Pick a word, any word.

That’s what I asked the 65 coaches from the Power Five conferences and Notre Dame to do. Describe their team in one word.

Some coaches were one-word wonders, but a few insisted they needed two words. That’s fine because the descriptions shed some insight into how coaches view their team and/or what they want the public perception of their team to be.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
AP Photo/Athens Banner-HeraldGeorgia coach Mark Richt describes his team as 'wow.'
Of the 65 coaches, “hungry” was the most common description. Nine coaches went with it, making a “hungry” team the modern-day equivalent of the “taking it one game at a time” cliché. Four coaches used “unproven,” another four “experienced” and three said “young.” Two coaches each used “redemption,” “committed,” “improved” or “youthful."

In all, the 65 coaches used 44 different descriptions.

Well, here’s to taking it one “word” at a time. My word: Enjoy.

SEC

Alabama’s Nick Saban: Untested
Arkansas’ Bret Bielema: Motivated
Auburn’s Gus Malzahn: Experienced
Florida’s Will Muschamp: Hungry
Georgia’s Mark Richt: Wow
Kentucky’s Mark Stoops: Improved
LSU’s Les Miles: Unknown
Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen: Hungry
Missouri’s Gary Pinkel: Confident
Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze: Relentless
South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier: Decent
Tennessee’s Butch Jones: Committed
Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin: Eager
Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason: Audacious
Pick a word, any word.

That’s what I asked the 65 coaches from the Power Five conferences and Notre Dame to do. Describe their team in one word.

Some coaches were one-word wonders, but a few insisted they needed two words. That’s fine because the descriptions shed some insight into how coaches view their team and/or what they want the public perception of their team to be.

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesBaylor coach Art Briles describes his team as 'mad.'
Of the 65 coaches, “hungry” was the most common description. Nine coaches went with it, making a “hungry” team the modern-day equivalent of the “taking it one game at a time” cliché. Four coaches used “unproven,” another four “experienced” and three said “young.” Two coaches each used “redemption,” “committed,” “improved” or “youthful."

In all, the 65 coaches used 44 different descriptions.

Well, here’s to taking it one “word” at a time. My word: Enjoy.

Big 12

Baylor’s Art Briles: Mad
Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads: Hungry
Kansas’ Charlie Weis: Quiet confidence
Kansas State’s Bill Snyder: Valued
Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops: Hard working
Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy: Youthful
TCU’s Gary Patterson: Unknown
Texas’ Charlie Strong: Hard work
Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury: Improved
West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen: Experienced
Pick a word, any word.

That’s what I asked the 65 coaches from the Power Five conferences and Notre Dame to do. Describe their team in one word.

Some coaches were one-word wonders, but a few insisted they needed two words. That’s fine because the descriptions shed some insight into how coaches view their team and/or what they want the public perception of their team to be.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesMichigan State coach Mark Dantonio describes his team as 'committed.'
Of the 65 coaches, “hungry” was the most common description. Nine coaches went with it, making a “hungry” team the modern-day equivalent of the “taking it one game at a time” cliché. Four coaches used “unproven,” another four “experienced” and three said “young.” Two coaches each used “redemption,” “committed,” “improved” or “youthful."

In all, the 65 coaches used 44 different descriptions.

Well, here’s to taking it one “word” at a time. My word: Enjoy.

Big Ten

Illinois’ Tim Beckman: Family
Indiana’s Kevin Wilson: Cusp
Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz: Developmental
Maryland’s Randy Edsall: Hungry
Michigan’s Brady Hoke: Together
Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio: Committed
Minnesota’s Jerry Kill: Hungry
Nebraska’s Bo Pelini: Exciting
Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald: Focused
Ohio State’s Urban Meyer: Fast
Penn State’s James Franklin: Perseverance
Purdue’s Darrell Hazell: Hungry
Rutgers’ Kyle Flood: Hungry
Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen: Youthful
Pick a word, any word.

That’s what I asked the 65 coaches from the Power Five conferences and Notre Dame to do. Describe their team in one word.

Some coaches were one-word wonders, but a few insisted they needed two words. That’s fine because the descriptions shed some insight into how coaches view their team and/or what they want the public perception of their team to be.

[+] EnlargeBobby Petrino
AP Photo/Garry JonesLouisville coach Bobby Petrino describes his team as 'unknown.'
Of the 65 coaches, “hungry” was the most common description. Nine coaches went with it, making a “hungry” team the modern-day equivalent of the “taking it one game at a time” cliché. Four coaches used “unproven,” another four “experienced” and three said “young.” Two coaches each used “redemption,” “committed,” “improved” or “youthful."

In all, the 65 coaches used 44 different descriptions.

Well, here’s to taking it one “word” at a time. My word: Enjoy.

ACC (including Notre Dame)

Boston College’s Steve Addazio: Young
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney: Experienced
Duke’s David Cutcliffe: Veteran
Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher: Habits
Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson: Young
Louisville’s Bobby Petrino: Unknown
Miami’s Al Golden: Renewed
NC State’s Dave Doeren: Redemption
North Carolina’s Larry Fedora: Ravenous
Pitt’s Paul Chryst: Young
Syracuse’s Scott Shafer: Hard-nosed
Virginia’s Mike London: Experienced
Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer: Developing
Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson: New
Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly: Athletic
Pick a word, any word.

That’s what I asked the 65 coaches from the Power Five conferences and Notre Dame to do. Describe their team in one word.

Some coaches were one-word wonders, but a few insisted they needed two words. That’s fine because the descriptions shed some insight into how coaches view their team and/or what they want the public perception of their team to be.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Damian DovarganesStanford's David Shaw describes his team as 'underappreciated.'
Of the 65 coaches, “hungry” was the most common description. Nine coaches went with it, making a “hungry” team the modern-day equivalent of the “taking it one game at a time” cliché. Four coaches used “unproven,” another four “experienced” and three said “young.” Two coaches each used “redemption,” “committed,” “improved” or “youthful."

In all, the 65 coaches used 44 different descriptions.

Well, here’s to taking it one “word” at a time. My word: Enjoy.

Pac-12

Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez: Hungry
Arizona State’s Todd Graham: Character
Cal’s Sonny Dykes: Hungry
Colorado’s Mike MacIntryre: More confident
Oregon’s Mark Helfrich: Redemption
Oregon State’s Mike Riley: Leadership
Stanford’s David Shaw: Underappreciated
UCLA’s Jim Mora: Determined
USC’s Steve Sarkisian: Tough
Utah’s Kyle Whittingham: Warriors
Washington’s Chris Petersen: Unknown
Washington State’s Mike Leach: Improving
AUSTIN, Texas -- Ever since he was 15, Johnathan Gray’s feats have been met with effusive praise. And his latest one might be his finest.

Charlie Strong told a kickoff luncheon crowd last week that a Texas assistant recently offered up some feedback: “Why can’t everyone work out like Johnathan Gray?” That’s high praise considering what the running back has already endured in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesJohnathan Gray says he's back to his old self after suffering a torn Achilles last fall.
  If you saw him in fall practice this month, you wouldn’t know Gray is coming back from a torn Achilles suffered last November. His recovery from that gruesome season-ending injury has been nothing short of freakish.

The initial prognosis from team doctors suggested Gray would be sidelined eight to 10 months. He got back in seven. Now he says he’s better than ever.

“Everybody was surprised at how I came back,” Gray said. “Months of rehab and staying in the training room constantly and trying to get back, it really paid off.”

Gray knew from his days as a five-star rusher at Aledo (Texas) High School that he was a quick healer. When he first went down, on Nov. 9 at West Virginia, many feared he might not be back for the 2014 opener. Gray never saw it that way.

“In my mind it was always, ‘You’re going to be back in time. Don’t know when, but you’re going to be back in time,’” he said. “That’s what I was always telling myself. It was a long process and a painful process, but I kept pushing it.”

Gray was officially cleared for fall camp on July 21, but he’d already been working out again by then. His recovery time puts the junior back in elite company with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Terrell Suggs and Michael Crabtree. And you better believe he had them in mind as he charted out his rehabilitation plan.

“Kobe, I don’t know how he walked off the court with a torn Achilles, but he came back at a respectable time,” Gray said. “At that time it was like, OK, there’s hope for me to come back and play.”

He had a surplus of motivation on the winter and spring days he got up at 6 a.m. for agility and cutting drills, mobility training and innumerable calf raises. After all, Gray had been cut down in the midst of a legitimate breakthrough season. He was the No. 4 rusher in the Big 12 and on pace for more than 1,100 rushing yards as a sophomore.

He sensed his strength was fully back by late summer. When fall camp first began, Gray said he might’ve been 95 percent ready to go. As for his quickness?

“The burst is back,” Gray said. “Like I said, I’m back to the same Johnathan Gray. I’m ready.”

 And that’s a scary idea for the rest of the conference. Gray can’t wait to tag-team with senior Malcolm Brown, who rushed for 534 yards after Gray went down and is now in the best shape of his career at sleek 218 pounds.

Brown was in the Erwin Center last week when Strong offered up the praise of Gray’s practice habits. He definitely wasn’t surprised.

“J-Gray just doesn’t get tired,” Brown said. “J-Gray works his tail off each and every day. That’s definitely a great example.”

Strong and running backs coach Tommie Robinson have still taken a cautious approach when it comes to practice reps, which can’t be easy considering Texas’ No. 3 back is injured and its No. 4 option just arrived on campus.

“We have to be very, very smart about just how much work he does,” Strong said. “He's going to get sore at some point. … We don't need to just throw him out there, and he can go play 60 plays in a row. That's not going to happen. He's going to get a little, come back, rest, get a little, come back and rest. We have to get him to the game.”

Robinson proudly says he didn’t watch film of Gray’s past two seasons in the interest of giving him a fresh start. In fact, until this month, he hadn’t seen Gray play a game since those days at Aledo, where the national phenom rushed for 10,908 yards, a record 205 touchdowns and won three state rings.

But he did get another glimpse of Gray’s character last month, during a phone call after Joe Bergeron and Jalen Overstreet were kicked off the team. Those departures left the Longhorns with Gray, Brown, a pair of freshmen and a few walk-ons in their running back room.

After the painstaking offseason Gray just survived, that new reality -- less help, more teaching and more pressure -- seems like no big deal.

“He took a deep breath,” Robinson recalled, “and he said, ‘We got it, Coach.’"
Score one for Western Michigan and the Mulhearn family.

Sean Mulhearn, a former WMU linebacker who helped the school win the MAC title in 1988 and won league Defensive Player of the Year in 1990, used to be tasked with keeping people out of the end zone at Waldo Stadium.

But at a recent practice, he didn't mind at all -- watching with a big smile as WMU head coach P.J. Fleck helped his wheelchair-aided son John across the goal line to loud cheers from the Broncos players, who had followed the pair all the way down the field.

video
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The question comes like a bull rush from a hulking defensive lineman, but Cameron Erving, Tre’ Jackson and the rest of the Florida State offensive line are swatting it away like a blocker set in pass protection.

Excuse Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher and Heisman quarterback Jameis Winston if they’re a little more direct and a little less politically correct when discussing Florida State’s front five.

 “Well, our offensive line is the best offensive line in the country, and I repeat that Florida State's offensive line is the best offensive line in the country,” Winston said.

A day after Winston’s comments, Fisher was asked what his best non-quarterback position group was, and without hesitation, he said his offensive line. Is it the best offensive line group in the country, the reporter asked?

“I don’t know the knowledge of everybody else, but I’d put that group up against anybody,” Fisher said.

With five seniors, a combined 113 career starts among them and potentially three first-round picks along the unit, at the very least, it is one of the two or three best lines in the country.

With the influx of spread and up-tempo offenses, linemen, never a position that lends itself to the media spotlight or jersey sales, have given way to scat backs and speed receivers. Coaches are recruiting speed more than ever before, but Florida State’s staff is well aware a 2014 championship run rests on the legs of the offensive line.

In the twilight of the Bobby Bowden era and outset of Fisher’s tenure, the offensive line consistently was a point of aggravation for fans and coaches. From 2006-2010, the Seminoles had one offensive linemen drafted; they had two in 2005.

The current Florida State offensive linemen aren’t going to engage in any conversation about their greatness, not as long Rick Trickett, his booming voice now buttressed by the echoing indoor practice facility, is coaching the position.

“He’s never going to let us be the best offensive line in the country. I think that’s a good thing, though. He keeps all of us level,” Jackson said. We do stuff great, but having a coach that can pick up what you did -- like if you make a great block but take a bad step -- having a coach like that makes you so much better.”

Erving and Jackson, the Seminoles’ two best offensive linemen, were initially defensive tackles. Erving enrolled at Florida State as a member of the defensive line, and Jackson was committed to Georgia Tech to play defense before a January flip to Florida State.

Fisher had to mold athletes into offensive linemen early in his tenure, but now the Seminoles are recruiting the position better than at any point during Fisher’s five years. In the 2014 class, Fisher signed four nationally-ranked linemen. In his first four classes, Fisher signed three.

Junior-college additions Kareem Are and Chad Mavety provide immediate depth, and Fisher has continually praised Are, who is pushing for playing time. The offensive line class, which totals eight players including greyshirt Ethan Frith, on average stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 306 pounds. Jackson said they’re the biggest group of freshmen since he joined the Seminoles in 2011.

“We're gaining more depth … [and] they have to go through that learning curve, but you know the talent is there and the ability [is] there, and the bodies are there,” Fisher said. “I'm very pleased with the depth we're building in that department.”
On first glance, the announcement that backup offensive tackle Shaq Anthony has decided to transfer from Clemson may not seem like much.

But when you combine it with the news that running back Zac Brooks is lost for the season, the Clemson run game has now taken on added questions headed into the season.

The Tigers already had to replace starting All-ACC tackle Brandon Thomas, starting guard Tyler Shatley and 1,000-yard back Roderick McDowell. While Anthony was previously suspended for the opener against Georgia, there are no certainties with the offensive line nor the run game in Week 1.

Especially since Clemson struggled to produce consistency in that area last season. Especially since Clemson will need an effective run game to help take pressure off new starting quarterback Cole Stoudt and a new-look group of receivers against what should be an aggressive Georgia defense with familiar foe Jeremy Pruitt taking charge.

Brooks is the bigger blow in the short-term, because he would have contributed heavily against Georgia. Plus, he was the top returning rusher from a year ago and one of the veterans in the group with experience in big games.

But at least Clemson has the luxury of having depth at the position, a group coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris have talked up since the spring. Conceivably, the Tigers should still be able to play four to five backs once they settle on a rotation and still be just as good as they would have been with Brooks in the mix.

That, of course, is dependent on the offensive line, too.

So in the long term, the Anthony loss could loom much larger. Clemson has little in the way of depth at tackle with Anthony gone. The Tigers will now be relying on Joe Gore, pretty raw at the position with just 124 snaps over the past two seasons, and Isaiah Battle -- who has been banged up during camp. Anthony was listed as the backup to both players.

Gore has been one of the bright spots this fall, and would have most likely started against Georgia with Anthony suspended. But now there is no margin for error moving forward. The hope is that Gore steps into the right tackle spot without any issues. But if either Gore or Battle gets hurt, the Tigers could be in trouble. Kalon Davis, projected to start at guard, has also played some tackle during the fall so he would be one potential option as a backup at the position.

It all adds a bit more intrigue to what happens with Clemson this season.
Who will have the best offense in college football this season?

The Bears essentially won that argument last year after leading the nation in points (52.4), yards (618.8), 20-yard plays (112) and yards per pass attempt (10.4).

ESPN Stats & Info has put together a case why the Bears might have the country’s best offense again. And why they might not.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesShock Linwood should get more work this season in the Baylor backfield.
The case for:

Quarterback Bryce Petty was responsible for 46 touchdowns last season, the most of any returning quarterback. He had only six turnovers, too.

The Bears bring back five of their top six receivers, including Antwan Goodley, who led the Big 12 with 1,339 receiving yards and 13 receiving touchdowns.

Baylor did lose running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin, but projected starter Shock Linwood averaged 3.5 yards after contact per carry last season, which was tops among all BCS-AQ conference running backs with at least 100 carries.

Baylor scored 60 touchdowns in 2 minutes or less last season, the most of any team in at least the last decade. The Bears’ average touchdown drive lasted only 1 minute, 32 seconds. With Petty back to run the show, there’s no reason to believe Baylor will operate any slower this season.

The case against:

The Baylor offense fell back to Earth down the stretch while facing tougher opponents. The Bears faced only two defenses that ranked in the top 40 nationally in efficiency their first nine games. In those nine games, Baylor averaged 61.2 points, 8.5 yards per play and 684.8 yards per game,and was on pace to break several FBS records. But in their final four games, the Bears faced three defenses that ranked in the top 40 in efficiency. In those games, Baylor averaged just 32.5 points, 5.4 yards per play and 470.2 yards per game.

While Petty and Goodley are back, the Bears lost three starting linemen, including Outland finalist Cyril Richardson. Petty struggled at times under pressure last season, completing only 8 of 27 passes for 113 yards and no touchdowns while under pressure.

Seastrunk was the team’s leading rusher with a Big 12-best 1,117 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Martin added 514 yards and seven scores.

ESPN Stats & Info also surmises that Florida State and Oregon could have stronger offenses than Baylor in 2014.

Florida State led the country last year in yards per play (7.7) and points per drive (3.7). Those, in fact, were the best totals since Hawaii in 2006. The Seminoles return several key players offensively, including reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston.

The Ducks' offense again will feature quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is one of only two quarterbacks to post two seasons of a QBR score of 86 or better since 2004 (Boise State’s Kellen Moore was the other). Oregon also brings back its top two running backs from last season in Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner. And the Ducks were second nationally in 2013 in yards per game (565) and yards per play (7.6).

ESPN Stats & Info conclusion:

According to ESPN’s Football Power Index’s predictive offensive metric, Florida State and Oregon have college football’s top offenses heading into 2014. Despite Baylor’s gaudy output last season, FPI projects Auburn to have a better offense than the Bears, too.

Here are FPI’s top five projected best offenses, according to predicted offensive efficiency:

1. Florida State: +17.0

2. Oregon: +16.8

3. Auburn: +13.9

4. Baylor: +13.6

5. UCLA: +13.2

Timing right for USC, Sark marriage

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
1:00
PM ET
USC safety Taylor Mays didn't exactly grin from ear to ear at the question back in 2008, but his face did acknowledge that the reporter had offered him an underhanded pitch that he could belt out of the L.A. Coliseum in any direction he wished.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsIn his second stint as a college football head coach, Steve Sarkisian faces the pressure of guiding a national powerhouse program in USC.
Mays and the top-ranked USC Trojans had just made No. 5 Ohio State look like a high school team in a 35-3 whipping that wasn't nearly as close as the final score suggested. The question was whether the Buckeyes had been shocked by just how much better the Trojans were. Mays paused, seeming to savor the question as he coolly assessed the contents of his locker, before delivering a response.

"Many teams wonder what this SC thing is about -- why have we been so successful these past years," he said. "We came out there and showed them. They're Ohio State and that means something. But we prepare so well that we just do what we do."

There was a time under Pete Carroll when USC pretty much won games when they got off the bus. They simply looked a whole lot better -- bigger, faster, more confident -- than anyone else in college football. Reporters and fans would encircle the Trojans' open scrimmages, particularly during Competition Tuesdays, and marvel at the talent level and intensity.

New USC coach Steve Sarkisian was Carroll's top offensive assistant for much of that run from 2002 to '08 before heading off to Washington. He missed the 2004 BCS national title season while spending an unhappy year with the Oakland Raiders, as well as the start of the program's decline in 2009, a 9-4 finish after the Trojans had lost just nine games in the previous seven seasons. Then Carroll bolted for the Seattle Seahawks.

So Sarkisian knows what things were like during the Trojans' most recent dynastic run. He was there for its creation. A Southern California native, he knows the area, the program's traditions and how quickly expectations can become stratospheric. He knows what he is taking over. And getting himself into.

He knows USC is one of the most powerful brands in college sports, one whose name and logo have impact in South Florida, Ohio and Texas, as well as in its home territory.

"When you have that SC interlock on your chest and you walk into a school [to recruit], whether it's in Southern California or anywhere else, this talks about 11 national championships, six Heisman Trophies, more NFL draft picks, more All-Americans, more All-Pros, more Hall of Famers than any other school," Sarkisian said. "So it's a powerful brand."

Sarkisian also knows timing. He knows it's better not to be the "man after the man," as his friend Lane Kiffin was with Carroll. Sarkisian was Carroll's personal preference to replace him, and then-athletic director Mike Garrett made a play for Sarkisian before offering the job to Kiffin. Sarkisian was then heading into his second season at Washington and felt it wouldn't be the right time to bail out on the Huskies.

Oh, and he also knew NCAA sanctions were on the horizon, though there was little indication at the time that they would be as severe as they ended up being.

Good timing? As of June, USC is no longer yoked with those sanctions that included the loss of 30 scholarships over three years. After signing a highly rated class in February, despite limits, Sarkisian could have the Trojans at around 80 scholarship players next fall, according to ESPN.com's Garry Paskwietz, not far below the limit of 85, and substantially better than the numbers that have made depth the team's most worrisome issue since 2010. The Trojans presently rank 14th in the nation and first in the Pac-12 in the ESPN.com recruiting rankings.

Timing? Even during Carroll's run, USC's facilities were second-rate. No longer. After putting $120 million toward new and renovated buildings, including the 110,000-square foot John McKay Center, USC matches up with the most elite teams.

Timing? Sarkisian inherits 18 returning starters from a team that won 10 games in 2013. The Trojans should be contenders in the South Division this fall, emerging from so-called crippling sanctions in pretty good shape after averaging "only" 8.8 wins per season from 2009 through last year.

Of course, his timing isn't that perfect. He's got a UCLA problem that Carroll didn't have to contend with. The Bruins are surging under Jim Mora and are hardly quaking at the prospect of USC again being whole. It's notable that Sarkisian and Mora have long had a cordial relationship, though that might be difficult to sustain going forward.

"I think [hiring Sarkisian] has given them a shot of energy that I wish they didn't get," Mora quipped at Pac-12 media days. "I have great respect for Sark, and I like him as a person and as a coach. I just know he's going to make my job harder."

While USC again signed a full recruiting class of 25, which should make the going tougher for all 11 other Pac-12 teams, there's also some undercurrent of smugness within the conference from coaches and fans that Sarkisian hasn't truly earned a job like USC and that he isn't much different from Kiffin. His critics dubbed him "Seven-Win Steve" after he led Washington to three consecutive 7-6 seasons, a rut that had some Huskies fans putting him on the hot seat heading into the 2013 season.

The Huskies improved to 9-4 last season, finishing with a Top 25 ranking for the first time since 2001. Some also seemed to forget that Sarkisian inherited a team that went 0-12 in 2008. While there's been an odd effort to rewrite the history of how down the program was back then, it was outscored 463-159 that season and hadn't posted a winning record since 2002. Washington went 1-10 in 2004 and 2-9 in 2005. Further, majestic Husky Stadium was falling apart.

Chris Petersen has inherited a team from Sarkisian that's played in four consecutive bowl games, is ranked in the preseason, and is playing in a beautifully renovated stadium.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsUSC Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian was optimistic at Pac-12 media days, saying: "I think we have a chance to do something special this year."
This is not to say Sarkisian did a perfect job at Washington. He made mistakes like most first-time head coaches, including sticking with overmatched defensive coordinator Nick Holt for too long. Yet the feeling among USC insiders is that the Trojans are getting Sark 2.0, and he's surrounded himself with a staff that is touted for its X's and O's acumen (most notably defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox) as well as its recruiting savvy. Sarkisian retained receivers coach Tee Martin, one of the most quietly important coups of the transition.

Sarkisian isn't necessarily bringing back Carroll's "Win Forever" rhetoric and culture. For one, he runs an up-tempo offense, not Carroll's pro style, and a 3-4 hybrid defense, not Carroll's 4-3. That could be seen as part of Sarkisian's maturation, of finding his own way. When Sarkisian took the Washington job after the 2009 Rose Bowl, Carroll actually told him that he needed to be his own man, not mimic Carroll.

"His final words to me walking out was, 'Go be you, because when adversity strikes, the real you is going to come out anyway,'" Sarkisian said.

For USC fans, adversity has already struck and stuck hard. Sarkisian's charge is to make sure those adverse days are done. Adversity going forward is losing more than two Pac-12 games.

Or is that losing more than one game, period?

How to replace Miller? Guiton knows

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
12:30
PM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The pressure is real, and Kenny Guiton didn't even try to sugarcoat it.

Playing quarterback at Ohio State already comes with high enough expectations. But when a backup has an up-close view of a record-setting, award-winning starter, that pressure to perform has the potential to become an even bigger burden.

The key, at least according to the guy who turned his gig as Braxton Miller's understudy into the role of a lifetime, is to channel all that energy into preparation. It's fine to appreciate Miller's speed, his elusiveness outside of the pocket and the deep touchdown bombs he throws when on the sideline. But if and when a time comes where the roles are reversed, Miller's play can't be on the mind of anybody hoping to pick up where the Buckeyes left off.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer and J.T. Barrett
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsJ.T. Barrett will be expected to rise above the pressure and lead the Ohio State offense.
It never was for Guiton during his appearances in relief of Miller, and now it's up to J.T. Barrett to fill the shoes of both of those guys as the Buckeyes prepare for Navy on Aug. 30.

"It definitely is more pressure," Guiton, who spent the season playing for the LA Kiss in the Arena Football League, said by phone on Wednesday. "You're backing up a guy who is a Heisman hopeful, a guy that has all the awards and everything, and that's something that you love, you cherish that.

"I felt blessed because I got to go in for a guy that the world looks at as a Heisman guy, a world-class quarterback. There will be pressure, but if you go into the game not thinking about anything else, focused on his offense, his team, his coaching staff, you'll be just fine."

There's nobody more qualified to pass on that advice than Guiton, who made himself a legend at Ohio State by seamlessly taking over the offense when Miller was injured over the last two seasons. Whether it was just to finish off a drive or two or taking over for nearly three weeks last season and setting a few records of his own, Guiton was an invaluable security blanket for the Buckeyes and a model example for the backup position thanks to his study habits, ability to maximize mental reps without many live snaps and his leadership as a team captain.

In that quarterback meeting room and at times under the wing of Guiton last season was Barrett, a freshman quarterback going through a redshirt year and looking to soak up every bit of information he could. His devotion to learning the playbook has drawn comparisons directly to Guiton for Barrett, and if the latter still needs a few tips heading into his first start, the former remains as ready as ever to help out whenever called upon.

"I just always told the backups, we've got to be ready," Guiton said. "We've got to stay ready because you never know when your number is going to be called, and when it is, you want to be ready.

"I actually got a chance to see him yesterday and he looked pretty excited and ready to go, like there's no pressure on his back. There's going to be pressure on him, but if he comes in to those games having prepared well, not really worried about anything else outside of his offense or his team, he'll do just fine."

In some ways, Barrett will actually be thrown into the fire more prepared than Guiton.

According to Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, Barrett's training camp has included around 300 "competitive throws," attempts that come against a full-strength defense and not the scout team. When Guiton first came off the bench to replace Miller in a game two years ago, Meyer pegged his number of competitive throws at six.

It's a tribute to Guiton that he was able to finish off drives in a hard-fought battle with Michigan State and lead a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback against Purdue to keep the Buckeyes on track for a perfect season in 2012 with so few live snaps in practice. And at the same time, it also suggests that Barrett might truly be in better position to thrive than Ohio State's most famous backup.

"I feel like J.T. is in a great situation," Guiton said. "He's a young guy who has a year of college football and now he's actually getting reps. It's not just mental reps, he's getting real reps. He's actually in there, actually seeing himself on film, and he's in there running it with the ones. I think he's actually in a better position.

"With the reps J.T. is getting in practice, he will be ready. He's getting reps, and as a redshirt freshman, I wish I got those kind of reps and the shot he's getting."

With or without the practice time, Guiton always made the most of his chances behind Miller. Now it's Barrett's turn to try to do the same.

Jamison Crowder aims to finish with bang

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
12:00
PM ET
Jamison Crowder is 5-foot-9, and though he has accumulated all types of impressive numbers in his career, it is that stat that seems to define him the most.

He is small. He gets it. Look around the league at bigger receivers, and he expects to fly beneath the radar. In fact, Crowder kind of likes it. He sneaks up on people, no matter how much they should have seen him coming.

"It’s nothing new to me," Crowder said. "All my life, at every level, I’ve always had to prove myself. Then people saw I could really play."

[+] EnlargeJamison Crowder
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeDuke's Jamison Crowder had 1,360 receiving yards last season, second only to Clemson standout Sammy Watkins in the ACC.
Perhaps no player is more emblematic of the team he plays for than Crowder. He has made enormous strides in the past three years, but he wants more. Respect has been hard to earn, and the doubters continue to shrug off his success. He is not the biggest or flashiest receiver in the country, but he works harder and worries more about the details than almost anyone else. He is Duke in a nutshell.

Crowder has a resume worthy of being an All-American, but the name on the front of the jersey means he will always be a bit overlooked.

"It comes down to, we’re Duke," quarterback Anthony Boone said. "We had a great year, but people still tend to not believe what we’re really accomplishing over here. Which is fine. We don’t worry about that too much. But it’s one of those things where he’s a great player and the more publicity and exposure we get as a team, the more people will see how talented Jamison Crowder really is."

The doubters actually make life a little easier for Crowder. The criticism fuels him, the nitpicking forces him to focus on the little things, and the lack of respect -- well, he’s got a way of earning that pretty quickly. Last year, no one in the ACC racked up more plays of 50 yards or more than Crowder’s seven.

"It’s dangerous," said Duke cornerback Bryon Fields. "Jamison is slept on. That’s why you see him getting those 80-yard touchdowns, because guys don’t respect his speed, and before they know it, he’s by them."

If people wanted to understand how good he was, the evidence of Crowder’s prowess is everywhere.

In the past two seasons, only six other wideouts in the country have tallied more receiving yards. Crowder is the only receiver from a Power 5 conference team that has a shot at a third straight 1,000-yard season.

Crowder racked up 1,360 yards receiving last season, second only to Clemson’s Sammy Watkins -- the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft -- in the ACC. If he were to repeat those numbers again in 2014, Crowder would shatter the conference’s career mark for receiving yards, a record currently held by his former teammate Connor Vernon.

Crowder has scored 19 times in the past two seasons. No returning ACC player has scored more. He has topped 1,200 all-purpose yards in two straight seasons, a feat matched only by Miami star Duke Johnson.

Yet, Crowder knows he needs to do more if he wants to be recognized among the best players in the country.

"I want to be a perfectionist," he said. "I think I run pretty good routes, but when I see videos of NFL players and how detailed their routes are, how the timing is, that’s something I really worked on in the summer so that if I do get a chance at the next level, I’ll go in looking like a pro."

After a dominant season in 2013 as a junior, Crowder said the notion of bolting for the NFL never crossed his mind. He didn’t submit paperwork to the NFL advisory committee and he never spoke about a decision with coach David Cutcliffe. It was simply assumed he would be back because he -- and Duke -- had more work to do.

But the NFL is on Crowder’s mind. For all the stats he has accumulated in the past two seasons, there is still that matter of his height that will dog him with scouts at the next level. The only way he can fight back is by continuing to produce.

"My status as far as the league, there’s still a lot unsure because of my size," Crowder said. "You hear a lot of people telling you, 'oh you’re going to make it,' but those same people aren’t the ones making the decisions on whether I’m playing on Sundays. The only thing I can work on is me, and I’m staying hungry and continuing to work."

If Crowder repeats his 2013 campaign this season, there will be little room left for doubt. Perhaps no player in the ACC is as crucial to his team’s success as Crowder, and after two straight seasons of success, it’s going to be tough to sneak up on anyone this time around.

Last season, Duke quarterbacks targeted Crowder 174 times -- 30 more than the next closest receiver in the ACC (Watkins) and second only to Fresno State’s Devante Adams nationally. If Crowder was the centerpiece of the Blue Devils' offense a year ago, his role might actually grow this season.

Quarterback Brandon Connette transferred this spring and tailback Jela Duncan, the team’s leader in carries, is out because of academic concerns, putting a major dent in Duke’s ground game. Tight end Braxton Deaver, last season's No. 2 receiver, will miss the season with a knee injury. Add it all up, and Crowder accounts for 40 percent of the team’s returning yards from scrimmage from a year ago.

Crowder will demand attention in 2014, but Boone isn’t worried.

"He knows how to get open," the quarterback said. "He has that mentality where he doesn’t think anybody can cover him."

So far, nobody has, which comes as no surprise to the people around Crowder. He has had to work harder to gain respect, and that fits perfectly with how he approaches the game.

But the job gets bigger as his Duke career draws to a close, and that, too, fits perfectly with how Crowder likes to prepare. There will always be doubters, always be bigger challenges. That is half the fun.

"I’m always confident in my game and I feel like I’m blessed with my ability to go play on any level," Crowder said. "But there are things I want to get better at, and I want to work on those things so people can see I’m a big-time player and one of the best receivers in the country."
AUBURN, Ala. – The good news heading into the 2014 season was that Auburn returned four starters from an offensive line that served as the anchor for the top rushing team in college football a year ago. The Tigers averaged an impressive 328 yards per game on the ground.

The bad news, though, was that left tackle Greg Robinson, arguably the team’s best run blocker, was the one not returning. He left school early for the NFL.

Not to worry. Auburn had veterans Shon Coleman and Patrick Miller battling to replace Robinson this spring, and the potential drop-off seemed to be minimal. That was until head coach Gus Malzahn announced that All-SEC freshman guard Alex Kozan would miss the entire season with a back injury, an injury he suffered over the summer.

Now what? The offensive line was supposed to be the strength of the team. All of a sudden, it was an area where coaches were moving bodies, scrambling to find the right combination, and there was little depth to work with.

Auburn isn't worried, and this is why.

The rock

Robinson might have been the strongest and most talented offensive lineman from last year. Kozan made a compelling case as the smartest. But nobody meant more to that line than its center, Reese Dismukes.

[+] EnlargeReese Dismukes
Greg McWilliams/Icon SMIReese Dismukes is the experienced anchor of the Auburn offensive line at center.
Every play began with the ball in his hands. Whether it was calling out signals, pushing back opposing defensive tackles or simply snapping the ball, Dismukes was the epitome of dependable. He’s started 37 games in the past three seasons, and he returns as the centerpiece, responsible for holding the line together.

“The continuity has really improved there,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee told reporters Sunday. “And having your rock at center helps because he makes all the calls; he kind of makes things go. So having Reese there, I think, helped keep that glue there as well.”

There’s no question that Dismukes is smart – he rivals Kozan in that area – and he’s always been quick, but as he heads into his final season with the Tigers, position coach J.B. Grimes says he’s a different player physically. He’s as strong as he’s ever been.

So while there have been changes made up front, the rock is still there.

Mr. Versatility

Losing Robinson hurt, but Auburn had two capable players ready to step in at left tackle. But when it was discovered that Kozan would miss the entire season, there wasn’t a player or players waiting in line to take over, at least none with any real experience.

Fortunately, Auburn prepared for this scenario in the spring,well before Kozan ever got hurt. The staff moved Avery Young, its projected starter at right tackle, inside and gave him some reps at guard. At the time, it was meant as a precaution. Now, Young is slotted at guard with Coleman and Miller starting at the two tackle spots.

The biggest difference between tackle and guard?

“[Avery] is now about six inches away from a guy that has to choke himself to sleep every night,” Grimes said. “When you’re a tackle, you’re a little bit further away from that dude. There’s more banging down inside than there is outside. That’s just something you’ve got to get accustomed to, and he’ll be fine.”

Dismukes, who now plays next to Young, says the 6-foot-6, 315-pound junior already is starting to be a little more physical.

Though he still has work left to do, Young's versatility has allowed for Auburn to put its best five offensive linemen on the field at the same time.

The up-and-comer

The starting five is set. It’s an experienced unit that’s played together before. The problem isn’t with that group. The problem will be if one of those five were to miss any time. With Kozan already out, the Tigers can’t afford to lose another offensive lineman.

However, the coaches can sleep easier at night knowing that it’s only a matter of time before freshman Braden Smith, a.k.a. the Hulk, is ready to play.

“He’s ultra-talented,” Malzahn said. “He’s everything we thought when we recruited him. It’s just a matter of learning the offense and little details. But if you say, ‘Block the guy in front of you,’ he’s going to block the guy in front of him.

“He’s still learning, but he’s a very smart young man. There are a lot of similarities to when Greg Robinson was a freshman.”

Smith is currently penciled behind Coleman at left tackle, where he’s worked exclusively during fall camp, but he can pretty much play anywhere up front if needed.

He’s the next big thing for Auburn, though his number might be called earlier than expected.
video 

» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Vanderbilt Commodores:

2013 record: 9-4 (4-4 SEC). Beat Houston 41-24 in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

Final grade for the 2013 season: This was quite the finale for former coach James Franklin. Winning nine games in back-to-back seasons was a first for Vanderbilt, and so was beating Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same season. There were some up-and-down times for the offense, but the defense ranked sixth in the SEC. The Commodores capped the season with a blowout win over Houston in their bowl game, giving Vandy a solid A- for the season.

Key losses: QB Austyn Carta-Samuels, RB Wesley Tate, WR Jordan Matthews, WR Jonathan Krause, OT Wesley Johnson, DE Walker May, CB Andre Hal, S Kenny Ladler

[+] EnlargeCaleb Azubike
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCaleb Azubike posted 10 tackles for loss and four sacks as part of the DE rotation in 2013.
Key returnees: QB Patton Robinette, RB Jerron Seymour, RB Brian Kimbrow, OT Andrew Jelks, C Joe Townsend, DT Vince Taylor, LB Caleb Azubike, LB Kyle Woestmann

Breakout player: While Vandy has to replace a stud in Ladler at safety, new coach Derek Mason is very excited about the prospects of redshirt freshman Oren Burks. He was recruited to Vandy as a linebacker, but Mason calls him one of the best safeties people haven't heard about. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Burks should have no problem knocking people around.

Key position battle: Being a new coach in the SEC is one thing, but being a new coach and having a quarterback battle is another. It's down to three players -- Robinette, LSU transfer Stephen Rivers and redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary -- and Mason has actually been pretty excited about the competition for a while now. Robinette has the most experience, and even came off the bench to deliver a comeback win over Georgia last year and later directed wins over Florida and Tennessee. Rivers, the younger brother of San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, played sparingly at LSU, but he made up a lot of ground with his competitors this fall. He has a ton of upside and has two years of eligibility. McCrary might be the most athletic and the most talented of the bunch, which could get him on the field even if he isn't the starter.

Most important game: Even though the Commodores are breaking in a new coach, they aren't going to be overlooked in 2014. That means getting off to a fast start, and a win over Ole Miss in Nashville could be crucial to the Commodores' bowl chances in 2014. Last year's back-and-forth scoring act between these two was one for the ages. We still don't know fully what to expect from Vandy this fall, so to start 3-0 would be huge when it comes to the postseason.

Biggest question mark: The loss of Matthews and Krause takes away 154 receptions, 2,191 yards and 10 touchdowns from a year ago. That leaves sophomore Jordan Cunningham as the leading returning pass-catcher at receiver with his 15 catches from a year ago. Experience isn't something the Commodores have at receiver, and it doesn't help that the quarterback situation is unsettled. Redshirt freshman C.J. Duncan is a converted running back and might be the Commodores' most versatile player. Still, he has no in-game experience. Sophomore Latevius Rayford and redshirt freshman Gerald Perry have all shown flashes, and Kris Kentera has moved from tight end.

Upset special: Last year, Vandy went on a run of upsets. While beating Florida in Gainesville was historic for the Commodores, the biggest win of the season came when Vandy took down No. 15 Georgia 31-27 at home. This season, the Commodores could have another upset in the making with a home game against South Carolina on Sept. 20. The Gamecocks will enter the season ranked ninth in the country, and there's always that one game in which the Gamecocks get caught snoozing. Steve Spurrier has lost to Vandy twice (2007, 2008) since taking over at South Carolina in 2005, and both times his Gamecocks were ranked, including No. 6 in 2007. Four games in this series have been decided by seven or fewer points in that span.

Key stat: Vandy owned the SEC's No. 6 defense last year, but ranked 13th in the league when it came to stopping opponents in the red zone. Teams scored on 40 of 46 (86.96 percent) trips inside the Commodores' 20 last year. Twenty-nine of those scores were touchdowns.

They said it: "We’re going to be physical. We’re going to be a team that doesn’t beat itself. You’re going to have to take it out of our hands. We’re going to be a team that it’s going to take you four quarters -- you may even have to go five -- to try and pull one out of the hat. We’re just a team that’s going to be blue collar in terms of what we work toward, what we look like." -- Mason

Preseason predictions:

ESPN Stats & Information: 4.93

Bovada over/under: 6

Our take: One thing that made Franklin so successful at Vandy was the attitude he instilled in his team. This was a program used to being pushed around at the bottom of the conference. Back-to-back nine-win seasons and three straight bowl trips were all firsts for the school, so can Mason, who also arrived in Nashville as a highly touted assistant coach, replicate Franklin's success? Now that everyone is paying attention to the Commodores, it won't be easy, and having questions at quarterback and receiver won't help, either. But a solid offensive line and running game should help the passing game, while Vandy has some good, underrated talent within its front seven and could have some breakout candidates in the secondary. Vandy won't get back to nine wins this season, but the Commodores will make their fourth straight bowl game, winning six games during the regular season.

SPONSORED HEADLINES