coach to my house, I felt very disrespected.”
Davis decommitted from Florida soon after and told South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward privately that he would sign with the Gamecocks. Ward had stuck with Davis through the whole recruiting process and they shared a strong bond.
“Of course, that didn’t mean the recruiting drama was completely over.
We will be the same offense. We have four guys who can play for anybody.” -- South Carolina running back Mike Davis, on the running backs who will be his backups in 2014
“Georgia came -- all the teams did toward the end -- but it was too late,” Davis said. “I looked at it like, ‘I’m in Georgia. I’m one of the top running backs. How come I’m just getting an offer from UGA?’ With, Clemson, my brother went there. So I was like, ‘Why are you just now hopping on?’
“They were all too late to the game. I think they looked at me as a backup plan, that they’d go recruit other guys and if they didn’t get them, they’d go get me. That’s how I looked at it.
“But I’m nobody’s backup plan.”
Davis bulked up to more than 220 pounds this spring but wants to play at around 215. He said he was between 205 and 210 last season.
“You’re going to see a totally different person. I’m not going to lie,” Davis said. “I did a lot to help myself and better myself this offseason, trying to stay healthy. I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been, and being around our guys has helped me be a better teammate.”
Davis will be running behind one of the better offensive lines in the SEC. The Gamecocks return four starters, and senior guard A.J. Cann said blocking for a guy like Davis makes their jobs easier.
“That first hit, he’s not coming down,” Cann said. “Unless you clip him by his ankles, he might fall. But if you go at him up high, I don’t think he’s coming down. He runs angry, and he runs mean.”
The meanest version may be yet to come, although Davis will measure himself by how many games the Gamecocks win next season, and more specifically, whether they can break through and win a first SEC championship.
“If you want to be great, then you’re going to do whatever it takes to help your team win,” Davis said. “It’s not about wowing people, but you do want them to come away saying, ‘Why is he running so hard? He has that extra oomph.’
“That’s how I want to run on every carry.”
2. Junior Maximo Espitia came to Cal after playing fullback at an Oregon high school. He got issued a running back’s number (No. 19), and then former Bears coach Jeff Tedford moved him to tight end. Tedford got fired, and his replacement, Sonny Dykes, shifted Espitia to inside receiver. Late in the nightmare of last season, when Cal went winless against FBS opponents, Espitia moved to safety to plug a hole in the depth chart. This spring, he is playing linebacker. At least he knows everyone on the team now.
3. I understand why Notre Dame is installing FieldTurf at Notre Dame Stadium. After resodding the field three times last year, the athletic department might be sick of fertilizer. But what I love about Notre Dame is the lengths the university has gone to maintain the stadium's look and feel as it did when Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz coached there. Virtually no signage, no field paint, and, yes, a grass field. Oh well.
Clemson quarterback Chad Kelly introduced himself to fellow quarterback Cole Stoudt in unabashed fashion in January 2012, before he even put on a Tigers uniform:
"Your on the bench for a reason. And i come soon! Just letting you know," Kelly tweeted.
Kelly was kicked off the team on Monday “for conduct detrimental to the program.” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney referenced a “pattern of behavior that is not consistent with the values of our program.” In a twist of either irony or fate, Stoudt is now left as the undisputed front-runner to replace record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd as Clemson’s new starting quarterback this fall. Kelly’s career ended before it ever really started -- more snippets and quotes than snaps -- and what was once an intriguing three-man race this spring has ended with one healthy quarterback and an early enrollee freshman who is out with a broken collarbone.
The news comes just two days after a disastrous spring game performance in which Kelly wasn’t just outplayed by Stoudt, he was also benched for the entire second half after he gave the coaches an earful about opting to punt on a fourth-and-short. Kelly completed 10 of 18 passes for 113 yards and two interceptions, but was judged as much for his sideline demeanor and frustrations as he was the throw into double coverage. It's unfortunate, really, because what happened on Saturday wasn't indicative of Kelly's entire spring, which was good enough to keep it an interesting competition heading into summer camp. Stoudt, meanwhile, went 15-for-23 for 158 yards with two touchdown passes in the spring game.
And we’ve barely heard a peep from him about it.
With Kelly’s departure and the injury to freshman Deshaun Watson, who is expected to be healthy in time for summer camp, Clemson’s quarterback competition has essentially solved itself. The luxury to redshirt Watson is gone, and while the position’s depth took an unquestioned hit, it was a coaching decision that could wind up to be addition by subtraction. Clemson was looking for a leader as much as it was a starting quarterback, and they've found it in Stoudt. The overconfident Kelly, who has his own rap song, “Chad Kelly,” tweeted as a recruit that he wasn’t coming to Clemson “just to sit on the bench” and yet that’s exactly where he found himself in the second half on Tuesday.
Following the spring game, Kelly wasn’t made available to speak to reporters.
Apparently, he has said enough.
Somehow, Florida State and Miami both just won.
The rivals recently unveiled their new uniforms, and neither one opted for an outlandish, over-the-top style, instead choosing to stick with tradition and class. That, in itself, was refreshing. Unlike the dreadful first Maryland Pride uniforms, Florida State and Miami both managed to preserve their history while at the same time get an upgrade. FSU released garnet, white and black uniforms, while Miami will have four new looks: The orange jersey, “Juice”; the white jersey, “Storm Trooper"; a green jersey, “Surge”; and a new alternate anthracite “Smoke” jersey. At home, the Canes will wear orange. The 'U' logo on the palms of the gloves is a creative touch, but overall it's a simple, sleek and clean look that doesn't lose any of its edge.
It's good timing for both programs for different reasons. As defending national champs, Florida State has a new look -- one that's in the spotlight again as the nation's premier program. For Miami, the tumultuous days of the NCAA investigation are finally behind it, and the Hurricanes got a fresh start.
“These young men, who unselfishly guided us through some very dark days, now display a renewed attitude and spirit," Miami coach Al Golden said in a statement. "These new uniforms capture that outlook."
"These uniforms really enhance and embody the Seminole tribe," coach Jimbo Fisher told his team, "which is what we all represent. Without them, we wouldn't be the Florida State Seminoles."
Check 'em out, and cast your votes to let us know what you think.
Jamrog clutched a bundle of papers, held tight in his right arm three hours prior as the assistant athletic director for football operations walked alongside cat-cradling Nebraska coach Bo Pelini to lead the team out of its locker room for the most unusual Tunnel Walk ever.
“If you’ve got any more ideas...,” said Jamrog, a former Division II head coach, Nebraska assistant and ex-Husker walk-on- turned-academic-All-American.
Just call him the Idea Man. The actual mastermind of this cat-themed offseason remains a secret between Pelini, his players and staff. It began with a Twitter bang by Pelini during the BCS title game and picked up steam on the recruiting trail.
When asked where the ideas were born to pull the mask off the old, frowning coach to reveal this fun and open side, they all say it just happened naturally.
It’s something that’s always been there,” Bell said.
Perhaps. You can bet, though, just about anything outside the box of this normally buttoned-up program passed the desk of Jamrog, who promoted Twitter handles of I-back Ameer Abdullah and linebacker Josh Banderas while explaining practice drills during breaks in the Saturday scrimmage.
The script was likely detailed in that bundle of papers.
Pelini said he nixed an idea to wear a sweater, a la his popular alter-ego. I’d like to know what else didn’t make the cut.
Regardless, keep it up, within reason. Even if the cat humor has run its course, continue to find ways to engage this fan base. Memorial Stadium on Saturday held a crowd of 61,772, most of whom paid $10 plus parking to watch a circus-like scrimmage.
Nebraska fans are hungry to see the human side of their coach and players. They’re more hungry, of course, for the next championship, but the past 3 ½ months -- on the heels of a difficult finish to the 2013 regular season -- have provided a nice diversion.
We’ve seen Pelini reunite a U.S. Army sergeant with his wife and support basketball coach Tim Miles, who was ejected in Nebraska’s return to the NCAA tournament last month.
This spring, Pelini opened practices to the media. He said he’ll likely keep it up in August. He answered all questions in a thoughtful manner. He joked on Saturday about his dogs’ reaction to the cat stunt. He teased Bell, who schooled the coach in the goal-post throwing contest, over the receiver’s poor form.
Clearly, Pelini and the people close to him have made an effort turned the page from last season, stained by the coach’s post-Thanksgiving outbursts on the field and in the press conference after Iowa beat Nebraska on senior day.
“I’m not doing anything really different,” Pelini said in response to a question on Saturday about the lighter mood around his team.
If it feels different, fine, he said, but that’s not his intention.
“We’re trying to make sure we handle our business and enjoy the game,” Bell said. “You’ve gotta remember, football’s fun.
“You can forget that with all the crap you’ve got to deal with sometimes.”
But will all of the fun and goodwill matter to the football-watching public next fall, when the spotlight shines so much more brightly? Will we even remember this new-look Bo if the Huskers play poorly at home against Miami or fail to win the Big Ten West?
The answer to both: Probably not.
Still, Pelini sets the tone for the Huskers, inside the locker room and out. If he’s more comfortable living under the microscope, his players might be, too. That could help on the field in the fall.
It’s an idea.
If you’ve got any others, Jamrog is ready to listen.
The usual sledgehammer of a player -- so used to ramming through and trampling defenders – felt frail and out of shape during his first few spring practices. That came after he returned from complications stemming from a nagging ankle injury that plagued him for most of the 2013 season.
“The first three practices, every time somebody touched me I kept falling to the ground,” Gurley told ESPN.com last week. “… My legs were just weak.
Gurley, who has rushed for 2,374 career yards in two seasons with the Bulldogs, is a tank whose human side has failed him at times. He was held out of postseason workouts and drills as he tried to recover from a 15-inch high ankle sprain he originally suffered at the end of September in a back-and-forth win over LSU.
“That game, I felt perfect,” Gurley said with a hint of bitterness in his tone. “I felt perfect running and I was the right size and [had the right] speed. I felt like I was going to have one of the best games of my life. When it happened, I was like, ‘Dang.’”
Gurley missed three straight games after that -- a stretch in which Georgia went 1-2 -- and hasn’t been 100 percent since. A leaner Gurley hobbled into spring practice, but eyebrows were raised at the sense that Gurley wasn’t pushing himself hard enough and that his desire wasn’t there.
“The really great players, they have to love to practice,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.
“None of [them] has arrived. You have to work. You’re either going to get better or worse every day; you’re not going to stay the same. Him going out there and trying to get better every day is going to make him and us better.”
Gurley admits his energy was lacking. Spring practice wasn’t pressing or exciting. But the coaches needed more from Gurley, and a conversation between Gurley and head coach Mark Richt a week before the Bulldogs’ spring game helped deliver that.
“Even though he may feel that way, he still has to give effort on a daily basis to become great,” Richt said of Gurley’s early spring attitude. “Those were some of the things we talked about, and he was awesome with it and did well.”
Gurley showed more effort during the final week, pushing his two-hour practices to the limit, before capping the spring with 70 total yards of offense and a touchdown in Georgia’s spring game. His touches were limited, but he ran with fire and purpose. He pounded his teammates and fought for extra yards.
“Everything’s starting to get better, slowly but surely,” Gurley said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been healthy, but it’s slowly getting there.”
When Gurley is at his best, he’s in a class of his own. It’s rare for someone with his size (6-foot-1, 232 pounds) to cut and explode like he does. Gurley punishes defenders with his strength and embarrasses them with his moves and breakaway speed. He’d easily have more than just 13 career 100-plus-yard rushing games if his body would cooperate.
But Gurley’s physical side is only part of what could make him a truly special back. The way he carries himself and how he instructs those around him will go a long way as well.
This spring, his coaches pushed him to bring more energy and leadership. More of a leader by example, Gurley said he opened his mouth this spring. He got more serious and wanted to make sure younger players followed him for the right reasons.
“This Todd is doing a better job of leading,” quarterback Hutson Mason said. “We feel like as long as he’s in shape, he’s healthy and he’s strong, he’s the best back in the country.”
Aaron Murray is gone. Keith Marshall’s status is still up in the air after that devastating ACL injury. The spotlight is fixed on Gurley more than ever before, and he says he’s ready to shine even brighter in a year that could be his last in Athens.
That idea has served as a distraction. Gurley equates this upcoming season to his senior year in high school when some around him told him not to work as hard because he was already headed to college. Save his body, they said.
It makes sense to some, but that’s not Gurley’s concern, he said. He doesn’t want to take time or plays off to save up for the NFL. Gurley has more to prove. He wants more yards. He wants records. And he wants wins and at least one championship.
Resting won’t bring any of that.
“That’s never been the case for me,” Gurley said. “The NFL isn’t going anywhere. It’s not like I’m going to be getting drafted [this fall]. I just have to make sure I’m focused on now and getting better every day so that can help me out for my future and basically doing it for my team.”
It would only make sense that Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was ready to do it all again this spring.
“No, it’s not for me,” Sumlin said in March. “I’ll be honest with you, you guys know me, that second half [of spring games] goes real quick. I’m ready to get out of there.”
The spring game in many ways goes against the core belief of Sumlin, and really every coach, of using every practice to get better. So the Aggies went without a game this spring, and will do so again in 2015 as Kyle Field's renovations continue.
A handful of programs aren't holding spring games this year. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy did not plan a spring game, and Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst believed it wasn’t in the program’s best interest to have one, either.
Both Chryst and Gundy have young rosters. Only Utah State returns fewer starters than the Cowboys. Chryst is still trying to put his stamp on a program that has had more head coaches than winning seasons in the last decade, and he is breaking in a new quarterback. To Chryst and Gundy, it did not make sense to waste a practice day for a haphazard game.
“Truly looking at this from the inside of the program and what this group needs, it was, 'What’s the best use of the 15 opportunities we get in the spring,'” Chryst said. “I felt like we didn’t have a group where we’re going to take just one full day and scrimmage. Bottom line is we wanted to make sure we’re maximizing our opportunities.”
Two coaches not questioning a spring game finale are the leaders of programs with some of the best odds to win the first College Football Playoff. Both Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer are in favor of the model most programs still subscribe to: 14 practices, mix in a few scrimmages and hold a game at the end of camp. Fisher and Meyer believe it’s the only time in the spring to get an accurate read on how players react to a fall Saturday game atmosphere.
“What you get is the people in the stadium, you get pressure, you get outside people watching you get the lights on the scoreboard and [the game] matters,” Fisher told ESPN.com last week. “You get a game environment. It might not be the one in the fall, but it’s as close as you’ll ever get out in this practice field. To get a guy in front of 40,000 people and watch how they play in front of them, to me, I put more value in that.”
However, Meyer acknowledges the issues the modern-day spring game presents. Ohio State star quarterback Braxton Miller was out with an injury, but Joey Bosa, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington were healthy scratches. Fisher elected to sit starting running back Karlos Williams, leaving a fullback and a handful of walk-on running backs to carry the spring load Saturday. The sustainability of the spring game could come down to depth, but rosters are thinner with the 85 scholarship limit, and coaches are keeping their proven commodities out of harm’s way.
“Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said the lack of numbers at certain positions causes the few available players to “double dip” and play both sides, opening those few healthy players up to injury. The emphasis on preventing and identifying concussions has grown substantially in the last few years, and Blankenship added that “a lot more guys are missing practice today with concussion-related symptoms, and that’s been consistent across the board with other coaches I talk to.”
To get a guy in front of 40,000 people and watch how they play in front of them, to me, I put more value in that.” -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, on the value of spring games
Meyer said spring games are often a “great opportunity to get scout-team guys a chance to play,” which in itself can be considered an indictment of the spring game’s inherent value.
“One time at Florida we had only five or six offensive linemen and they had to play both ways,” Meyer said, “but the experience of playing in front of [fans], if you want to have a practice but arrange how the receiver has to be the guy, to be in coverage and catch a pass and hear the crowd, that’s real.”
There are only so many programs that consistently draw 30,000 or more fans for a spring game, though. Those other programs don’t have the benefit of putting their players in a game-day atmosphere when only a few thousand fans fill the bleachers.
Blankenship understands he needs to promote his Tulsa program and bring in as many fans as possible. So last year, they tried a new spring game model. Instead of a traditional game of the roster being split, Blankenship operates on only 50 percent of the field and allows fans to sit on the other side of the 50 to get a more intimate view. The game resembles more of a practice as the team works on situations such as red zone and fourth down instead of keeping score.
A piece of him still wants a sound 15th practice, though.
“I do think [the spring game] is worth it from the fan standpoint,” he said, “but the coach in me would like to have another practice.”
“It’s a complete home run,” Dennard said. “After what we’ve built, it’d be hard to scale it down. People have come to expect this to be a big deal. It’s an investment into the future of our program.”
While Pittsburgh has struggled to draw fans for its spring games in recent years, Chryst was still cognizant of the program’s fans when he decided to cancel the spring game. So Chryst met with the marketing department at Pitt and helped introduce a football clinic for young players and offensive and defensive breakdowns of the Panthers’ schemes for the Xs-and-Os fan.
“It was different at first and people said, ‘What, no spring game?’ But when Coach Chryst announced the Field Pass, the response was overwhelming,” said Chris Ferris, associate athletic director for external relations at Pitt.
Could that union of a standard 15th practice with an added day of fan interaction be the union that seals the fate of spring games? Maybe.
“I think it is,” Blankenship said. “We’re much closer to that in our part of the country. I think the tradition of the spring game is something we’re all kind of tied to, but we’re all figuring out there’s a better way.”
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer seemed to be guarding a secret, and it couldn’t be deciphered by reading between the lines.
The Ohio State coach joked about being a little bored by his spring game, expressed some frustration about the lack of offensive execution and stressed that there was plenty of work to do at a few key positions heading into the offseason.
But the truth about how good his third team at Ohio State might be was tucked away on the sidelines, leaving little to truly evaluate between them as the Gray beat the Scarlet 17-7 on Saturday at the Horseshoe. And based on the number of players he held out of the spring-closing scrimmage, it might be a safe bet that Meyer is actually feeling pretty good about what he has returning in the fall.
“... We all know what we saw out there. It’s not the Ohio State Buckeyes.”
Exhibition games rarely provide much of a reliable gauge for how good a team might truly be, and in the case of the Buckeyes, that might have been by design.
Braxton Miller was already on the shelf as he finishes up his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. Having the two-time defending Big Ten player of the year and a three-year starter at quarterback out of the equation obviously changes the complexion of the Ohio State offense. Cardale Jones was productive enough throughout camp to win the backup job, but his 14-of-31 passing performance Saturday was yet another reminder of the importance of having a healthy Miller to lead the attack.
Meyer indicated there was some uncertainty about his receiving corps after the spring game, but he had enough faith in Devin Smith and Dontre Wilson that he didn’t feel the need to press either of them into action over the weekend -- aside from a cameo appearance by the latter in a race against students at halftime.
And after watching what could be one of the most talented defensive lines in the country terrorize a rebuilding offensive line throughout camp over the last month, Meyer certainly didn’t need to see any more from Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett or Adolphus Washington to boost his confidence heading into the summer, adding to the list of starters who effectively were allowed to take the day off.
Cornerback Doran Grant was largely an observer as well, though he did make an appearance to win the halftime derby and became the “fastest student” on campus. Projected first-team guard Pat Elflein was a scratch, and presumptive starting running back Ezekiel Elliott only touched the football three times. Tight end Jeff Heuerman was on crutches after foot surgery, but he’ll be back in time for the conditioning program next month.
So while the game itself left little worth remembering aside from what appeared to be marked improvement and depth in the secondary and another handful of mesmerizing catches from Michael Thomas, there were actually clues littered around Ohio Stadium that Meyer is poised to unleash his most talented team since taking over the program in 2012 and rattling off 24 consecutive wins.
The trick was knowing where to look.
“[The spring game] was a chance to see some young guys [who] really haven’t played, and to be quite honest, I’m not sure how much they will play,” Meyer said. “This is a chance for a lot of guys in our program who work very hard, and to be able to get some guys play or catch a pass in Ohio Stadium or whatever, in the big picture it’s the right thing to do.
“It’s a great thrill for a lot of people.”
The real thrills, of course, don’t come for a few months. And based on the amount of players who didn’t get to actually step between the lines on Saturday, Meyer might not-so-secretly have plenty to be excited about by fall.
TUCSON, Ariz. -- It became clear this spring that senior Jesse Scroggins, a transfer from USC, is going to be Arizona's starting quarterback this fall.
Check that. Scroggins is still too inconsistent, see a bad interception in the spring game on Saturday. True Wildcats insiders know that coach Rich Rodriguez wants a guy who's smart and takes care of the football. That's clearly Texas transfer Connor Brewer, who makes up for a lack of arm strength with passing accuracy and good instincts.
Yawn. We've been talking to people who know people. It's impossible to ignore Jerrard Randall's upside. The LSU transfer has the biggest arm, despite a quirky throwing motion, and the quickness to run the spread-option.
OK, folks. We weren't going to say anything but we hate when misinformation gets out there on some message board. The real scuttlebutt concerns not merely an evaluation of the Wildcats' 15 spring practices but also a savvy projecting forward. The light has started to flicker for redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, and when it goes completely on, he's the guy who will be under center on Aug. 29 against UNLV.
While it's a good bet that Rodriguez and his QB coach/co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith have developed some idea of a pecking order this spring, you also get the feeling that even their takes have some fluidity.
“I’m not being coy," Rodriguez said after the spring game, seeming just a bit coy. "But I wanna see what they do in August and throughout the whole summer.”
What makes this competition so intriguing is whoever ends up winning the job is probably going to end up putting up A-list numbers, perhaps even breaking into the All-Pac-12 conversation with established stars such as Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and Oregon State's Sean Mannion.
Ridiculous? Not when you consider what Rodriguez and Smith have done with their past two first-year starters in Matt Scott and B.J. Denker, both of whom put up notable dual-threat numbers. And not when you consider the offensive supporting cast, particularly what might be the deepest crew of receivers in the country.
How deep? The Wildcats go at least eight-deep at the position, with their second four being comparable to many teams' starting four. How deep? One observer wondered whether Nate Phillips would fall into the top four. Phillips was only a freshman All-American last season, leading the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. How deep? It's likely a number of the receivers will see time at running back and even get looks in the secondary, an area where the Wildcats are far less capable.
"We have a good problem to have a wideout right now," Smith said. "We'd like to roll four out there, run them, run them, run them. And then roll four more out there and not miss a beat. That's kind of where they are at right now."
“Not only are six of the top seven receivers back from last season, but the Wildcats also welcome the return of Austin Hill, who put up huge numbers and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2012 before missing last season with a knee injury. Further, two transfers, DaVonte' Neal (Notre Dame) and Cayleb Jones (Texas) are big-time talents -- the Nos. 8- and 147-rated players in the nation in the 2012 recruiting class, according to ESPN.com -- who are likely to earn starting spots. Both scored impressive touchdowns in the spring game.
I'm not being coy. But I wanna see what they do in August and throughout the whole summer.” -- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, on his QB competition
While the Wildcats are replacing All-American running back Ka'Deem Carey, and that competition also continues to be wide open, there doesn't seem to be nearly as much intrigue there. Arizona's veteran offensive line is almost certain to make at least one of the backs a 1,000-yard rusher, though it appears there will be a far more committee approach than with Carey.
In terms of analyzing the general tenor of spring practices, there are some hints at what the coaches are thinking at QB. Scroggins, Solomon and Brewer -- coming out in that order in the spring game -- each worked with the first-team offense, while Randall saw action with the 2s.
Scroggins, as a senior, had the most to lose this spring. Therefore, his generally encouraging performance -- far more focused and efficient than he was last year while not putting up much of a challenge to Denker -- means he probably made up the most ground.
"He's gotten better," Rodriguez said. "We were really concerned whether Jesse could execute what we want from a mental and physical standpoint. That's the bottom line for all the guys. We had doubts coming into the spring. He erased some of them. Not all of them. But because he's gotten more comfortable with our plays and what it requires to execute them he's put himself in the mix."
Both Smith and Rodriguez also said it won't count against Scroggins that he's the only senior, though his winning the job would mean a fourth consecutive season with a first-year starter in 2015.
"Connor is a smart guy," Rodriguez said. "He's got a little bit of experience. He understands football. He's a competitive guy. But he's going to have -- I don't want to say be perfect -- but he has to execute because he's not going to be able to outrun or out-throw someone. But he does have some skills. He's helped himself this spring."
With Solomon, a redshirt freshman, there are undeniable flashes, but it's also clear Rodriguez and Smith are challenging his intensity, focus and dedication. They believe he coasted during his redshirt season, and both talk about him needing to reach "another level."
"Sometimes he fools us," Rodriguez said. "He knows more than we think he knows with the system, but he hasn't taken the next step."
Randall is the wild card. The other three QBs were in Tucson last fall. He's the only complete newbie to the offense. He's also pretty raw. But when he does something like, oh, casually flick the ball 70-plus yards, it's difficult to not raise an eyebrow.
"He's got an unbelievable arm, sometimes too strong," Rodriguez said. "He's got great quickness and can run. He's really done a good job. We've kind of forced-fed him. His head has probably been spinning in every practice. But the development he's made in 15 practices has been really good. Even though he's behind the other guys mentally, I think physically he makes up for it. He's going to be in the mix."
None of the quarterbacks were made available to the media after the spring game, and it's pretty clear the coaches and Arizona's sports information staff have done a thorough job of schooling players on not revealing a personal preference or hinting at a perceived pecking order. The furthest any would go was Hill admitting that he wished he knew the pecking order so he could prioritize whom he threw with over the summer.
So no clarity behind center. The Wildcats' deep and talented crew of receivers heads into the offseason, not unlike an orchestra awaiting a conductor.
Parody accounts on Twitter are hit or miss. Some are funny. Some are not.
The account Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini) is funny -- and a huge hit, based on its 85,000 followers.
You know who agrees? Apparently none other than Bo Pelini. As he and his Nebraska team entered the Memorial Stadium tunnel for Saturday afternoon's spring game, the head coach was carrying a cat.
Now we're ready for the #Huskers Spring Game. pic.twitter.com/XYUrYvMaelWhy is this funny? Check out the profile pic for @FauxPelini, who minutes later was willing to concede that the real Pelini had won the Internet on Saturday.
— Nebraska Huskers (@Huskers) April 12, 2014
Oh, and it gets better. Check out the video of the whole scene, as the real Pelini lifts up the cat in front of thousands of roaring Huskers fans, as if she was Simba being lifted up to the masses in "The Lion King."
.@BoPelini Fine, you can keep her
— Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini) April 12, 2014
Cue up the "Circle of Life," folks. We've officially come full circle in the Twitter parody of Nebraska coach Bo Pelini.
This will probably be the only spring game where a coach and his cat led their team to the field. @Huskers http://t.co/ad7y0Y002w
— BTN_Nebraska (@BTN_Nebraska) April 12, 2014