LSU-Wisconsin primer

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
12:00
PM ET
For more than a decade, no FBS programs have experienced more success in out-of-conference games during the regular season than LSU and Wisconsin -- programs that open the season against one another on Saturday in Houston.

LSU has not lost a nonconference game in the regular season since falling to Virginia Tech on Sept. 7, 2002. Since then it has won 45 straight, while Wisconsin’s record in that same time period is 43-3, good for the nation’s second-best winning percentage (.935).

Obviously one of them is going to lose on Saturday, though, so let’s take a look at some of the key factors in the LSU-Wisconsin game and what a win might mean for their respective conferences.

Key to victory for Wisconsin: Dominate the line of scrimmage. That’s always the motto for the Badgers, who showed they could fare just fine against an SEC defense when they ran for 293 yards against South Carolina (and Jadeveon Clowney) in the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl. Controlling the game on the ground with Melvin Gordon, Corey Clement and a talented offensive line becomes an even higher priority given Wisconsin’s inexperience at receiver and quarterback, where Tanner McEvoy makes his first FBS start. And the Badgers’ 3-4 defense has to win battles up front and make LSU beat it through the air.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsLSU may need Anthony Jennings (10) and Brandon Harris (6) to have success against Wisconsin.
Key to victory for LSU: With a talented backfield and experienced offensive line, the Tigers figure to run the ball effectively against a retooled Wisconsin defensive front. But it will be up to LSU quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris to do just enough with the pass to prevent the Badgers from crowding the box to defend the run. Regardless of which quarterback is on the field, he will have either little or no college experience. If the Tigers throw the ball as ineffectively as Jennings did in his lone start -- LSU’s Outback Bowl win over Iowa -- it might become difficult to move the ball even against an inexperienced Wisconsin defense.

Keep an eye on: Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore could give the Badgers the pass-rushing and playmaking presence they desperately need from their completely revamped defensive front seven. Biegel will be critical in both helping against the run and creating havoc in the LSU backfield from his outside linebacker spot. Like many players at his position for Wisconsin, he has been nicked up in fall practice. But after a breakout spring, Biegel could be a guy who announces himself as an up-and-coming star on this national stage.

Keep an eye: LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander. One of the Tigers’ top playmakers at linebacker last season, Alexander has shifted from strongside linebacker to Lamin Barrow's old spot on the weak side, which should allow him to be even more active on defense. His sideline-to-sideline speed and tackling ability should make him a great fit for the new role. Alexander and the LSU defense will have their hands full with a powerful Wisconsin running game that features Heisman Trophy contender Gordon. But if Alexander lives up to the reputation he’s already started building at his new position, he’s in line for a huge season, starting Saturday.

What win will mean for Big Ten: Marquee nonconference wins have been in short supply for the Big Ten in recent years, and there would be no better way to build instant credibility than by gaining a win over an established SEC power. Wisconsin would become an immediate playoff contender, as the rest of its schedule is extremely favorable. Other league teams would also get a boost in terms of conference perception. The doom-and-gloom outlook for the Big Ten since Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller's season-ending shoulder injury would fade away quickly with a Badgers victory in Houston.

What win will mean for SEC: LSU has been the SEC’s standard bearer over the last decade when it comes to these marquee nonconference openers. LSU's aforementioned 45 straight nonconference wins in the regular season is the nation’s longest streak. That includes wins in 11 straight openers, against such opponents as TCU, Oregon, North Carolina, Washington, Oregon State and Arizona State. LSU beating Wisconsin would be another feather in the SEC’s cap, solidifying its status as the nation’s best conference.
Karlos WilliamsJeff Gammons/Getty ImagesFlorida State's Karlos Williams has upgraded his game with a color-coded notebook.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Karlos Williams walked into the room, briefly introduced himself and within seconds was knee deep in offensive football parlance.

“There are different calls, maybe on the same play. On the front side I might be a free release to the flat with no blocker responsibility,” explained Williams, while probably holding a quiet suspicion his breakdown was hardly resonating with the rest of the room. “If you’re on the backside you might have a leak, or you may just be in protection, period.”

Eighteen months ago, Williams wouldn’t have been nearly as articulate or intuitive about the game of football. He would have talked just as much -- only Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher rivals the senior running back in words per minute -- but the conversation would not have been as in depth, because he wasn’t atop the depth chart.

Fast forward to days before the 2014 opener and Williams will be making his second career start. With him on the plane to Texas will be his jersey, playbook and an 8.5 x 11-inch green, college ruled notebook.

“Always, always” is the notebook tucked under his arm, Williams said.

[+] EnlargeKarlos Williams' notebook
Jared Shanker/ESPNThese notebooks have come in pretty handy for Karlos Williams during his time at FSU.
It is always with him now, but began only during spring practice in 2013, shortly after then-defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt arrived and demanded Williams pipe down and put pen to paper. Williams never took notes -- in class or team meetings -- until Pruitt ordered Williams to start writing things down.

Williams, formerly a safety and linebacker, played in 25 of his first 26 games at Florida State but did not crack the starting lineup until the 2012 ACC championship and even then it was due to an injury. He wasn’t picking up the little details in Florida State’s defensive scheme. He wasn’t too concerned about learning them either.

“I was very immature when I first got here. I didn’t understand the power of preparation,” Williams said. “I thought you just went out there and did it. I saw Nick Moody play safety, Terrance Parks, Terrence Brooks, Lamarcus Joyner do it and I said ‘How do those guys do it?’ When I look back on it, those guys were sitting in the front row taking notes.”

Williams’ prep status as a 6-foot-2, 210-pound five-star athlete with 4.4 speed caused part of those poor study habits. Williams and his brothers were all superior athletes, and when a player of Williams’ caliber is on the field, high school offenses revert to words instead of plays -- “Just give Karlos the ball.”

Williams played with his brother Vince, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, for two seasons in college. Williams does his best impression of how he looked when he saw how intently Vince took notes -- eyes wide, mouth agape. Vince would take notes without his eyes ever coming off the screen. Williams didn’t understand and didn’t care to figure it out. Vince would rub his eyes to regain focus on the screen while Williams closed his, rolling over to go to sleep.

Pruitt, who has since left for Georgia, expected the same dedication from Williams. Pruitt knew Williams understood the basis of his scheme, but he would continue to toil on the second team if he could not master the defense completely.

“He understood I wasn’t going to be the best if I didn’t take notes. I got the big picture but the little details could have made me a better DB,” Williams said.

So Williams bought a color-coded notebook. Blue was his notes on an offense’s trips package. Red signified if a team was in a four-wide set. Without even seeing his notebook, Williams hand gestures a flow chart, recalling how on the field his mind would flip between colors if the offense sent a receiver in motion.

By the time the season rolled around, Williams felt indebted to Pruitt, and his junior season might have been the year he saw his most extensive playing time. But early in the 2013 season, Williams was moved to running back.

[+] EnlargeKarlos Williams
AP Photo/Steve CannonKarlos Williams rushed 91 times last season for 730 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He was forced back to just the fundamentals of the game, and he once again was straining his eyes on the big picture. Initially, he thought running back was simple: get the ball and follow your block. But he was blown away again at the details required, the details he watched Devonta Freeman perfect in the hours after practice each day.

It was time for another notebook.

“When I first moved to running back, I focused on what a stretch is and I know what a zone is,” he said, “but I wasn’t focused on the footsteps or how I carried the ball or hat placement.”

That’s what the entirety of fall practice was for, shoring up the minor details that could turn a first down into a touchdown or keep quarterback Jameis Winston upright in pass protection. Williams’ running back notebook is filled with corrections and commendations, audibles and adjustments. If the offense uses a new terminology for a stretch or zone rush, it’s in his notebook.

During Florida State’s first preseason scrimmage, Williams jogged back to the huddle after the first play already with new material for his notebook. He didn’t roll his shoulders carrying out a play-action fake. When Williams opened his notebook, the first line was bulleted and read: “Play-action pass, roll your shoulders.”

This season, Williams is tasked with taking pressure off Winston and the passing game. He said he wouldn’t be prepared for the increased role if not for dedicating himself to writing notes

“It takes initiative to write something down, writing down what you can understand without every word, writing what you need to hear,” Williams said. “It helped me through camp.

“… I learned the lesson the hard way, which is the best way. It paid off for me.”
Myles JackAP Photo/Mark J. Terrill"At first it was flattering," said UCLA dual-threat Myles Jack. "Now it's getting to be a little overbearing."

By the time the 2014 season has come to an end, UCLA's Myles Jack will have tallied 20 sacks and eight interceptions, run for 25 touchdowns, won a Heisman, a national championship, dropped a Grammy-winning album, rescued 17 kittens from trees, cracked Kryptos and will have single-handedly brought balance to the force. The chosen one, he is.

What? Too much? You wouldn't think so the way the national media has bowed at the altar of this dual-threat sophomore.

No doubt about it, America is jacked up for Jack. He's a full-time linebacker, a part-time running back and college football's preseason darling. And the expectations on the second-year player have proliferated without him playing a snap since UCLA's Sun Bowl victory (to be fair, he did have a pick-six in that game).

"It's impossible not to be aware of it," Jack said. "I won't lie. I can try to hide from it all I want. But I know it's there. I'm aware of it for sure. But I can't let that change me. I can't put pressure on myself. Football is a game. That's how I treat it. I don't make it anything more than that. I'm trying to have fun with it all.

"At first it was flattering. Now it's getting to be a little overbearing. I can't wait to get the season underway and get all of the talk out of the way. I'm ready to play. Hopefully it will simmer down. But it probably won't."

In other words, slow your roll.

Jack is on almost every preseason All-America team (including ESPN.com's), even though we haven't seen him play a game without first-round draft pick Anthony Barr, who occupied a lot of attention last year, opposite him. He's been dubbed a Heisman darkhorse and a Heisman favorite, even though it's a quarterback-driven award and he hasn't thrown a single pass in his collegiate career (not yet, anyway, but he's only a sophomore).

[+] EnlargeMyles Jack
Harry How/Getty ImagesLinebacker Myles Jack rushed for four touchdowns against Washington last season.
"I think he's handled it extremely well," said UCLA coach Jim Mora. "He hasn't changed a bit. He's never going to be able to live up to those expectations. It's almost impossible. All we want from Myles is to be the very best Myles Jack he can be every day. If he can do that, that's good enough for me."

Jack is a budding superstar. There's no denying it. And he captured national imaginations last year when he switched to the offensive side of the ball and busted out with a 120-yard rushing performance (including a 66-yard touchdown) in a 31-26 win in Tucson. A week later he washed it down with four rushing touchdowns at home against Washington.

Twitter -- and America -- had no idea what hit them.

"I'm thankful for the appreciation," Jack said. "I appreciate people admiring what you do. I think that's really cool. All the extra stuff and the expectations, I can't really control any of that."

Adding thermite to the discussion is the fact that UCLA is a top-10 team headlined by SI cover boy Brett Hundley. The Bruins are the favorites in the Pac-12 South and a trendy pick to win the conference and possibly a national championship.

But here's a head-scratcher: What if Jack is just a really, really good cover linebacker? He's not asked to do the sorts of things that Barr was. Barr was a bona-fide pass-rusher, a backfield menace. Jack makes his bones at or above the line of scrimmage, not behind it. What if Jack finishes the year with 85 tackles and four or five picks and the occasional rushing touchdown?

"I'm happy with that," Jack said. "That's a solid year for me."

Will the hype machine be happy with that? "Probably not."

Right now, much of Jack's hype is based on potential. One UCLA coach recently told the Pac-12 blog that Jack has "done things on a football field I didn't know were possible." But contrast that to the hype of Hundley -- a three-year starter who has been a character guy and led his team to a South Division championship. Hundley has earned his hype. Jack doesn't believe he has.

"Not yet, I don't think so," Jack said. "I've had one season. I feel like I've gotten better. And I had a great first season. But my mindset is that that season is over. If I don't do anything year, no one will care about what I did my first year. I won't even care what I did my freshman year. My goal is to get better and have a better sophomore year."

Mora does his best to shield his players from the outside noise. But he also understands where the Jack craze is coming from.

"Whether he's earned this attention isn't for me to decide," Mora said. "It is what it is. Personally, I think all hype is overblown myself. But he's the first player in conference history -- maybe national history -- to win offensive and defensive freshman of the year. With that comes some hype."

No one is looking to spit on anyone's Cheerios. No one is being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. Jack himself admits a lot of what's been written and said about him -- while a boost to his ego -- is simply overblown.

"I'm not looking for any encores," he said. "I've worked really hard this offseason. Right now, all I can do is go out on the field and show people how hard I've worked. And hopefully we'll win. Because at the end of the day that's the most important thing. My only expectation is to play better than I did last year."

That, seems fair.
Bob StoopsKevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsBob Stoops hasn't been shy about publicly questioning the perceived dominance of the SEC.
NORMAN, Okla. -- Bob Stoops' former players swear he hasn't changed.

Instead, the rest of us are just getting to know Oklahoma's head football coach a little better.

The last year and a half, college football's third-longest-tenured coach -- Stoops moved up a spot after rival Mack Brown resigned -- has become a walking, talking national newsmaker.

But his ex-players say he's always spoken his mind to them. Now, he's just speaking his mind to everyone else, too.

"Coach is the same person," said Dusty Dvoracek, who was an All-Big 12 defensive tackle for the Sooners in 2003 and 2005. "But like anything else, once you've established yourself, and had as much success as he'd had, naturally your guard comes down a little bit. I don't think it was always the case for him, but now he feels comfortable and confident to speak his mind. He's garnered enough credibility that when he gets asked questions he can answer them honestly."

Stoops isn't quite as loquacious as his mentor and godfather of his twin boys, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who just this week cracked that he hopes fans don't egg a banner of his likeness if this season goes badly for the Gamecocks.

But Stoops also has some Spurrier in him. And of late, that side has surfaced in the public domain more and more.

"You're seeing that side of Coach more than ever before," Dvoracek said. "When you've been in the profession that long, you get to a point where you can tell it how it is, and not worry about the fallout. Depending of what side of the fence you're on, you might like it and you might not. But he's not afraid to be honest."

The southern side of that fence most definitely has not liked it.

More than any other figure in college football, Stoops has taken on the SEC hype machine head on. No holds barred. Like Roster Cogburn charging into a posse, Stoops rides alone in daring to proclaim what his colleagues might think, yet don't say.

"Oh yeah, he can bristle," said former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, who has never himself been accused of holding back. "Bob says what he feels. I admire that about him. That's a good quality. I always reacted the same way. I never cared what people thought about my opinion. Bob is that way, too .... and when you're the coach at Oklahoma, you carry a megaphone. You reach everybody."

Like Switzer, Stoops has utilized that megaphone in recent months.

In May 2013, he used the word "propaganda" while taking aim at the bottom half of the SEC, which Stoops correctly pointed out had gone winless the season before against the top half of the league.

A few months later, he questioned the reputation of SEC defenses, which were having difficulty slowing down Aaron Murray, A.J. McCarron and Johnny Manziel.

"Funny how people can't play defense," Stoops said then, "when they have pro-style quarterbacks over there ... which we've had."

When the Sooners were paired with the Crimson Tide in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, virtually everyone from College Station, Texas, to Gainesville, Florida, was eager to see Stoops' comeuppance. Instead, he delivered another blow to SEC pride, toppling -- in his words -- "the big, bad wolf" 45-31.

"Coach always let our football do the talking for us," said former Oklahoma safety Roy Williams, the 2001 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. "But sometimes, enough is enough. The media pumps up the big, bad SEC as some unstoppable force; that they were going to kick our butt. But that didn't happen. Look, we're not whipping boys in Oklahoma. We're a force to be reckoned with, too, and that was proven."

With his credibility cemented, Stoops hasn't backed off.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops and Nick Saban
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertBob Stoops wasn't sympathetic to Nick Saban's suggestion that he couldn't get the Crimson Tide motivated in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.
This summer, he tagged Texas A&M for all the "toughies" -- Lamar, Rice, SMU and Louisiana-Monroe -- on its nonconference schedule. And when Alabama coach Nick Saban suggested he couldn't get his team up to play in the "consolation" Sugar Bowl, Stoops fired right back.

"We've played in a bunch of national championship games, right?" he said. "So that means I've got a built-in excuse the next time we don't play for a national championship?"

Switzer especially enjoyed that retort.

"I laughed when I heard that," he said. "I understood what [Stoops] meant. It doesn't matter what game it is, you have to be ready to go play. They outcoached Alabama and they outplayed Alabama."

For the coup de grace, after being introduced as "the man who single-handedly shut up the SEC" during a preseason booster event, Stoops noted he's only been "stating facts."

"Every now and then," he said, "a few things need to be pointed out."

Days later, he was given the option to back down from his comments questioning SEC depth, SEC defenses, SEC scheduling and SEC motivation in games that don't decide national titles. He didn't budge.

"Oh, get over it," Stoops said. "Again, where am I lying?"

There's an obvious means to an end to Stoops' newfound role of Big 12 advocate. In college football, perception is reality, especially once 13 people will arbitrarily be determining who gets included in the four-team playoff.

But Stoops' loosened public persona isn't all business. And it hasn't been limited to needling the SEC.

The same Dallas hotel that hosted Big 12 media days was also home to a convention for Mary Kay, of which Stoops' wife, Carol, is a national director. While she gave a TV interview, Stoops purposely photo-bombed the shot. Twice.

Then, at the end of two-a-days, Stoops came rolling into practice on the Sooner Schooner and passed out frozen treats to the players while wearing a cowboy hat and wielding a "RUF/NEK" shotgun.

"Coach is the same," Williams said. "But when you're a young coach, you have to keep your head down and prove yourself. When you've won a lot of games, and you have the job security ... of course, you become more comfortable. Maybe that all comes with age, too. When you get to a certain point, you can say, ‘I'm going to let my hair down' in front of people a little bit more."

J.D. Runnels, who once was the lead blocker for Adrian Peterson at Oklahoma, agreed that age, success and tenure have contributed to Stoops' less guarded public approach. But Runnels believes the return of Stoops' brother, Mike, to the coaching staff has eased Stoops' mind, too.

"Mike is Bob's enforcer," Runnels said. "He takes some of that pressure off Bob. That's less micromanaging Bob has to do."

Whatever the reason, the rest of the world seems to be getting to know the real Stoops. The one who enjoys having fun. The one who says what he thinks. The one his former players say has always been there.

"He's always had the willingness to tell it how it is," Dvoracek said. "That was one of the things that stuck out to me when he recruited me.

"The players, we've always seen that. Now you're starting to see that shine through on the other side, too."
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- At the beginning of this week, Florida State was still celebrating the hashtag #Dallas2Dallas. It's been the motto all offseason for a team that opens its season in the home of the Dallas Cowboys, the same place the first College Football Playoff championship will be held. It's even printed on the athletic department's Cowboys Classic flyer.

By the end of the day Monday, the trending topic was now taboo. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher put the kibosh on the hashtag during a team meeting before practice.

Earlier Monday, I asked Fisher if the #Dallas2Dallas promotions set Florida State up for a championship-or-bust season in Tallahassee, if anything short of a return trip to Jerry World would be deemed disappointing.

[+] EnlargeDallas2Dallas
Jared Shanker/ESPNDallas2Dallas is even printed on the athletic department's Cowboys Classic flyer.
"I'm not worried about the national championship. I'm worried about playing well," he said. "Our goal is to be in the national championship every year. I want this team to be the best it can be, play as good as it can and we'll live with the results.

That's often not how the fans -- at least the most vocal -- and the media -- at least the most vocal -- operate, though. If you believe Las Vegas, the Seminoles are the slight favorite to win the national title. If you believe the polls, the Seminoles are the prohibitive favorite, garnering all but nine of the first-place preseason ballots in the two polls combined.

But with all of the preseason hype -- magazine covers, double-digit June point spreads and draft experts salivating at a roster stocked with NFL talent, none greater than at quarterback -- the 2014 season, like it or not, will be defined by a north Texas city more than 800 miles west of the Florida capital.

I'm not saying it is fair. It's not. It's irresponsible to expect perfection from a team, but that's the college football world where we reside. Fisher acknowledged being a preseason No. 1 is much different now than it was 20 years ago. Hours after the Seminoles hoisted the crystal ball in January, the train championing Florida State's repeat chances already left its Pasadena station.

Last month, Nick Saban was peppered with questions about Alabama's consecutive losses to end the season. Forget the Crimson Tide were a missed field goal from potentially playing for another national championship, there was the palpable sense that 11-2 was not good enough in Tuscaloosa, and the identity of the program, which has won three of the last five BCS titles, needed to be reshaped.

At ACC media days in July, Fisher waxed nostalgic about the era pre-dating the BCS and Bowl Coalition, when there was not always a guarantee No. 1 would play No. 2 to crown a definitive champion. "It mattered if you won the Orange Bowl or the Sugar Bowl or the Cotton Bowl or the Rose Bowl, you had a great year," he said. "Now, we went 12-2 and won the Orange Bowl and won our first ACC [championship in 2012], we act like it's not a big deal."

Fisher said without that 2012 season, the national championship wasn't possible. But now Florida State is among the elite, the program some believe is poised to earn the dynasty distinction. That top tier, for example Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma (Bob Stoops has dealt with unreasonable expectations for years) to name a few, are judged by national titles.

What Florida State does have is a locker room that proved in 2013 it could isolate itself from outsiders. Over the last few days, Fisher has asked his team not to "eat the cheese," his way of telling his players to sniff out the bait, to not buy into the hype. He said he feels "really good" about how his team has received the message, and he will continue to drill it in their heads.

"We're just going to take it one day at a time, one game at a time and eventually we'll reach Dallas. That's how he told us to approach it," defensive lineman Derrick Mitchell said.

Added senior Christian Green: "Us as players, we know it's a grind every day. We know that this week is our first game and we have to focus on Oklahoma State."

When I asked Fisher about #Dallas2Dallas, he smiled and joked the Seminoles will be in Dallas on Thursday. So many others have already booked their return.

Stats that matter: North Texas-Texas

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
9:00
AM ET
Are you ready for some numbers? It's time once again for our weekly stat digs, in which we team with ESPN Stats and Info to find the numbers that matter most for the Longhorns and their next opponent. Here are the stats to remember going into Texas’ season opener against North Texas (7 p.m. CT, Longhorn Network).

No. 1: 101.6

Charlie Strong admitted on the Big 12 coaches' teleconference Monday there's one number he cares about (after the final score) when he's handed the postgame stat sheet: Rushing yards allowed.

His defense at Louisville led FBS in run defense last season, allowing just 81.5 yards per game. Texas gave up an average of 183.1 rushing yards per game a year ago. You better believe Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford intend to close that 101.6-yard gap as much as possible in 2014.

In the past four years, only one Big 12 defense has given up fewer than 100 rushing yards per game: The 2011 Longhorns, who held teams to 96.2 yards per game on the ground.

For what it's worth, and maybe not much, Georgia's defense did hold North Texas to 7 total rushing yards on 25 attempts last year.

No. 2: 123

We know very little about North Texas starting quarterback Josh Greer, a juco transfer who spent 2012 at UAB and 2013 at Navarro College. He's seen as a guy who has some similar traits to the successful guy he replaces, Derek Thompson, and he was a 63.5-percent passer at Navarro. He's a bit of an unknown otherwise.

But we do know he'll be protected by an offensive line that, on paper, looks impressive with 123 career starts among the five starters. Cyril Lemon, a first-team All-CUSA guard last year, moves from right tackle and has 37 career starts. He's one of four senior starters along with Mason Y'Barbo (37 starts), Antonio Johnson (34) and Shawn McKinney (2).

Texas players think they have the best defensive line in the Big 12, if not the nation. Those boasts will be put to the test Saturday as they try to rattle a QB making his first college start.

No. 3: 434

When you talk about David Ash's best games as Texas' starting quarterback, his 2013 season opener against New Mexico State doesn't usually get brought up. But in his only compete game of that injury-wrecked season, Ash accounted for 434 total yards (343 passing, 91 rushing) and offered an appealing glimpse of what he might've been able to do had he stayed healthy.

Texas struggled to get rolling until late in the second quarter, but Ash got the offense to open up from there. He threw for four touchdowns, busted off a 55-yard touchdown scramble and showed poise in the second half to guide an offense that put up a school-record 715 total yards.

North Texas should be a better foe than NMSU, which went on to finish 2-10 with the fourth-worst scoring defense in the country. But will we see a version of Ash that's as good or better than the one that showed up in last year's opener?

Three more to remember

Eight: The number of kicks North Texas blocked last season, most in FBS. Four were blocked punts. Against Georgia last year, UNT blocked a punt for TD and also returned a kickoff for a TD.

Two: North Texas coach Dan McCarney coached the defensive line on Strong's Florida defenses for two seasons, in 2008 and 2009.

35-21: The score of North Texas' last game against a Big 12 program, a loss at Kansas State in 2012. UNT is 7-57 all-time against the Big 12 but 0-9 in the past decade.
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West Virginia's opener with Alabama this weekend took an interesting turn Tuesday when Mountaineers quarterback Clint Trickett was asked after practice about his relationship with Alabama coach Nick Saban.

Trickett's father, Rick, who is currently Florida State's offensive line coach, worked at LSU under Saban in 2000.

Trickett, however, apparently had a relationship with another Saban, as well.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Trickett, when prompted that he probably knows Saban well: "His daughter was my first kiss back in the day. So yeah... I don't know if I should have said that [laughs]. She's actually engaged now. Coach Nick is one of the greatest there is. My brother (Travis Trickett) worked for him. He was a GA for him when he first got to Alabama. And we've known him for years, family friends and just one of the best coaches out there."

Trickett cut off the next question to add one more tidbit: "For clarification, we were like six years old! Just so everyone knows that."

It's unclear at the moment whether this news will affect how many blitzes Saban dials up on Saturday.

Something to prove in the Pac-12

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
5:00
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Enough chatter. Enough previews. Enough hype. It’s game week. Time to put up or shhhhhh.

Today we’re going to take a look at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in 2014. These are in no particular order, but each is just as significant.

  1. Hot seat coaches: While Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's and Cal coach Sonny Dykes' seats aren’t exactly roasting, it’s not like they just took the ice bucket challenge, either. The Utes have missed the postseason for consecutive seasons, and the Bears have dropped 16 straight FBS teams (11 under Dykes’ watch). Unless either has a disastrous season, the Pac-12 blog sees them back in 2015. But results need to come sooner than later.
  2. [+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
    AP Photo/Don RyanThe preseason hype has been in full force for Pac-12 QBs like Oregon's Marcus Mariota. It's now time to deliver.
     Quarterbacks: The 10 returning starters have brought a crush of national attention to the Pac-12. Now it’s time for those guys to earn it. Some are calling this the most talented collection of quarterbacks in one league in the history of college football -- headlined by Heisman trophy candidates Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley. The expectations have never been higher for Pac-12 signal-callers.
  3. Stanford’s offensive line: Speaking of hype … a couple of years ago the Cardinal inked what some called the best offensive line recruiting class in the history of history. Now all five starters are from that class. Some already have significant experience. Others saw some work in Stanford’s “extra linemen” packages last season. This group has to live up to its billing for the Cardinal to do what they want to do on offense.
  4. Austin Hill: In 2012, he was a beast, catching 81 balls for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. Then an ACL injury suffered in the spring of 2013 cost him all of last season. Now he headlines an extremely deep and talented wide-receiving corps for the Wildcats in a Rich Rodriguez system that favors pass-catchers. No doubt, Hill is looking to get that first catch, first hit and first touchdown out of the way. If redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon can produce solid quarterback play, Hill could be in for another outstanding season.
  5. USC freshmen: Damien Mama and Toa Lobendahn are slated at right and left guard, respectively, for the season opener against Fresno State. Ajene Harris is listed as a starting wide receiver. Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith are expected to contribute as receivers and on special teams. And with the loss of Josh Shaw, Jackson might see extended time at cornerback. Steve Sarkisian made a huge splash in his first preseason by landing a top-notch recruiting class. Now it’s time for these guys to go out and prove it.
  6. Mark Helfrich: Sometimes the burden of expectation can weigh heaviest of all. Helfirch got a taste of that last season when, despite going 11-2 and beating Texas in the Alamo Bowl, there were some who considered Oregon’s 2013 campaign an unsuccessful one. He lost to Stanford (Chip Kelly also did, twice, by the way), lost to Arizona and some off-field incidents (Colt Lyerla, Rose Bowl comments, snowball fight) became bigger talking points than what was happening on the field. On the field, in case you forgot, was a Heisman-favorite quarterback playing the second half of the season with a partially torn knee ligament. A Pac-12 championship would go a long way toward silencing his doubters.
  7. D.J. Foster: Working in tandem with Marion Grice last season, Foster rushed for 501 yards and six touchdowns to go with his 653 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He’s a versatile back that Mike Norvell loves to split out and use in the passing game. But with Grice gone, Foster now takes over as the primary back. They’ll still use him in the passing attack. He’s too talented for them not to. But he’ll get a lot more work as a runner beyond the 93 carries he had last fall.
  8. Myles Jack: The Pac-12 blog has a special column on Jack coming out later this week so we won’t spoil anything. All we’ll say for now is he’s getting a ton of national love. From All-America lists to Heisman chatter, Jack is the national darling of preseason college football. Thing is, he might just be worth all of the hype. His encore season will be telling.
  9. The new guys: That the Huskies are a preseason Top 25 team speaks to how highly the national media thinks of Chris Petersen -- especially after they lost their quarterback, running back and tight end. He has his work cut out for him in a brutal Pac-12 North. But the expectations aren’t as extreme as they are for the guy he replaced. Sarkisian and the Trojans are expected to compete for a South Division title, a conference crown and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Beating UCLA would be a good start.
  10. Cal’s defense: The Bears had a rough go of it last season. No doubt. As the injuries piled up, and younger players were forced into action. The end result was, well, Cal in 2013. With a new defensive coordinator in Art Kaufman and finally a little health, guys like Brennan Scarlett, Mustafa Jalil and Stefan McClure take center stage in what the Bears hope will be a defensive revival.

Video: Auburn's Week 1 QB plan

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
5:00
PM ET
video
ESPN.com reporters Alex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf discuss Auburn's quarterback plan for Week 1.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It wasn't that long ago that a fresh-faced Landon Collins committed to Alabama in one of the strangest announcements ever recorded on national television.

[+] EnlargeLandon Collins
Ryan A. Miller/Icon SMIAlabama's defense will lean heavily on junior defensive back Landon Collins this season.
You know how it went: The five-star safety from Louisiana says, "Roll Tide Roll!" and pulls on a pair of Alabama gloves while his mother, April Justin, looks on in disappointment. Every one of Collins' 15 friends and family on stage -- that is, all but Justin -- applaud. And in the few weeks until national signing day, everyone wonders whether he'll flip to LSU. But he doesn't. He enrolls at Alabama and for the next year or so we catch only glimpses of the athlete who ignited such a firestorm of emotion.

That Landon Collins seems long gone now. His body has filled out. His hair has grown some, too. His mustache and chin-strap beard aren't trimmed up neatly like before. The talented special teams gunner fighting for reps is suddenly a veteran in a secondary hoping to return to its former glory. The drama of the past, the questions about his mother and LSU and his very public commitment, are now anecdotes in a larger story about one of the best safeties in the country, a First Team Preseason Coaches All-SEC selection and future NFL draft pick.

"Me and my dad sat down and talked about it before I ever signed to come here," Collins said. "He said by my junior year I'd be starting. I was like, 'No, I'll be playing my freshman year and get my starting job as a sophomore.' We didn't know the outcome, but by God's grace that's what we did.

"I just took it and ran with it."

In a way, both father and son were right. Collins played on special teams as a freshman and was expected to come off the bench as a sophomore. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri, two upperclassmen, were entrenched at safety. But Clinton-Dix missed time sorting out an issue with the NCAA, and right as he returned, Sunseri tore his ACL. Collins stepped in, started nine games and filled up the stat sheet, finishing second on the team in tackles, first in passes defended and tied for second in interceptions and forced fumbles.

With Clinton-Dix and Sunseri off to the NFL and former starting cornerback Deion Belue gone as well, Collins is now the most recognizable face of Alabama's secondary. In fact, he might be the most indispensable player on Alabama's entire defense.

"He's been probably a key guy in a leadership role, defensively for this team in terms of how he's embraced that role and done a really good job," said coach Nick Saban. "The guy practices hard every day, works hard every day."

"I see a guy who's really hungry for this season, a guy who goes out and gets better and better every day" said fellow safety Jarrick Williams, who lauded Collins' speed and ability to tackle. "There's no slacking with him, it's full every day."

Amari Cooper, Alabama's star receiver, said you have to keep an eye on him.

"He's a fast guy getting to the ball," he said. "Like on a reverse, he's coming down really fast. He's always near the ball, so you have to be very aware of him."

Instead of answering questions about his infamous commitment, Collins is now answering for a defense expected to be one the best in the country, despite losing more than half of its starters from last season. On Monday, he talked up rookies, praised the defensive line and assessed the play of another hotly contested recruit, linebacker Reuben Foster. He even answered the tough questions like whether the defense has anything to prove after struggling against hurry-up, no-huddle offenses last season.

His response: "Definitely."

"We've always been known as a defense that's unstoppable [sic]," he said. "You can't run the ball or throw the ball on us. That's how we want to portray our defense like we did in previous years."

We'll know right away whether Collins and Alabama can paint that familiar picture.

The Crimson Tide's opponent to open the season, West Virginia, may have won only four games last season, but coach Dana Holgorsen's offense is potent, having averaged 26.3 points and 410.8 yards per game. It likes to push the tempo, too, as last season it averaged 22.8 seconds of possession per play, 26th quickest in the country.

Collins' leadership, as much as his talent, will be critical to Alabama's success. How he handles Saturday's fast-paced environment will be an indicator of how the defense will fair in the weeks to come.

But talking to Collins, you don't sense any pressure. After having gone through so much already, he's excited about what's ahead.

"Having these guys look up to me and the expectations I have for myself, I think it's going to be a great year," he said.
For several years, the Rose Bowl logo was nearly ubiquitous around Michigan State's practice facility, serving as a constant reminder of the team's ultimate goal.

The Spartans finally made it back to Pasadena last year for the first time since the 1987 season, prompting legions of their fans to follow them to California. The victory over Stanford in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl game will go down as one of the greatest moments in Michigan State history.

"That was a special place at a special time with special people," head coach Mark Dantonio said.

The Rose Bowl remains the most revered postseason name in college football and has long been viewed as the Holy Grail for the Big Ten. The sunny skies and majestic setting that beckoned chilly Midwesterners to Southern California for New Year's Day helped fuel the popularity of the event. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany rightly calls the Rose Bowl "the most important external relationship that we have."

But as the Granddaddy of Them All begins its second century, both its relationship with the Big Ten and its very nature are about to change, thanks to the arrival of the College Football Playoff.

The Rose Bowl will serve as a national semifinal site this year and in the 2017, 2020 and 2023 seasons. If a Big Ten team wants to go to Pasadena in those years, the playoff is the only route. (And even that is not necessarily guaranteed, as it will be up to the selection committee's seeding preferences). In the years in which it is not a part of the playoff rotation, the Rose Bowl will stage its traditional Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup. But any Big Ten team that makes it in those years either (A) won the league and missed out on the playoff or (B) did not win the conference title.

Think about this: A Big Ten champion that gets snubbed for the four-team playoff could actually be -- gasp -- disappointed to play in the Rose Bowl. That would be a first.

"If you're knocking at the door and you don't make it, there may be a little short-term disappointment," Delany said. "But [the game] is still iconic and emotional and traditional. So I think everyone who goes there will be excited."

What if a team that loses in the Big Ten championship game to the league's eventual playoff rep gets picked for the Rose Bowl? Recent history shows that fan bases don't travel well after their team loses in a league title game, and some bowls have avoided inviting those teams for that very reason.

"We're well aware that emotionally, that can be a downer for not only the team but for the fans," said Scott Jenkins, football committee chairman for the Tournament of Roses. "But the opportunity to come to the Rose Bowl game, for the vast majority of teams, doesn't come along very often."

When it's a semifinal game, like this season, the Rose Bowl is no longer the destination; it's part of the journey. Any team that goes to Pasadena this year will hope to move on to Arlington, Texas, for the championship 11 days later. That could change the entire feel of the event.

"I think it has the real opportunity to lose something for the teams, not for the fans," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "You really have to see how that travel is going to be and what events you're going to do. Are you going to Disneyland for a day? I don't think so. Because you're hoping to play in the next one."

Jenkins said game officials still plan on holding the side events, like the meet-and-greet at Disneyland, the "Beef Bowl" steak-eating competition and a night out at local comedy clubs. But teams will now be arriving in Los Angeles one day later than they have in the past, which puts a time crunch on the entire schedule.

"While it's a little bit squeezed, we hope they enjoy our events here just like they would for a regular, traditional Rose Bowl game," he said. "We're treating this semifinal as we would any other Rose Bowl."

Tradition at times took a backseat for the game during the BCS era, too. Big Ten teams didn't appear in the 2002, 2003 or 2006 Rose Bowls, and Ohio State played in the game only once (2010) during the era despite winning multiple Big Ten titles. The 2011 game matched Wisconsin and TCU. No wonder the screensaver on Jenkins' work computer reads: "Only change endures."

But can the Rose Bowl endure all this change? The playoff eventually could make all non-semifinal bowls seem like secondary concerns. Hey, the NIT was once considered a prestigious tournament in college basketball, after all.

But if any bowl game can continue to thrive, it's the Granddaddy. People don't speak in reverential tones about one day getting to step foot in Sun Life Stadium or the Superdome, for instance. The Rose Bowl, Dantonio says, still "has a mystique about it."

"Generations and generations of football players in the Midwest dreamed of playing in the Rose Bowl, and I think that will still be the case," said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who played in the game as a Wildcats linebacker in 1996. "It was an experience at least from my standpoint that was surreal. It's still Pasadena, the San Gabriel [Mountains] are still in the background, and it's still a special opportunity when you get the privilege to play there."

It just may no longer stand as the ultimate goal for Big Ten teams.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The Las Vegas gambling community considers Miami to be the ACC Coastal Division team with the best chance to win the conference. Based on point spreads, it also sees the Hurricanes as the team with the best chance to upset Florida State this season.

With Miami handing the starting quarterback job to a true freshman and a defense that hasn't convinced many outsiders it will be vastly improved, much of the positive preseason outlooks stem from the return of running back Duke Johnson.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIEntering his third season at Miami, RB Duke Johnson says the Hurricanes are a program that other ACC schools should be worried about playing this season.
What does he think about Las Vegas' predictions?

"I don't deal with Vegas. Vegas confuses me," Johnson said smiling. "I just play football."

The follow-up question was whether Miami is finally "back," an annual preseason query but an even more pressing one in 2014 now that Florida State has returned as a player on the national landscape.

"I don't see why we could say [Miami is back]. We don't have a reason to say that. We've been in the ACC for 10 years and haven't been to the ACC championship once," he said. "We were co-Coastal champs, but that doesn't count as a step. We have to win it outright."

Johnson said there is progress that indicates the Hurricanes are at least a program on the rise, but it was stunted 10 months ago in Tallahassee. Miami rode the then-sophomore Johnson to a 7-0 start to the season, setting up a nationally televised, prime-time game against Florida State. It had the pre-game hype reminiscent of the late 1980s and 1990s, but Miami was blown out. Its season derailed from there, too, with the loss of Johnson to an ankle injury that cost him the rest of 2013. The Hurricanes would go on to lose three of their final five games, and in three of those games the running backs failed to rush for 100 yards combined.

The only pain Johnson said he felt from the ankle fracture came in the following weeks. When he initially broke it, he said his foot went numb. The pain arose the next two Saturdays while he watched Miami, which still could have won the division and set up a Florida State rematch, lose to Virginia Tech and Duke, sending Miami on a three-game skid. Johnson saddles himself with some of the responsibility from that streak, wishing he prepared his backups better.

"That could have been our first time winning the Coastal," Johnson said.

Miami coach Al Golden acknowledges there will be games when his star player will be tapped for 30 carries and probably more. Johnson knows it, too. But there is a belief in Coral Gables the weapons around Johnson, even with freshman Brad Kaaya at quarterback, will be enough to warrant Johnson being used in more than one role.

Johnson welcomes it, too. During an hour-long media session, he was asked at least three times if he has any 2014 personal goals -- rushing yards, touchdowns, receptions, Heisman press -- and each time he shook his head.

"You ask Duke to return kicks, he returns kicks. You ask Duke to split out in the slot, he goes in the slot. You throw him a screen, he'll catch a screen. But you don't have to take Duke Johnson out on third down or in pass protection," Golden said. "He's an unselfish kid."

Miami has a tough beginning to the season with its opener on Labor Day against newcomer Louisville. It also has a road game at Nebraska and hosts reigning Coastal champion Duke and Arkansas State, one of the most successful Group of Five teams of the past few years.

With marquee national and conference games through the first half of the season, Johnson is counting down the days before the Sept. 1 opener.

Asked what he has left to prove, he said: "A lot."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The true measure of any recruiting class' worth isn't fully realized until a couple of years down the road. Regardless of the hype and golden stars racked up before signing day, getting the most out of a class takes time.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Taylor
AP Photo/Stephen MortonRunning back Kelvin Taylor and the rest of the Florida Gators' underclassmen are looking to rebound from a 4-8 season in 2013.
For Florida, that time might have to be now for its 2013 class following last season's 4-8 debacle. It's a class that ESPN's RecruitingNation ranked second nationally with its 30 signees and 16 ESPN 300 members and held the nation's best high school cornerback -- Vernon Hargreaves III -- and running back -- Kelvin Taylor. It grabbed a potential game-changing receiver in Demarcus Robinson and 12 players who ranked within the top 10 at their respective positions.

The Gators will certainly need a lot from their upperclassmen, but the 2013 class could hold the key to Florida's present -- not just its future -- especially after a handful of its members were thrown into the SEC fire last season.

"We knew we wanted to come in and make an impact," said sophomore receiver Ahmad Fulwood, who caught 16 of his 17 passes in the final seven games of last season. "Not necessarily take someone's position or anything out of the ordinary, but we knew we had to come in and make an impact as a class and that's pretty much what we did."

For the most part, this class was mainly constructed of a group of contributors last season, with Hargreaves and Taylor being the headliners. Hargreaves was a third-team All-American member and ended up being one of the nation's best corners, leading the Gators with three interceptions and ranking third in the SEC with 14 passes defended. Taylor was a freshman All-SEC selection after rushing for 508 yards and four touchdowns.

Eleven members of the class lettered last season and collected 22 combined starts. With the majority of the class redshirting, even more is expected from this group, but players don't feel any added pressure. They don't mind the added responsibility.

"I feel like the guys who the coaches are looking at will definitely be able to step up," sophomore linebacker Jarrad Davis said. "They know what to do and they know they're talented."

"These guys are ready to take on that role."

And it isn't just the talent and potential this class contains that has teammates and coaches trusting it. Once players saw injuries piling up, Taylor said the freshmen realized they were going to be counted on more so they started to buckle down with their preparation.

In a year in which this group could have resisted and pushed away from the core group, it grew closer and began to see older players looking up to them. Not even a year removed from high school, and this group was being relied on to help carry the team through some very dark weeks in 2013.

"You were a freshman, but they were depending on you to win games," Taylor said.

The wins didn't come, but resiliency did, redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor said. What impressed him the most was how this group continued to work through an exhausting seven-game losing streak.

"When you face adversity that you'll see in a 4-8 season, those guys kept fighting through all of it -- through the injuries, through the losses," Taylor said. "That's what shows that they have what it takes to take ownership of the team and lead us."

Moving forward, the contributions from this class will only grow. Keanu Neal, Marcell Harris and Nick Washington could be staples in Florida's secondary this year. Following a suspension-filled first year, Robinson has been one of the Gators' best offensive players during the offseason, and Fulwood has been even more consistent and could be a real vertical threat for the offense this fall.

Roderick Johnson is the next tackle in line after vets D.J. Humphries and Chaz Green, while linebacker Alex Anzalone has a chance to see time in Florida's linebacker rotation.

Davis was pegged as an early leader for the Gators last season and is right in the thick of a battle for a starting spot. Joey Ivie and Jay-nard Bostwick are in the early rotation along the defensive line, and Caleb Brantley has the chance to play his way in to as well.

This group has barely scratched the surface, but Taylor said guys are playing faster and thinking less. Last year this class was asked to learn, now, Taylor believes it will lead. Then, well, Taylor expects big things ... soon.

"Our whole mindset was that we were going to come here together and try to win a national title," he said.

"Now that we're so close, like brothers, it's going to be special in the future. We're looking forward to it."
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Just after warm-ups with the team, right before heading back out to the field for kickoff, that’s when J.T. Barrett really shined.

Obviously the quarterback was no slouch on the field, and his individual numbers and piles of wins while leading Rider High School in Wichita Falls, Texas, were what really drew the spotlight on him as he emerged into a recruit worth chasing for Ohio State.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteThe Buckeyes say they think J.T. Barrett can be more than just a vocal leader this season.
But in the privacy of a locker room, or in the huddle, or while gathering up teammates on the sideline to rally the troops for a comeback, that’s where Barrett made his biggest impression. The new starter for the Buckeyes has always had an accurate arm, enough mobility to make life tough for defenders on the ground and a burning desire to compete. But for Barrett, everything seems to start with his voice.

“It was always the pregame speech,” said Jim Garfield, Barrett's coach at Rider. “We would always come in before warmups and J.T. would have free rein. Really I can’t focus on just one that stands out, because it was throughout his career, and he was doing that for us since his sophomore year.

“Everything he says was like gold.”

The Buckeyes will likely need more than just a golden voice to replace two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller. But as far as first impressions go, Barrett may have a head start thanks to his confidence as a speaker and a knack for motivating his teammates.

While the Buckeyes haven’t yet heard him in a game or seen what he can do on the field for a team with College Football Playoff aspirations, they’ve had the better part of a year to get used to him in Miller’s place on the practice field and also had plenty of time during his redshirt season to learn how Barrett carries himself. And to a man, the entire program has come away raving about his leadership skills, maturity -- and when it’s time to stop talking, his physical tools.

“He’s got a great voice in the huddle,” left tackle Taylor Decker said. “He’ll pick guys up and he just displays confidence in himself, which is good to see.

“He’s become the face of our program, basically overnight. He’s definitely coming along with that voice, that leadership role, which is good to see. But other than that, he’s always gone about his business and handled himself well. I’m not worried about that at all. ... There’s just something about him.”

That realization may not come for everybody around Barrett at exactly the same time, but the opinion might as well be universally shared ahead of his first start on Saturday against Navy.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has long praised Barrett’s work ethic, but his interest on the recruiting trail was really piqued by the consistent feedback he received about his desire to compete against the best competition. That’s been reinforced by the way he dove into what was initially a battle to back up Miller, which he won over Cardale Jones just two days before a season-ending injury earned him a promotion to the top gig.

Wide receiver Evan Spencer pointed to Barrett’s ability to motivate, stressing that Ohio State would be “way more than all right” after hearing him boost up the offense with his encouragement during rough patches in training camp.

And while Garfield was sold early on, his belief was truly cemented during Barrett’s junior year when Rider was facing its own adversity as it trailed Abilene Cooper 28-0 in the third quarter.

“We ended up winning it, and it was because of J.T.’s motivation,” Garfield said. “He called the guys up and in his words, he just basically said we’ve got to get this done. He had everybody up, everybody’s attention -- I’m talking like defensive linemen and things like that. Everybody was drawn to him.

“When he started to speak, everybody sat up and listened.”

Barrett has a new audience now, and the Buckeyes are all ears.

Q&A: Eagles QB Tyler Murphy

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
12:00
PM ET
Tyler Murphy's path to Boston College has been unconventional, to say the least. But the Connecticut native and former Florida quarterback has come full-circle as he enters his final year of college ball, reunited with head coach Steve Addazio, who had recruited to Murphy to the Florida Gators when Addazio was an assistant in Gainesville.

ESPN.com caught up with Murphy recently to touch on a number of topics.

What has the acclimation process been like at BC?

[+] EnlargeTyler Murphy
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertQB transfer Tyler Murphy on the offense BC will run this season: "We're still trying to find our identity."
Murphy: It's been going very smooth. As soon as I got here in the spring the team welcomed me with open arms. I was able to get to know some of the guys, allow them to get to know me, so we've been building a bond since I've gotten here. We've been working really hard on and off the field, knowing coach Addazio and some of the coaches from before, like (offensive line) coach (Justin) Frye and (tight ends) coach (Frank) Leonard, they've really made it smooth, knowing some of the guys and having some familiarity with the offense.

Were you familiar with any of the players before?

TM: No, I really didn't know anyone really before I got here. I came up with Ian (Silberman), me and Ian helped each other with the process. But I was able to get to know the guys quickly and build relationships really fast, which made everything easy for both of us.

What did you remember about Addazio from recruiting and from Florida?

TM: He's a very passionate guy, I remember that from the recruiting process. He loves what he does, he takes pride in what he does. Not only does he try to make you the best football player that you can, he also tries to develop you as a person and make you the best man off the field as well. That really stuck with me. That's something I really look for when trying to find a new program, and knowing that coach Addazio had that instilled in him, it made my decision very easy.

Did you watch BC at all last season? Were you surprised by the jump they made in Addazio's first year?


TM: I definitely followed the team a little bit last year, especially with coach Addazio being the offensive coordinator my freshman year. You always kind of root for guys that you know, so any time BC was playing I'd definitely tune in and watch. It shows what kind of guy coach Addazio is and the leader he is, and the seniors last year did a great job of turning things around and building a culture. You have to give them credit, and it's something that I really look for when choosing a new school, and it's a great culture, it's something I'm happy to be a part of. And I'm just going to do my best to help this program, help this team and find a way to lead, get us a few "Ws" and take the next step for this program.

Coach Addazio said you are a BC guy and that you fit into the culture there. How so?

TM: When you think of Boston College you think of a high-standard program with lots of great people that really do the best to try and excel and help the community around them. The people academically and athletically are all very nice. They all go out of their way to try to help people and uplift people. When I got here you could also see that with the team. Guys were really a close-knit bunch of guys and they were sacrificing for one another and doing things that that they probably wouldn't do for themselves, but they would push through things because they didn't want to let the guy down next to them. When I saw that and felt that, I was really happy and I felt like I made the right decision.

How would you describe the offense you are running?

TM: Right now we're in heavy sets, we're in spread sets, we're a little bit of everything right now. We're still trying to find our identity. We're trying a bunch of things out to see what we're good at and we're just going to really try and excel once we find out what we are good at. We're just trying to be successful with everything the coaches throw at us and try to execute everything, because the more things we have, the more versatile we can be and the more pressure on the defense. So we're just trying to make things easy for us, and the more things we can do, the better. We're just trying to go out there, execute, fly around, have some fun.

Who are some of the receivers you think will step up this year?

TM: I think all of the receivers are doing a great job. Starting with Charlie Callinan to Dan Crimmins to Drew Barksdale, those guys have really stepped up and are finding roles. And we also have Shakim Phillips with some experience, David Dudeck and Josh Bordner, he's been doing a good job lining up and doing some things outside. So I think our fans should be excited, because these guys can make some plays and they work hard and they do a lot of the little things right to help this offense go. They're going to do some things and surprise some people, and hopefully they'll be able to have great careers while they're here.

How did you and (NC State quarterback) Jacoby Brissett help each other throughout the transfer process?

TM: We both played at Florida and we both didn't play much, so we kind of would try to keep each other up. Sitting on the bench isn't fun, it could be difficult. We tried to build a friendship where we keep each other up, keep each other motivated, and each and every day find a way to go into the office and get better, and so we both decided we needed to move on. We both talked to each other, and when it was his time and he wanted to leave I sat down with him and we both tried to break things down and what his options were and what was the best option. And it was vice versa, he did the same thing with me. So we have a really good relationship. We still talk to this day. We talk, if not every day then maybe every other day, just to check up on each other and see how things are going, because it can be a tough transition. And as friends you always want to see your other friend do well, and we both look forward to competing against each other when we do line up and play this year.

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