Pinkel, who led the Tigers to the SEC championship game last season, has agreed to an amended contract that will pay him $3.1 annually. His deal runs through the 2020 season.
One of the most important facets about Pinkel's new agreement and something he'd voiced concern about previously is that he's getting more money for his assistants. Their salary pool is growing from $2.66 million to $3.2 million. Pinkel previously made $2.8 million per year.
From a financial standpoint, the SEC' is clearly the place to be if you're a head football coach.
With Pinkel getting his bump, 11 of the 14 coaches in the SEC are making right at $3 million or more per year.
Here's the most up-to-date rundown:
- Nick Saban, Alabama: $5.62 million*
- Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: $5 million
- Les Miles, LSU: $4.3 million
- Steve Spurrier, South Carolina: $4 million
- Gus Malzahn, Auburn: $3.85 million#
- Bret Bielema, Arkansas: $3.2 million
- Mark Richt, Georgia: $3.2 million
- Gary Pinkel, Missouri: $3.1 million
- Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: $3 million
- Butch Jones, Tennessee: $3 million
- Will Muschamp, Florida: $3 million
- Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: $2.65 million
- Mark Stoops, Kentucky: $2.2 million
- Derek Mason, Vanderbilt%
* Saban agreed to a new deal in December that will pay him a reported $7 million per year. The university has not released the financial terms.
# Malzahn will earn $3.85 million this first year of his new six-year deal, and his salary will increase by $250,000 each year of the deal afterward. He's scheduled to earn $5.1 million in the final year of the contract.
% Vanderbilt, as a private institution, does not release salary figures.
Immediately following his first career interception in Florida’s 2013 opener against Toledo, the no-longer-wide-eyed-freshman jumped up and sprinted toward the sideline, weaving his way around teammates who congratulated him.
Hargreaves III had no time for celebration, as he had some beef to settle with defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson.
It’s rare that a freshman has the gall to approach his position coach like that, but Hargreaves III had incentive after Robinson, known for being quite the trash-talker, challenged him earlier in the week.
Sidelined for eight preseason practices with a shoulder injury, Hargreaves III was first provoked by Robinson in the training room eight days before the opener. Robinson asked if he was going to get beat against the Rockets, or worse, quit.
“No, I’m gonna get a pick,” he told Robinson.
Eight days later, Hargreaves III ended his first mission as a Gator but began a journey that earned him both All-American and all-SEC honors.
Thanks to his father Vernon Hargreaves II's assistant coaching stints at Miami, Florida International, East Carolina and South Florida, Hargreaves III called Miami, Greenville, N.C., and Tampa home.
It exposed Hargreaves III to different places and people, but his love for sports flourished during his nine years in Miami, starting at age three.
“More often than not, they were outside riding their bikes and out running and doing stuff outside, which is kind of old school these days,” Hargreaves II told ESPN.com.
That evoked Hargreaves’ competitive side, as he immersed himself in football, basketball, baseball, soccer and even swimming.
When Hargreaves II got the job to coach USF’s special teams and defensive ends, the family moved from North Carolina to Tampa heading into Hargreaves III’s sophomore year of high school. That’s when Hargreaves III decided to focus solely on football.
His father took him to the Team Tampa 7-on-7 practices, where he had his son line up at cornerback against one of the best high school athletes around -- current USC receiver Nelson Agholor. Hargreaves II said his son held his own for the most part, and he could see his natural fit was at cornerback. He advised his son to stay there, but he never pushed him or trained him outside of anything Hargreaves III didn’t want.
When Hargreaves III garnered five-star status, earned a trip to the Under Armour All-America Game and was offered a scholarship to Florida, it came from his own desire and work ethic.
“He took it upon himself to get as good as he can,” Hargreaves II said.
“I hate to say it, but a lot of that stuff just comes naturally. I don’t know how to explain it, really.”
One interception wasn’t enough for Hargreaves III so he snatched another one in his second game and a third in his fourth.
Hargreaves III seemed almost too comfortable on the field in the country’s toughest conference. He said fall camp was tough … for a week. Hargreaves III wasn’t used to being yelled at or getting beat so he sought guidance from veteran corners Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson. After some tough love and reflection, Hargreaves III said he started to ease in, even with the coaches moving him around from outside corner to nickel.
Coach Will Muschamp said he could tell that Hargreaves III was special with “off the charts” high school film, but he knew he needed to get him on the field early after that first week of preseason practice.
He was collecting interceptions and constantly picking things up. He wasn’t overwhelmed by the workload, understood all the new verbiage and was extremely coachable, Muschamp said.
“Vernon’s got the talent of hard work. He works,” Muschamp said. “When he goes out on the offseason program, he competes, and he works. He’s extremely intelligent; football comes very easy to him.
“Hard work is a talent, and a lot of very talented guys don’t have that.”
To Hargreaves III, it’s more than just work ethic. It’s a desire to never sit.
“I guess I don’t like not playing,” said Hargreaves III, who started 10 games in 2013 and was third in the SEC with 14 defended passes. “That’s what pulls me over. I don’t like not being able to do anything.”
Now, he’ll be asked to do even more. In a depleted secondary, Hargreaves III is the top returning member. He’s a youngster by grade, but not by his level of play. He understands that he has to do more than just elevate his game.
“I’m ready to take that on,” he said. “I don’t really feel the pressure, but I know that my coaches and the players look up to me to be able to make plays and teach other guys. That’s what I want to do. I want that to be on me. I’m looking forward to it.”
Hargreaves III will now be hunted in a league and society comprised of wolves. He’ll be scrutinized at every turn, as the spotlight shifts his way.
Neither Muschamp nor Hargreaves II are worried. They know their quiet secondary assassin is capable of ignoring the noise. But they also know that he has to build on 2013 and evolve as he looks to take his next steps.
“If you go backward, they’re going to wear you out,” Hargreaves II said. “You have to go full blast and be even better than you were. This may sound crazy, but that’s the reality. It’s gotta happen.”
Spring start: March 12
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Big shoes to fill: Steve Addazio helped BC make huge strides in 2013, but the task of keeping the momentum going gets much harder without star running back and Heisman finalist Andre Williams, who rushed for an NCAA-best 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns. Tyler Rouse and Myles Willis will attempt to fill the vacancy this spring, and both have potential. Willis averaged nearly 6 yards per carry as Williams’ primary backup last year. The real intrigue might wait until fall, however, when four freshmen running backs arrive on campus.
- Murphy makes the move: It’s an open competition at quarterback after Chase Rettig’s departure, but there’s no question the most intriguing player in the race is Florida transfer Tyler Murphy. The fifth-year senior worked with Addazio at Florida, and he’ll open the spring competing with redshirt freshman James Walsh and early enrollee Darius Wade. That’s a deep enough bench that BC didn’t worry about moving Josh Bordner, last year’s backup, to tight end. With both of last year’s starting tackles gone, too, Murphy’s experience could be even more important in determining the outcome of the QB battle.
- Restocking the LBs: Even at its low points in recent years, Boston College managed to churn out plenty of talented linebackers, but the position gets a massive overhaul this year. First-team All-ACC star Kevin Pierre-Louis (108 tackles in 2013) is gone, as is Steele Divitto (112 tackles). That leaves junior Steven Daniels (88 tackles, 5 sacks) as the lone returning starter. Josh Keyes adds some experience, but it’ll be a group in transition this spring.
Spring start: March 5
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Replacing Boyd: The talk of Clemson’s spring camp will no doubt surround the quarterbacks, as senior Cole Stoudt, sophomore Chad Kelly and early enrollee Deshaun Watson vie for the job. Stoudt’s experience makes him the early favorite, but it’s Watson, a dual-threat QB with immense talent, who could steal the show. Coach Dabo Swinney has already lauded Watson as perhaps the most talented quarterback Clemson has signed, so all eyes will be on the freshman to see if he can back up all that hype with a strong spring.
- Skill-position shuffling: If the QB battle is the headliner, there are plenty of significant sideshows on offense this spring. Clemson waved goodbye to receivers Sammy Watkins (1,464 yards, 12 TDs) and Martavis Bryant (828 yards, 7 TDs) and tailback Roderick McDowell (1,025 yards, 5 TDs). That means a massive overhaul on offense, where there’s no clear-cut bell cow at running back (Zac Brooks and D.J. Howard return as potential options) and the receiving corps will be looking for some new top targets.
- Dominance up front: On offense for Clemson, there’s plenty of concern for what the Tigers lost. On defense, however, the excitement is all about what they’re bringing back. Clemson’s defensive line, in particular, could be one of the nation’s best. When All-American Vic Beasley announced his return for his senior season, the Tigers knew they could have something special. Add sophomore lineman Shaq Lawson and senior Stephone Anthony at linebacker and Clemson has all the makings of a dominant pass rush.
Spring start: March 19
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- The running backs: After leading FSU in rushing three straight years, Devonta Freeman is gone. So, too, is James Wilder Jr. But the Seminoles enter spring with a quartet of intriguing options to replace their departed stars, led by Karlos Williams (730 yards, 11 TDs in 2013) and Dalvin Cook (No. 21 on the 2013 ESPN300). Mario Pender, who missed last year with academic issues, also figures to be in the mix.
- The defensive front: There are a wealth of question marks here, both in terms of personnel and scheme. With Timmy Jernigan, Telvin Smith and Christian Jones gone, there are plenty of jobs up for grabs. The development of Mario Edwards Jr., Eddie Goldman and Terrance Smith will be key, but with Charles Kelly taking over the defense, it’s also still a bit unclear how much the scheme will deviate from what Jeremy Pruitt ran with so much success in 2013.
- Jameis Winston’s swing: A year ago, the big question was who would win the QB battle. Now, Winston’s got a Heisman Trophy and will be a favorite to win it again in 2014. So the intrigue surrounding the FSU star QB is more on the baseball field, where once again, he’ll be splitting time this spring. Perhaps the bigger question is how the rest of the QB depth chart shakes out, with Sean Maguire the elder statesman and John Franklin III looking to make his move.
Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 11
What to watch:
- Bobby’s back: After a seven-year hiatus that included an abrupt departure from the Atlanta Falcons and a damaging scandal at Arkansas, Bobby Petrino is back in charge at Louisville insisting he’s a changed man. Fans will be watching closely to see if he has changed his stripes away from the field, but also whether he can rekindle the same offensive fireworks he delivered in his first stint with the Cardinals.
- Replacing Bridgewater: It’s an open QB battle, and for Petrino, it’s among the first chances he’ll have to see the players vying to replace departed star Teddy Bridgewater in action. Sophomore Will Gardner is perhaps the favorite, but he has just 12 career pass attempts. Redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin is close behind, while Reggie Bonnafon is set to arrive in the fall.
- New look on D: Louisville finished the 2013 season ranked second nationally in scoring defense, trailing only national champion Florida State. But this spring, things will look a bit different for the Cardinals, as Todd Grantham takes over as the new defensive coordinator after being lured from Georgia. Grantham figures to bring a 3-4 scheme to Louisville, which will certainly shake things up a bit. Defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin missing the spring with a shoulder injury only clouds the situation further.
Spring start: March 4
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Brissett takes the reins: The sting of last year’s winless ACC season was barely in the rearview mirror before coach Dave Doeren named Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett his new starting quarterback. Brissett spent last year on the sideline, but apparently Doeren saw enough during practice to comfortably wave goodbye to Pete Thomas, who announced his transfer. There will be ample spotlight on Brissett this spring as he tries to revive the underperforming NC State passing game.
- The new faces: If 2013 was about cleaning house, this spring begins the far more difficult project of rebuilding. For NC State, that means plenty of new faces, including a whopping seven early enrollees headlined by safety Germain Pratt. While there are ample holes for Doeren to fill in Year 2, these incoming freshmen could certainly push for starting jobs and bring an influx of depth that the Wolfpack sorely missed last year.
- Shoring up the lines: NC State’s 2014 signing class included 11 offensive and defensive linemen, and that’s just the start of the overhaul at the line of scrimmage. Last season, the Wolfpack allowed the second most sacks in the ACC (35) on offense while its defensive front recorded the fewest sacks in the conference (20). That’s a formula for disaster, and Doeren understands NC State must get much better in the trenches. Brissett’s arrival at QB could help, but the bottom line is NC State needs to see improvement on both sides of the line, and it needs to start this spring.
Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 19
What to watch:
- Hunt’s next step: 2013 was a roller coaster season for Terrel Hunt. He lost the QB battle in fall camp, stepped in as starter after two weeks and was dominant, struggled badly through the midsection of the season, then closed strong with back-to-back come-from-behind wins. Now that he has experience, it will be interesting this spring to see how much he’s progressed. The talent is there, and spring practice should give Hunt a chance to refine it a bit more.
- The defensive front: Syracuse finished its first ACC season ranked fourth in rushing defense and third in sacks despite myriad personnel issues entering the year, but more questions remain as the Orange look toward 2014. With star lineman Jay Bromley and veteran linebacker Marquis Spruill gone, the Orange are looking to fill sizable holes. Robert Welsh figures to be the anchor of the Syracuse pass rush, and the Orange could benefit from the return of Donnie Simmons, who missed 2013 with a knee injury.
- Secondary concerns: Syracuse got a chance to learn what life was like without top cover corner Keon Lyn after the senior fractured his kneecap late last year, but while Brandon Reddish did an admirable job as his replacement, a whole new set of questions crops up in the secondary this spring. Syracuse figures to have openings at both corner and safety, and while Julian Whigham, Darius Kelly and Ritchy Desir offer options, there’s a lot to be decided on the practice field this spring.
Spring start: March 25
Spring game: April 26
What to watch:
- Clawson’s early impact: It’s been 14 years since Wake Forest opened a spring camp with someone other than Jim Grobe calling the shots, so there’s no question this will be an intriguing few weeks in Winston-Salem. Dave Clawson takes over after leading Bowling Green to a MAC championship, and he inherits a major rebuilding job. First up for the coach will likely be creating an offensive identity -- something Grobe couldn’t do in 2013.
- Identifying some offense: If 2013 was an offensive slog for Wake Forest, 2014 threatens to be much, much worse. As bad as things got at times last year, the Deacons at least had veterans to rely on. This season, Wake’s leading passer (Tanner Price), rusher (Josh Harris), receiver (Michael Campanaro) and top tight end (Spencer Bishop) are all gone. On the plus side, plenty of younger players saw action in 2013. The job this spring is to figure out who can take a big step forward entering the 2014 campaign.
- The defensive scheme: Wake appears to be moving away from the 3-4 that was a hallmark of recent seasons, as new coordinator Mike Elko tries to maximize the talent remaining on the roster. Without veteran lineman Nikita Whitlock, Wake’s defensive front will have a far different look in 2014, and this spring will largely be about Elko identifying playmakers and tweaking his system to fit their skill sets.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- They entered in packs, tentatively exploring the upscale bar just a block from Doak Campbell Stadium in search of a Florida State legend.
There were parents with their children, rowdy fraternity brothers with beers in hand, and bubbly coeds laughing amongst themselves, all trying not to seem too eager. Slowly, they'd shuffle over, camera phones or Florida State souvenirs in hand, and make their request.
A father asked the legend to take a picture with his young daughter, then dropped any pretense of dignity and requested another photo of his own. An attractive waitress begged for a follow on Twitter.
Two women snapped pictures and then asked the legend to autograph their T-shirts, which were already emblazoned with his likeness. As he'd done countless times in the past few months, he graciously agreed, scribbling the words "Red Lightning" across the cotton with practiced ease.
"They all come in and say, ‘Hey, it's Red Lightning,'" Frankie Grizzle-Malgrat said. "They don't know my real name."
This was a charity event for coach Jimbo Fisher’s foundation less than a month after Florida State won the 2013 BCS National Championship and Grizzle-Malgrat, the Seminoles' equipment manager, became a superstar. He offered to donate any proceeds gleaned from his overnight success to the cause, and on this night he was guest bartending while organizers auctioned off Red Lightning prizes, including a chance to challenge him to a footrace.
Grizzle-Malgrat is 21, just six months into his tenure at Florida State after transferring from Tallahassee Community College, and his overnight fame courtesy of a YouTube video has afforded him a unique brand of celebrity. He's part Internet meme, part sports icon, part social construct -- an average guy living every football fan's dream. But mostly, Grizzle-Malgrat is a blue-collar student doing his best to navigate celebrity life with the same earnest enthusiasm that earned him that fame in the first place.
"A mattress?" he inquires. "Like what you lay on?"
Still, bartenders are eager to relay their knowledge as he mixes up concoctions for the growing crowd, including a special "Red Lightning" shot. The original mixture was a bit tame, and by night's end, Grizzle-Malgrat refined the recipe to one more appealing to his fans.
He takes photos with FSU basketball coach Leonard Hamilton, who was eager for an introduction. He's cornered by a trio of men wanting to buy him a drink in exchange for advice on life. After he's pulled away, the men agree: "It's like we're following Jesus."
"Everybody is his friend," Candi Fisher said. "He's just got so much personality."
But Grizzle-Malgrat understands how preposterous the situation is.
In August, he'd reached out to Florida State equipment operations manager Darin Kerns, hoping for a quiet job behind the scenes with his favorite college football team. He drove 650 miles from his hometown of Key West, Fla., on the first day of fall camp, then spent the rest of the next six hours trudging across the practice fields, collecting helmets and laundering uniforms. It was a dream job.
"This is all I ever wanted to do, and it so happened to be Florida State, my favorite football team," Grizzle-Malgrat said. "I couldn't ask for it to be any better."
His enthusiasm was obvious from the outset. Within a month, Grizzle-Malgrat's work ethic earned him a scholarship. He'd stop by the locker room as early as 6 a.m. to lend a hand, even on off days. Some nights, he'd remain at work past midnight. At practice, he began working with the quarterbacks, clicking with eventual Heisman winner Jameis Winston. On game days, Grizzle-Malgrat was a whirlwind of energy, sprinting down the sidelines following a big run, celebrating with players after a score, even jawing with the opposition when tempers flared.
It wasn't just the equipment staff that appreciated Grizzle-Malgrat's passion, however. With his shaggy red beard and bright, curly hair, he's easy enough to spot from the stands, which is how photographer and FSU fan Jake Brashears first took notice. Brashears dug up TV clips of Seminoles highlights that featured Red Lightning in the background, assembled the video and posted it to YouTube after FSU's win over Florida. It became an instant phenomenon.
By the time Florida State arrived in Charlotte for the ACC championship game a week later, Red Lightning was a household name.
For Grizzle-Malgrat, the next few weeks were a blur. In Charlotte, he met longtime broadcaster Brent Musburger, and the two struck up a friendship. At clubs, eager women swarmed him, posing for photos with their arms wrapped around him. When stopped at traffic lights, drivers honked and yelled his name. His fellow equipment managers basked in the shared spotlight, and suddenly players were joking that Red Lightning had become the most famous member of the Seminoles entourage.
"They love him," Kerns said. "Jameis came back from the Heisman and was like, ‘They were asking about you, Red Lightning.'"
Back home in Key West, Grizzle-Malgrat's sudden fame wasn't quite as much of a surprise. He's always been an avid sports fan, and he's always been passionate about his work. The YouTube video simply captured what his hometown had seen for years.
"It's him," his mother, Kim, said. "He was full on. He got most school spirit. He's constantly full throttle."
Still, his family is amused by the celebrity in their midst. At church during a trip home for the holidays, Grizzle-Malgrat was mobbed with photo requests. Kim keeps a picture from the Internet of Winston and her son captioned, "One of these men is a living legend. The other is Jameis Winston."
At Kim's Kuban, a sandwich shop she owns, a Pepsi distributor provided a banner for the national championship game that read: "Home of Red Lightning."
The video still gets clicks and numerous spinoffs have followed. At the bar, women still shout for Red Lightning, and he still poses for numerous pictures. But Grizzle-Malgrat knew from the outset that fame was fleeting, so he's embraced its inevitable end point.
Before he leaves for spring break -- a trip back home to Key West -- Grizzle-Malgrat plans to shave the scraggly beard he's been growing since August and tame the frazzled curls that became his trademark. After that, he expects, the Red Lightning phenomenon will likely fade into Internet obscurity.
"It's kind of a good thing," he said. "I'll stay out of the spotlight then."
But even after the beard disappears, the legend of Red Lightning will remain embedded into the story of Florida State's national championship run.
And when the 2014 season kicks off this fall, Grizzle-Malgrat will be back, too, sprinting down the sideline, a ball tucked under his arm, doing what comes naturally.
"I never thought just me doing my job would be something out of the ordinary for other people," he said. "Now over a million people have seen me hustle, seen the passion I have toward everything, especially sports. I guess that's what made it big."
None of them has ever started a game.
“This is probably the most slim it’s been since I’ve been here,” said Leal, a fifth-year senior. “We’ve always had at least five or six guys, but right now it’s only three.”
As spring practices begin throughout the conference, the ACC kicks off its 2014 season with a complete overhaul at the quarterback position. It was only a year ago that Florida State’s Jameis Winston was an unproven rookie who had yet to start a game. Now, the 20-year-old reigning Heisman Trophy winner is the veteran of the league, as nine of the 14 schools will have a first-year starting quarterback, and the competition is open at 11 programs. Florida State, Duke and NC State are the only programs that have definitively named starters, and even NC State doesn’t know what to expect out of first-year starter and Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett.
Brissett, though, knows what’s expected.
“Go make sure it was earned,” he said, “not given.”
Count on that to be a trend in the conference this spring.
Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are all starting from scratch, without any starting experience at the quarterback position. Some of the league’s most recognizable names have to be replaced, including Tajh Boyd, Logan Thomas and Teddy Bridgewater. Coaches at North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia have deemed their competitions open, in spite of experienced starters returning.
“I looked at that and was kind of surprised,” said Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas, the frontrunner to take over the job after Vad Lee’s decision to transfer. “It should even the playing field out a little bit, but at the same time, we all have to go through our parts.”
Not to mention spring and summer auditions.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said it’s likely the competition between Chad Kelly, Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson will extend beyond this spring -- and possibly into the season.
“Going in, Cole starts out as No. 1 simply because of where we finished the season -- basically by default, if you will,” Swinney said. “He’s the senior. It’s basically his to lose going in, but it’s incredibly close. You’re talking about -- in my opinion -- three guys who are going to play in the NFL. I believe with all my heart that Cole Stoudt is going to play in the NFL. And the same thing with Chad Kelly, and the same thing with Deshaun Watson, if they stay healthy. So you’ve got three NFL players competing to be the guy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people say, well, if you don’t have one quarterback then you have none. But that’s not the case here.”
It could be the case elsewhere, though.
Virginia Tech (Michael Brewer), Boston College (Tyler Murphy), Miami (Ryan Williams) and NC State (Brissett) are all hoping that transfers can give the position an immediate boost, but former Texas Tech quarterback Brewer won’t join the Hokies until this summer. While none of them has started a game at their current schools, all but Brewer have started at least three games at their previous programs.
Williams started 10 games while he was at Memphis, and he’s the leading candidate to replace Stephen Morris, but “it is wide open,” according to offensive coordinator James Coley. And Williams knows it.
"You have to earn it, you have to earn everything,” Williams told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I don't want anything given to me. If it's given to me, I didn't work hard enough.”
Brissett started three games at Florida, and Murphy started six games for the Gators after starter Jeff Driskel was lost for the season. Murphy went 2-4 with 1,216 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions before missing the final three games of the season with a shoulder injury.
Nothing is guaranteed in Chestnut Hill this spring, either, as the Eagles also have Darius Wade, a true freshman who enrolled early, and James Walsh, who will be a redshirt freshman.
All eyes will be on Louisville’s quarterback competition, as the Cardinals enter their first season in the ACC without Bridgewater, who left early to enter the NFL draft. Will Gardner and Kyle Bolin will be the top two candidates this spring, and they’ll be joined by incoming freshman Reggie Bonnafon this summer.
“It’s wide open,” first-year coach Bobby Petrino said. “We’ll go through spring and see who comes out 1-2-3 and then obviously we’ll give Reggie an opportunity in the fall to compete with those guys.”
With the addition of Louisville, the ACC enters this season perceived by many to be the strongest it has ever been.
Now it just needs to find a few quarterbacks to help prove it.
Is Cooper Bateman really ready to take a step forward after redshirting last season? What about Parker McLeod and Alec Morris? Would Saban dare gamble on the run-oriented Blake Sims? Is it possible that true freshman David Cornwell could get a look? My goodness, what about Jacob Coker?! Isn’t the job really his anyways?!
As Saban sat down with a group of reporters on Wednesday to discuss the start of spring practice and a number of other issues facing his Crimson Tide, he seemed resigned to the oncoming quarterback drama. Asked what he was looking for in the next starter, he listed a number of qualities: the ability to process information quickly, to make good decisions, to throw the ball accurately, to manage the game and make the correct calls.
And then came the disclaimer.
“But let me be very clear about this,” he said. “We're not going to be in any hurry to decide who the quarterback is.”
That’s right, folks. Saban and his staff plan on taking their time with this decision. So hold your questions, please. Whatever opinions you have on who should start and why, keep them to yourselves until this is over.
“We're not going to be in any hurry to decide who the quarterback is,” Saban said. “We're going to give everybody a lot of opportunity to compete. You guys are going to ask me at least 1,000 times between now and the first game who's the first-team quarterback, and I'm telling you right now you're probably going to get a 1,000 ‘We're going to wait and see.’”
Saban’s been through this before. If you count John Parker Wilson, he’s been a part of naming three starting quarterbacks at Alabama. He did the same at LSU and Michigan State plenty of times before that. And each and every time he’s been content to employ the wait-and-see approach.
When the temperature rises and the competition heats up in the coming months, Tide fans will do well to remember that Saban didn't rush naming McCarron the starter in 2011, and that worked out to the tune of two national championships and a slew of new school passing records.
“When AJ became quarterback him and Phillip Sims actually alternated quarters in the first two games, I think, to see who played the best,” Saban said, drilling the point home now. “And it really was hard on all you guys.
“I think it's important to get it right. ... And we have one candidate in this horse race who's not even going to be here until May, till he graduates where he is now. He's certainly a guy that's going to compete for the position too.”
Ah, Jacob Coker.
Whatever we think we're able to learn this spring will come with the caveat that the primary competition hasn’t even arrived yet. Coker, who will make his transfer from Florida State complete in May if he passes all his remaining classes, is the presumed frontrunner to win the job. He’s not bowing to the pressure that comes with that, but it won’t change the perception around camp this fall that he's the man to beat.
Saban would cringe at such assumptions. But his desire for less talk and more patience will do nothing to change what's sure to develop into a circus-type atmosphere as we inch closer to the start of the season. Between Coker's hype, the other quarterbacks competing and the arrival of Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator, all eyes will be squarely on who's under center in Alabama. Every day a starter isn't named will be a day someone somewhere will talk about who it should be rather than who it actually is.
Just don't look for the competition itself to play itself out publicly. Scrimmages at Alabama are closed to the general public and media. Reporters only see the first few minutes of practice each day, and it's never enough to glean any real information. Getting insight from coaches and players will be next to impossible. None of the quarterbacks are likely to be made available to reporters while the competition is ongoing, and teammates who do speak won't stray from the company line. If you're looking for Kiffin to talk, he'll have his one and only media obligation of the year in early August, and even then he's never been one to show his cards. Which leaves Saban, who won't deviate from his steadfast policy to divulge nothing and speculate on even less.
So trade predictions at the water cooler, shout at the talking heads on television and scream at talk radio all you want. Whatever you do, though, have a little patience. Because whatever soap opera you were hoping for just isn't going to happen. This is The Nick Saban Show and it has very little in the way of drama.
2. In a discussion on the ESPNU Football Podcast on Wednesday, my colleague Matt Fortuna made an interesting point in favor of the idea that Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has established himself as a success in South Bend despite having had only one BCS-bowl season. Three of Kelly’s coordinators have been hired as head coaches: Charley Molnar (UMass), Chuck Martin (Miami of Ohio) and Bob Diaco (UConn). Here’s another point in Kelly’s favor: he is in year five in South Bend without questions surrounding his job security. Since Dan Devine retired in 1980, only Lou Holtz has passed the five-year threshold.
3. Has it occurred to anyone else that this is the golden age of college football in the state of South Carolina? The Gamecocks have finished 11-2 and in the top 10 in the last three seasons; Clemson has done both in the last two seasons. This from the flagship programs of a state best known in recent years for exporting its talent to national powers such as Florida State and Penn State. What Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney have achieved gets lost because they have one conference title between them in their present jobs. But the state of South Carolina stands behind only Alabama in recent success.
College football coaches spoke loudly, and the NCAA listened (for a change).
One day before the NCAA’s 11-member playing rules oversight committee was set to vote on whether to slow down the pace of play in college football, the NCAA Football Rules Committee on Wednesday tabled the controversial rule change it proposed last month.
The rule proposal would have prohibited offenses from snapping the ball until at least 10 seconds had run off the 40-second play clock, which would have afforded defenses more time to substitute. Under current rules, defenses can substitute only if offenses do it first. The only exceptions for the proposed rule would have been in the final two minutes of each half and if the play clock began at 25 seconds. If an offense snapped the ball before the play clock was at less than 30 seconds, it would have been penalized 5 yards for delay of game.
Coaches of teams that employ hurry-up, spread offenses vehemently opposed the rule change, especially after the committee proposed it for what it called player safety issues. The committee argued that it was logical to assume that players were at more risk of injury because of the increased number of plays in games because of the faster pace.
Coaches such as Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin were vocal in their opposition to the proposed rule change, while Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema were in favor of it.
“There was a lot of comment on it -- and a lot of negative comments,” said Rogers Redding, the NCAA’s coordinator of football officiating. “The committee believed there is not enough medical data. The committee decided to wait and get the medical data and see if the two are tied together.”
The proposed slowdown rule isn’t dead yet. The NCAA plans to study the issue in the coming months, and the rule change could be brought up again for comment at a later date. Redding said Brian Hainline, the NCAA’s chief medical officer, participated in the Football Rules Committee’s conference call Wednesday and said more medical research was needed to determine if the faster pace of play in college football correlates with more injuries.
“One thing I would like to point out is that the process worked,” Redding said. “The injury timeout rule is still in place. If a player is hurt, he should be taken out of the game. If a player is fatigued and can’t go anymore, it’s a legitimate reason to get him out of the game.”
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter, whose Bulldogs ran a whopping 1,088 plays in 13 games (83.7 per contest) last season, said coaches who backed the rule change just wanted to prevent up-tempo offenses from playing so fast.
“If there was any kind of documented evidence that showed there were more injuries, it would make sense,” DeRuyter said. “But I think there are certain coaches that don’t like the style of football up-tempo teams play. They want to change the rules instead of adjusting to up-tempo football.”
The NCAA’s playing rules oversight committee will vote Thursday whether to adjust college football’s controversial targeting rule, which was introduced last season. If the rule change is approved, teams will no longer be penalized 15 yards if a targeting call is overturned by replay review. Under current rules, only a player’s automatic ejection is overturned; his team is still penalized even if replay leads to an overturn of the call. A rule change would also allow officials to review targeting calls at halftime of nontelevised games and potentially overturn them.
The NCAA Football Rules Committee proposed another rule change that would penalize players for hitting a quarterback below the knees. Redding said the rule, which won’t be voted on until after it goes through the official comment period, would mimic the NFL’s “Tom Brady rule.”
Both of the aforementioned rule changes would go in effect for the 2014 season if they are passed by the rules oversight committee.
But for Arizona receiver Austin Hill, spring practice feels like he's standing in front of a spectacular buffet dinner. And he's really, really hungry.
Hill was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection following the 2012 season after ranking second in the conference in receiving yards. The sophomore looked like a potential All-American in 2013 after catching 81 passes for 1,364 yards -- 16.8 yards per reception -- with 11 touchdowns.
But his 2013 season ended before it began on April 10 after he tore his ACL during the second-to-last session of spring practice.
Poof -- just like that, football was taken away, replaced by uncertainty and the daily burden -- and boredom -- of rehabilitation. That's why even a no-pads practice to start spring drills this week was invigorating.
Hill practiced with the Wildcats in a limited fashion during the final weeks of the 2013 season, but he's still not 100 percent healthy. While he's officially full-speed this spring, he's still wearing a knee brace and his explosiveness and speed are not fully back.
"That's basically the last step of ACL recovery," he said. "I'm still in those processes."
Neal and Jones both sat out last season, so Hill knows they share his hunger, while the returning starters and contributors don't want to yield repetitions. While it's a collegial atmosphere among the receivers at practice, it's also a competition for touches and position in the pecking order.
"Everyone is helping each other out on the field," Hill said. "It's fun to see athletes compete. It's always fun."
Of course, the competition at receiver figures to yield certainty -- an outstanding and deep crew of four or five guys in a regular rotation with one or two leading the way. The bigger issue is who is going to deliver the ball.
Hill laughs at the inevitable quarterback competition question, for an answer behind center probably won't be delivered until fall camp. Perhaps even late in fall camp, as it was last year.
Hill, for one, admits he'd prefer to get some clarity much sooner.
"Right now ... who knows? I just hope it doesn't end up like it was last year, where even in the first couple of games we really didn't know who the quarterback was," he said. "I want it to be a QB we know is going to start. That's the most important thing for your passing game, that receiver-QB sync. It's hard to get that sync when you don't know who your quarterback is and it's getting switched up every day."
“Of course, that's up to the QBs -- senior Jesse Scroggins, sophomore Connor Brewer, junior Jerrard Randall and redshirt freshman Anu Solomon -- and coach Rich Rodriguez, who has said repeatedly about QB competitions that he would prefer that one guy quickly and decisively wins the job.
I just hope it doesn't end up like it was last year, where even in the first couple of games we really didn't know who the quarterback was. I want it to be a QB we know is going to start. That's the most important thing for your passing game, that receiver-QB sync. It's hard to get that sync when you don't know who your quarterback is and it's getting switched up every day.” Arizona receiver Austin Hill on the Wildcats' quarterback competition.
Just don't expect it to happen this spring.
As for Hill's take, he often doesn't even know who's delivering the ball.
"The quarterbacks are getting switched around so much, sometimes it's even hard to tell which quarterback even went with my group when I went," he said. "We move so fast, I don't get to pay attention to what quarterback is throwing me the ball."
While the QBs work through their competition, Hill will be a veteran leader for the offense, back in action after a year of observing the team from the outside. When he looks around at practice at the improved personnel on both sides of the ball, he senses that the Wildcats are going to surprise some folks this season.
"I'm ready to help this team to a BCS bowl," he said. "I feel like that's where we're headed."
As Hill missed last season and is still not 100 percent, he, of course, can be forgiven for forgetting 2013 was the last season of the BCS era. His point is clear. He believes Arizona is going to be a threat in the Pac-12's South Division in 2014.
Collectively, the Tigers are actually more experienced.
With 19 scholarship seniors on the roster, this is the most veteran team Swinney has had to work with in the past five seasons in Death Valley. In 2012, Clemson only had 11 scholarship seniors, and just 10 last season.
That is important, considering several of them will be given opportunities to play immediately.
At the receiver position, where Clemson has to replace Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, Clemson has three early enrollees who will participate this spring: Demarre Kitt, Kyrin Priester and Artavis Scott. True freshman receiver Trevion Thompson will join the team this summer. True freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson also enrolled early, and he will be competing this spring with quarterbacks Chad Kelly and Cole Stoudt. At running back, Swinney said he is particularly excited about Wayne Gallman, a redshirt freshman who came “so close to playing last year.” Overall, Swinney said he thinks the running back position will be the deepest it’s been in years.
In fact, Swinney’s biggest concerns are the ones nobody is talking about: replacing Chandler Catanzaro at kicker and finding some answers at offensive tackle.
“We’ve certainly got questions, just like any team out there has questions, but that’s why people buy tickets,” Swinney said. “I think our defense has a chance to be outstanding -- the best we’ve been in a while. I’m really proud of the improvement we made defensively this year, but I think we can take that thing to a much higher level with our personnel, with our depth, with our experience next year defensively. Offensively, I expect us to be really good. I mean really good. I don’t see any reason why not. Yeah, we’ve got to figure things out and get them all in the right spot, but I don’t have any doubt we’re going to be explosive and fun to watch.”
He returned a Super Bowl champion.
The All-Pro cornerback is part of a group of several NFL players -- including Andrew Luck, Zach Ertz and Jonathan Martin -- back on campus as part of a coordinated trip. More than 20 are expected back at some point to train together and take advantage of the program's new alumni locker room, which was part of a $21-million addition to the Arrillaga Family Sports Center completed in October.
"It's unbelievable, man," Sherman said. "It feels nice to have somewhere to go when you come here. You don't have to borrow or bum any of the young guys' lockers."
That Stanford has a designated area for NFL players is symbolic in the program's rise.
"It's a testament to a lot of groups of guys. It's testament to the group of guys that came before us who set the groundwork for us," Sherman said. "Jim Harbaugh did a heck of a job changing the culture and changing the mindset and also the players now."
Sherman's arrival was good timing, too. The Cardinal are still without a full-time defensive backs coach following Derek Mason's departure for Vanderbilt and are in the process of converting Kodi Whitfield from receiver to safety. Sherman made a similar change, albeit to corner, while he was at Stanford.
The Seahawks star spoke with Whitfield and other defensive backs about technique during position drills and watched from the sideline during team drills.
"He's trying not to coach from the sidelines, but he can't help himself sometimes," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "Just the fact that he's here, just the fact that he's around kind of reaffirms why some of these guys are here."
Sherman said he would like to get into coaching after his NFL career is over, but said he's more interested in the high school level.
He will spend the majority of his offseason in Seattle, but, along with several others, plans on being a visitor to his old home.
Spring start: Feb. 27
Spring game: April 5
What to watch:
- Gunner Kiel: Attention has followed the former high school sensation for years, from Indiana to LSU to Notre Dame and now to Cincinnati. He enters his redshirt sophomore season having never taken a college snap. With sixth-year senior Munchie Legaux still recovering from last year's leg injury, the show is Kiel's to run this spring.
- Hank Hughes' defense: The former Cincinnati defensive coordinator returns after coaching last season at UConn. There, he orchestrated a rushing defense that finished 23rd nationally despite a 3-9 campaign. He will keep a 4-3 base but loses three all-conference performers from last season: Greg Blair, Jordan Stepp and Deven Drane.
- RDA IV: Ralph David Abernathy IV has been a playmaker out of the backfield for the Bearcats in recent seasons, but he has moved to the slot this spring. He will probably still line up in the backfield at times, but seeing what the 5-foot-7, 161-pounder can do in space is definitely worth keeping an eye on, especially if the man throwing him the ball, Kiel, lives up to the hype at quarterback.
Spring start: March 21
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Carden's ascent: Shane Carden could be a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate in 2014. He enters his fifth year in the program coming off a season in which he completed better than 70 percent of his throws for more than 4,000 yards, totaling 43 combined touchdowns between passing and rushing. Similar numbers in a new league will get him much more attention.
- Replacing Jeremy Grove: The redshirt senior linebacker recently announced that he was hanging up his cleats after several shoulder injuries. The former freshman All-American led the Pirates in tackles for two years running before being limited last season. Expect bigger roles for Zeek Bigger and Brandon Williams, who together last season totaled 10 tackles for loss and three forced turnovers.
- Filling the backfield void: East Carolina says goodbye to Vintavious Cooper, who turned in consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. While signee Anthony Scott looks like a player who could contribute right away upon his summer arrival, the burden for now falls on the shoulders of three backs who totaled 548 yards on the ground last season.
Spring start: March 3
Spring game: April 11
What to watch:
- O'Korn looks to take next step: John O'Korn started 11 games last season at quarterback, proving to be efficient through the air and on the ground while taking the Cougars to a bowl game in their first season in the American. Now he's running an offense that, including him, returns eight starters. He set the bar pretty high as league rookie of the year, but incremental improvement could mean big things for Houston in 2014.
- CB battles: Zach McMillian and Thomas Bates have graduated, taking their combined 10 forced turnovers from last season out the door with them. Two transfers could find themselves in the mix, as Lee Hightower (Boise State) and Tyler White (Utah) look to battle for starting spots on a defense seeking help in the secondary.
- Trevon Randle: The former LSU linebacker and three-star recruit now finds himself in more of a pass-rushing role after sitting out the 2013 season for undisclosed reasons. The move is interesting for the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Randle, but the talent is certainly there for Randle to become a playmaker, wherever he ends up playing on the field.
Spring start: March 2
Spring game: April 11
What to watch:
- Paxton Lynch's growth: Lynch made a name for himself by unseating Jacob Karam as the starting quarterback during fall camp last season. He followed with an up-and-down season for the 3-9 Tigers, showing flashes of playmaking ability and a penchant for turning it over. He is now the hunted, not the hunter, with redshirt freshman Brayden Scott now in the role Lynch played last season in hoping to steal the No. 1 job.
- Hayes' return: The biggest coup of the offseason was the NCAA granting Brandon Hayes a sixth year of eligibility. The former walk-on was the team's MVP and leading rusher last season, and he will help take plenty of pressure off of whoever emerges as the starting quarterback.
- Defensive growth: The Tigers were ranked 39th last season in total defense, and eight starters return. The unit gave the offense chances to win last season against league heavyweights Louisville and UCF before falling by a 24-17 margin in both games, and the Tigers welcome two new coaches in Ricky Hunley (line) and Ryan Walters (corners).
Spring start: March 4
Spring game: April 5 (no spring game)
What to watch:
- Replacing Gilbert: SMU opened practice Tuesday with five men in the mix to become its starting quarterback, with Neal Burcham carrying the front-runner status after starting the final two games last season in place of Garrett Gilbert (knee), who totaled nearly 3,800 yards rushing and passing last season, accounting for 27 scores.
- Receiver depth: The Mustangs are relatively thin at the position following the graduation of two of its top three receivers from last season, as Jeremy Johnson and Keenan Holman each tallied more than 1,000 yards in 2013. Deion Sanders Jr., meanwhile, will miss spring practice because of a shoulder injury.
- The next Acker: Cornerback Kenneth Acker starred with the Mustangs, earning second-team all-conference distinction after finishing second in the league in passes defended (16) and tallying a team-best three interceptions on the season. Jay Scott, who forced three turnovers himself last season, is also gone. Talented safety Shakiel Randolph could see his role increased after showing plenty of promise in his first two seasons, including a 37-tackle campaign last season.
Spring start: March 24
Spring game: April 26
What to watch:
- Receiver help: Temple will open spring practice without Robbie Anderson, the Owls' top receiver from last season, who is no longer with the team. Both Anderson and the graduated Ryan Alderman combined for more than 1,300 yards last season, so the pressure will be on Jalen Fitzpatrick and John Christopher to carry bigger workloads going into 2014. They'll have a familiar Philly face coaching them, with former QB Adam DiMichele now the Owls' receivers coach.
- Aerial attack: One silver lining from a 2-10 campaign last season? P.J. Walker, who rebounded after losing the preseason quarterback battle and ended up starting the season's final seven games, threw for 2,084 yards. He was part of a group that passed for the most yards ever (2,996) by a Temple team, a promising sign moving forward for the second-year player (and his second-year coach, Matt Rhule).
- Tyler Matakevich: The kid just keeps on getting better, as the linebacker followed up his impressive rookie season by tallying 137 total tackles — including 11.5 for loss — picking off one pass, recovering two fumbles and forcing three more. He wears a single-digit jersey, No. 8, to signify his toughness, and he is a great central piece for the defense to build around. Temple was ranked 109th overall in yards allowed last season.
Spring start: Feb. 7
Spring game: Feb. 26 (no spring game)
What to watch:
- Injuries: The situation is a little different here with Tulane, which is already finished with its spring season, allowing us to instead look back. And the Green Wave even ended up finishing earlier than anticipated, as coach Curtis Johnson ended it after Feb. 26, cutting the final two practices because of injuries. Among the walking wounded throughout last month: Linebacker Nico Marley, running back Sherman Badie and linebackers Sergio Medina and Edward Williams, who both missed all of spring because of pre-existing injuries.
- QB battle: Tanner Lee is seemingly the front-runner to start in 2014 after redshirting as a freshman this past fall. A local prospect from Jesuit High, he passed for nearly 4,000 yards in high school while tallying 39 touchdowns and just nine interceptions, and he received a much heavier workload this spring after the Green Wave struggled with consistency in the passing game in 2013.
- Filling the backfield void: Orleans Darkwa is gone after totaling 920 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Tulane might be turning to another redshirt freshman, with Badie getting plenty of attention this spring before suffering a concussion down the stretch. Senior Rob Kelley (420 yards in 2013) and three other backfield contributors from last season return to give this unit a bit of depth.
Spring start: March 11
Spring game: April 19
What to watch:
- Defensive stability: No one in the program is happy following a 3-9 campaign last fall, but the Golden Hurricane bring back plenty of experience from last season as they move into Year 1 in the American. Ten starters are back on defense. Despite finishing just 102nd in yards allowed last season, that gives the program a nice foundation as it welcomes in a tougher slate of opponents.
- Josh Blankenship and the offense: Head coach Bill Blankenship's newest hire is his son, Josh, who was brought in to coach quarterbacks and rework an offense that finished 100th overall last season. The former Muskogee High head coach is part of a restructured offensive staff after coordinator Greg Peterson left the program and Bill Blankenship gave up coaching the QBs.
- Backfield holes: Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas are gone after totaling nearly 1,700 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Reinforcements are on the way in three running back signees from this recruiting cycle, with one of them, juco transfer Tavarreon Dickerson, enrolling early and looking to make an impact after averaging 8.5 yards per carry last season at Trinity Valley.
Spring start: March 12
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Like after Bortles: Blake Bortles will be examined and re-examined in the public eye daily before the NFL draft, and his replacement back at UCF has some major shoes to fill. His backup last season, Justin Holman, is the most experienced of a three-man group that includes early enrollee and former SMU commit Tyler Harris.
- Replacing Storm Johnson: Johnson is gone after rushing for 1,139 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, and Will Stanback will likely have to prepare for a much bigger role in his sophomore year after getting 105 carries in his rookie campaign of 2013. There are plenty of other bodies back there, but none managed the workload Stanback carried last season as a freshman.
- Offensive line depth: Brent Key is now the assistant head coach of the offense, and he will serve as offensive line coach as well. The spring will be very important in helping to sort out the chaos up front, and one player worth keeping an eye will be Chester Brown, who saw limited action last season after switching from the defensive line in fall camp.
Spring start: March 10
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- New leader: Bob Diaco had an introductory news conference like few others. The former Notre Dame defensive coordinator is filled with energy, and he certainly brings a new approach atop the program following the Paul Pasqualoni and Randy Edsall eras. He already has made some cosmetic changes in the training facility, but bringing immediate change on the field is a bigger challenge in 2014.
- Casey Cochran. The Huskies won their final three games last season, putting up 28 or more points in all three contests. Cochran passed for a school-record 461 yards in the finale, and seeing how he and the rest of the quarterbacks develop under this new staff will go a long way toward determining what UConn can do next season.
- Defensive replenishments. For all of their struggles in recent years, the Huskies haven't lacked for talent or effort on the defensive side of the ball. That shouldn't change under Diaco, who won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator in 2012. But replacing standouts such as Shamar Stephen and Yawin Smallwood won't be easy.
Spring start: Feb. 26
Spring game: March 29
What to watch:
- QB battle: Penn State transfer Steven Bench was named the starter at midseason in 2013, but he found himself behind freshman Mike White after an injury. Both quarterbacks turned the ball over way too much last season, and increased production from that position is crucial if Willie Taggart wants to get this program turned around in his second season as head coach.
- Running backs: The battle to replace Marcus Shaw is on after his 765-yard season in 2013. Mike Pierre, Willie Davis and Darius Tice are the men being counted on now in the backfield, but no player from that trio carried the ball more than 41 times or topped 141 rushing yards for the season.
- Jamie Byrd: Byrd enrolled at USF this January following a stint at Iowa Western Community College, and he has two years of eligibility remaining. He had 53 tackles, two interceptions, seven passes defended and a fumble recovery last season, and the hard-hitting speedster could make an early impact with the Bulls in the secondary.
The Bulldogs could look around and see that record-setting quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Davante Adams were no longer there.
“We’re not the Fighting Derek Carrs,” DeRuyter told his team. “We’re the Fresno State Bulldogs.”
“Derek cast a big shadow,” DeRuyter said. “Davante cast a big shadow. But those guys have moved on. When we got here, nobody knew who Devante Adams was. He was a redshirt freshman who hadn’t played much. We’re excited about what our young guys can do with opportunities.”
Fresno State isn’t the only team from outside the Big Five conferences who will be trying to replace a boatload of star power when spring practice begins later this month. Northern Illinois must replace record-setting quarterback Jordan Lynch, a 2013 Heisman Trophy finalist, and Boise State has to move on without former coach Chris Petersen, who guided the Broncos to a 92-12 record in eight seasons before leaving for Washington in early December.
“The great thing about coaching in college is the kids have short memories,” Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey said.
The Huskies probably won’t forget about Lynch anytime soon. In two seasons as a starter, Lynch led the Huskies to a 24-4 record, including an appearance in the Discover Orange Bowl after the 2012 season. He passed for 6,209 yards with 51 touchdowns and ran for 4,343 yards with 48 touchdowns during his NIU career, the bulk of it during the last two seasons alone.
“We had to go through this when we lost [former quarterback Chandler Harnish],” NIU coach Rod Carey said. “Obviously, it’s a little different this time. There’s a little recall with our older guys that we’ve been through this before. I’ve told our older guys, ‘Jordan didn’t do everything. He only almost did everything.’”
“I’ve told them that the quarterback who can throw it the best is going be the guy,” Carey said. “If you can’t throw it, you can’t run it for very long.”
Besides losing Lynch, the Huskies will bring back most of their offensive starters from last season’s team, which started 12-0 before losing to Bowling Green 47-27 in the MAC championship game and Utah State 21-14 in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. NIU also will have to replace four starting defensive linemen, as well as star safety Jimmie Ward.
“It will be different than when we broke in Jordan,” Carey said. “We knew we had the quarterback then, but we didn’t know if we had the supporting cast. Now, we know we have the supporting cast, but we have to find the quarterback -- and we have three of them.”
Fresno State’s quarterback competition this spring also figures to be tight. Junior Brian Burrell, who attempted 12 passes as Carr’s backup in 2013, might have a slight edge over two younger competitors heading into spring practice, according to DeRuyter. A transfer from Bakersfield (Calif.) College, Burrell still has two years of eligibility remaining at Fresno State. Redshirt freshman Zack Greenlee, a former Elite 11 prospect from Stockton, Calif., and sophomore Myles Carr (no relation to the former starter) of Arcadia, Calif., also will compete for the job.
“I’m comfortable with what we have, but I also realize that Derek Carr threw for 50 touchdowns and more than 5,000 yards last year,” DeRuyter said. “I don’t know anybody in the country, let alone on our roster, who is going to be able to do that. I love the guys we have on our roster, and our coaches are excited to find out who is going to be the quarterback this fall.”
“A lot of what we do will be new,” Harsin said. “Some of our structure and philosophies have remained the same, but a lot of the language and other things are different. I think it’s going to be change in a good way. I think it’s fresh and a different perspective.”
The Broncos might be looking for a fresh start after slipping to 8-5 last season. The Broncos had won 10 games or more in each of Petersen’s first seven seasons.
“Sometimes you have success in a program, and guys just think it’s going to happen,” Harsin said. “Being a young team, I think the hunger is here. But I think understanding what it takes to be a championship team is more important. I think they’re hungry, but I don’t know if they understand what it takes yet.”
Harsin and other coaches around the country will begin to learn how far their teams have to go during the next several weeks.