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CHICAGO -- Shilique Calhoun is speechless, which is notable because, well, he is hardly ever speechless. He is flashing his trademark smile, though, a dead giveaway of how he feels about the beating Michigan State administered to Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner last year.

Six seconds pass, and he relents.

"I mean, you pretty much said it yourself," Calhoun tells the reporter, shaking his head. "I don't need to say much more. It's pretty much ... "

[+] EnlargeShilique Calhoun
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsShilique Calhoun and Michigan State has made life miserable for Devin Gardner and Michigan recently, including sacking him seven times last season.
Are you impressed he stayed in the game?

"I am," Calhoun says. "I commend him for finishing the game and coming out and being a trouper."

That is about as brief as Calhoun gets, as the Spartans' dynamic defensive end took full advantage of the spotlight the Big Ten's two-day preseason media session offered. He held court with reporters for nearly two straight hours while wearing a bow tie. He interviewed Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. He assessed his teammates' basketball talents, evaluating everything from the useful derriere of former Spartan Tyler Hoover to the vicious elbows of fellow lineman Joel Heath.

"You know who was freakishly, weirdly good? Max Bullough," Calhoun said of the graduated linebacker.

It was on the hardwood where Calhoun drew the most attention in high school. His mother, Cynthia Mimes, says a dream as a teenager about becoming an NFL player drove her son to the college gridiron. Michigan State is thankful for that after Calhoun's breakout 2013 campaign, which included 7.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, three touchdowns and countless laughs. The winner of the league's defensive lineman of the year award, Calhoun opted to return for his redshirt junior season following MSU's Rose Bowl triumph, sensing plenty of room for growth.

"He doesn't know anything about football," Mimes quipped. "He just knows [that] the coaches tell him to do this and do that and he did it. That's the way it is. Today he's still learning. He does what they tell him to do because he's a fast learner."

He has come a long way from his days as the under-recruited dual-sport star at Middletown North (N.J.) High -- back when, he confesses, he thought hometown Rutgers was "freakin' Alabama" and he thought Michigan and Michigan State were the same school.

Two wins against the Wolverines in Calhoun's three years in East Lansing -- and five since 2008 -- has eliminated any confusion, especially after a rout last year in which the Spartans sacked Gardner seven times and hurried him another five.

Mark Dantonio could tell from scout-team work his freshman year that Calhoun would be special, admitting the defensive end was a little quieter then. Asked whether that was for better or worse, he smiled: "Worse."

Calhoun has grown up and opened up significantly in recent years, a far cry from the senior who quit the prep basketball team in the middle of a game after an argument with his coach.

He knows he was wrong, and though he had no other real blemish growing up, he wasn't quite the character he is now, his mother insists.

Among the many trophies and clippings of Mimes' six kids on display in her Long Branch, N.J., home is a middle school-aged Shilique featured front and center on an old Sunday edition of the Asbury Park Press, whispering an answer in a spelling bee to his teacher. He was a constant complainer and, Mimes said, a sore loser. He would cry when he would lose a football game. He would cry when he would lose a card game. He would cry when he would lose in a video game.

Ultimately, his mother stepped in.

"I told him 'you're not allowed to play games anymore, because games are supposed to be fun,'" Mimes said. "You're not supposed to cry over it and be upset."

Another incident warranted tears as well, though this time it stemmed from tragedy and forced Calhoun out of his shell. A boy at his middle school had committed suicide, a result of bullying. Calhoun's mother says it made her son look at life differently, and he has vowed since to be more uplifting around others.

[+] EnlargeShilique Calhoun
Gabriel Christus/ESPN ImagesShilique Calhoun learned a valuable lesson early in life about how important it is to smile, make people laugh and lift people up instead of tearing them down.
"If someone's having a bad day, if someone's not feeling too good, he could put a smile on their face," Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook said. "Anytime you have a guy like that in the locker room, [it's] just cause for a good time."

At media days, Calhoun insisted he knew how to tie his own bow tie. His mother said the attire was her idea, and that her 14-year-old son, Kaymar, is already a bow tie expert.

Calhoun joked that he grew up in a gated community. When asked later if he planned on making T-shirts boasting his defensive line's mantra -- "A.W.O.L.," or Animal Without A Leash -- he cracked that he is broke.

Reminded of the former comment about his upbringing, the ever-persuasive Calhoun -- in a manner only he could seemingly pull off -- rationalized that he cannot stay rich if he spends his money.

The 6-foot-4 Calhoun has filled out considerably as he enters Year 4 with the Spartans, from 218 pounds as a freshman to 256 now. On a white wall back home, his mother has a framed photo from each of his first three college seasons lined up from left to right, above his locker room nameplate from the Rose Bowl. Guests often remark about how much he has changed, and how quickly.

From a hoops-loving kid who didn't know a Spartan from a Wolverine, to the best player on the reigning Big Ten champion, Calhoun has grown into his personality and physique, now on the brink of fulfilling that fateful NFL dream all those years ago.
He is one of 10 first-year coaches to make a BCS bowl appearance and the only West Virginia coach to win 10 games in his debut season.

Yet no game looms larger in Dana Holgorsen’s career than the Mountaineers’ battle against Alabama on Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

With an upset victory, expectations would explode through the roof for West Virginia, similar to Oklahoma’s rise in national perception after the Sooners’ Allstate Sugar Bowl win over the Crimson Tide in January. Meanwhile, a lopsided loss could confirm doubts about the overall upside of the Mountaineers in 2014, just 60 minutes into a season that lasts more than three months.

Entering Holgorsen’s fourth season, the Mountaineers’ program is finally full of players he recruited and he’s starting to amass the overall depth he has strived for since they joined the Big 12 before the 2012 season. The Mountaineers were in the Big East in Holgorsen’s first season.

[+] EnlargeDana Holgorsen
AP Photo/Christopher JacksonDana Holgorsen believes his toughest job this weekend won't be coaching against Alabama -- it will be managing the success or disappointment his team will feel after the game.
“I think it’s night and day,” Holgorsen said of the difference in West Virginia's roster, compared to a year ago. “If you just look at the overall numbers, I think we’re better at every position.”

Holgorsen has had success in the Big 12 as an assistant at Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Holgorsen has been a part of 47 victories during his 11 seasons as a coach in the Big 12, but only six of those victories have been earned as head coach at West Virginia in two seasons.

The time is now for Holgorsen’s influence to blossom into Big 12 success or wither into Big 12 oblivion.

Yet Holgorsen isn’t taking an approach that this season-opening game against Alabama is any different than the other 38 he's coached at West Virginia.

“We’re going to approach this game just like each and every game, study what they do offensively, defensively come up with a game plan to try to get our guys prepared for what they are going to face,” Holgorsen said. “Regardless of who the opponent is, that will be the approach.”

The Mountaineers are clear underdogs. Few observers outside of Morgantown, West Virginia, expect them to win.

“Our guys are going to be ready to play,” Holgorsen said. “Alabama guys are going to be ready to play. You can throw away favorites or underdogs, or any of that. It doesn’t affect us one way or another.”

This will be West Virginia's second meeting with an SEC team under Holgorsen. The Mountaineers rallied to within six points of LSU during the third quarter of their game in Morgantown in 2011. Les Miles’ squad pulled away in the final 15 minutes to leave town with a 47-21 victory. There’s not much to take from that experience -- few players on the roster played in that game.

Nonetheless, the consistent theme among the Mountaineers is simple: Saturday’s game is not about facing a big, bad national power in SEC country.

“Everyone is tuned in and aware of who we are playing,” cornerback Terrell Chestnut said. “At the end of the day it’s not about Alabama, it’s about West Virginia.”

Interestingly enough, Holgorsen believes his work could really begin on Sunday. The fourth-year coach believes — win or loss — his biggest task of the weekend will be managing postgame expectations or disappointment with 11 games remaining on the schedule.

“I believe my biggest coaching challenge will be Sunday, regardless of what happens on Saturday,” Holgorsen said. “Whether we’re successful or not. I think the bigger coaching challenge is going to be on Sunday – getting these guys to overcome what happened, whether it’s positive or negative.”
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Every once in a while, Les Miles scrolls through the numbers stored in his cell phone and settles on digits that once connected him to a source of advice and camaraderie.

Bo Schembechler died nearly eight years ago, but Miles can’t bring himself to remove his coaching mentor’s number from his contacts list.

“It's impossible to take it out, isn't it?” Miles asked, staring at the number on the screen. “You know what, sometimes, I haven't dialed it in a while, but sometimes I dial it, too.”

Miles will kick off his 10th season as the LSU Tigers' coach on Saturday against Wisconsin, so the 60-year-old Ohioan had plenty of time to create his own unique identity within the world of college football. And boy has he ever done that, parlaying his wacky personality and consistent winning into a status as one of the sport’s rock stars.

[+] EnlargeBo Schembechler
AP Photo"Bo [Schembechler] had the feel of his team," LSU coach Les Miles said. "... I was fortunate to play for him and coach alongside him and I just saw how he touched his team in really special ways."
But Miles wouldn’t deny that lessons learned while coaching under father figures like Schembechler and Bill McCartney helped mold him into the head coach he became. Not that he can necessarily pinpoint individual ways that those mentors shaped his own philosophies.

“I think what happens is you have natural instincts in coaching and team philosophies and things that are in your mind right and wrong about a coaching year, scheduling, how you write the schedule for your team -- just the many things that go into developing a team,” Miles said. “And I think that these two guys have so marked my memory that I don't know that I can even separate it.

“But I can tell you this, the things that when you ask [how they influenced me], Bo had the feel of his team. He had just an unbelievable, uncanny recognition for what his team needed. I don't think anybody had that ability that Bo had. I was fortunate to play for him and coach alongside him and I just saw how he touched his team in really special ways -- just roughly and sometimes with humor and sometimes matter-of-factly. He just had it. He could really just speak to his team.”

It’s easy to see how Schembechler’s methods of communication might have rubbed off on his former pupil. In fact, he still speaks to Miles, even from the Great Beyond.

Well, sort of.

Miles chuckled while reporting that he has an enormous Schembechler bobblehead in his office at his family’s Baton Rouge home. Miles said he sometimes talks to the approximately 4-foot-tall doll as though it’s actually the man who coached him at Michigan, offered him his first college coaching job as a Wolverines graduate assistant in 1980 and later hired him as a full-fledged member of his staff.

Asked how those conversations might go, Miles replied, “Just some smiling thoughts. Or I can remember asking him some questions about personnel and his very candid responses.”

Michigan was already on top when Miles became a part of Schembechler’s program. He learned entirely different lessons about how to become successful when he followed McCartney to Colorado.

McCartney hired 28-year-old Miles to coach the offensive line as a member of his first Colorado staff in 1982. Through some rocky early seasons in Boulder, Miles helped McCartney lay the groundwork for what would become one of the nation’s winningest programs in the late 1980s. The Buffaloes had become competitive by the time Miles left McCartney’s staff to return to Michigan in 1987, and it would win a national championship a few years later.

Miles doesn’t speak of any coach as reverently as he does of Schembechler, but it’s clear that McCartney -- a man of great Christian faith -- also made a mark on his young assistant.

“Bill McCartney had vision that was unnatural,” Miles said. “He knew where he wanted to go with his program. He knew how he needed to lead his team. He could recruit as well as any.”

But where does Miles’ trademark gutsiness come from? The trick plays in crucial situations? The decisions to go for it on fourth-and-short over and over? The call to throw for the end zone with seconds remaining when a field goal could win the game?

That’s mostly Les, although even that distinctive bravado might owe a bit to his mentor.

“You've got to understand something,” Miles said. “That Schembechler guy, he was pretty stinking confident.”

Miles is certainly no clone, however. It’s difficult to picture Schembechler or McCartney participating in TV commercials where they eat grass or engaging in some of the other antics that have transformed Miles into the sport’s clown prince. But their lessons are always there, forming a portion of the eccentric coaching personality for which Miles is famous.

Every coach -- actually every successful person in any industry -- can look back at the early stages of his career and point to the people who helped him get on the right track, whose daily presence helped him understand how to do the job correctly.

Miles’ first two bosses are both in the College Football Hall of Fame and Miles is well on the way there himself, proving that he must have been paying attention while learning at the feet of two football masters.

“Being around both those guys,” Miles said, “I can't tell you how fortunate I am.”
Henry Coley and his Virginia teammates have never lost a season opener. But their past four opening games have not presented the challenge they face Saturday.

Virginia must find a way to upset No. 7 UCLA. To do that, the Hoos must find a way to slow down preseason Heisman candidate Brett Hundley.

The good news is the defense faced a similar offensive scheme and mobile quarterback last season when they played Marcus Mariota and Oregon. The bad news is they were rolled 59-10, and Mariota had 323 yards of total offense and three scores.

[+] EnlargeHenry Coley
AP Photo/Steve HelberVirginia linebacker Henry Coley, 44, is excited to face UCLA and quarterback Brett Hundley.
Perhaps there are lessons taken away from that matchup that can be applied to this one to help change the outcome. Coley said he began watching tape on Hundley in the spring, and re-watched the Oregon game tape to find ways Virginia can play better.

"Hundley, he’s a helluva athlete," Coley said in a recent phone interview. "He’s a big guy, physical kid and he can run like a deer. We’ve faced guys like that before, like the Mariotas of the world. We have to make sure we’re defensively sound when it comes to defending him.

"That means making sure you stay in your gaps ... at any moment he could read it, being the athletic guy he is, and just take off. We can’t allow that to happen."

Mariota did that last year, running for a 71-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the game.

"There were a lot of mental errors we made in that game, also," Coley said. "We’re light years ahead of where we were last year when we were facing these types of teams. We just have to be comfortable in the schemes, be comfortable with what the coaches are telling you. You can’t have wandering eyes when you’re playing against an offense like this. On any given play, they’re running three plays in one. They could run, pass or throw a bubble screen. You just take care of your assignments and get after it."

As the middle linebacker, Coley will take on added responsibility in trying to defend Hundley, who had nearly 4,000 yards of offense a season ago. Not only will Coley have to make the calls for the defense, he also will have to be the one to keep an eye on where Hundley goes.

Coley has grown as a player since the Oregon game last year, so the hope is he will play a huge role in the matchup.

"You can try to simulate, you can try to get guys to be him in practice, you can try all types of things and watch film, but when you actually play a player of his caliber, you just have to be very alert and aware of your rush lanes, coverages, just so many things you have to pay attention to because he is such a dynamic player," coach Mike London said.

The defense believes it has grown, too. Now that players are in the second year under Jon Tenuta, Coley says everybody has a much better comfort level. Coaches, too. They know what their players can do, so they also spent the offseason tailoring the defensive calls to the personnel they have.

"We know what we want to get accomplished," Coley said. "I’m very excited and enthusiastic about what our defense has to bring for the season."

First on the agenda would be another season-opening win.

CommitCast: Darian Roseboro (2:30 ET)

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
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ESPN 300 defensive tackle Darian Roseboro will announce decision Friday. Joins us at 2:30 ET to see which school the 6-foot-4, 285-pound prospect will choose.

The exchange started with a silly (or stupid) joke about football, but not the kind that will be played in college stadiums around the country this weekend.

After Germany blasted FIFA World Cup host Brazil 7-1 on July 8, I joked on Twitter that the Brazilians must have hired former Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator Manny Diaz as a defensive consultant.

Within an hour, Diaz sent me a direct message on Twitter, asking me to call him the next day.

Our conversation the following day was cordial, and I thanked Diaz for reaching out. I apologized for the inconsiderate joke and told him it wasn't anything personal. I could have used a handful of coaches as the butt of the not-so-funny joke, but, for whatever reason, Diaz popped into my head.

The last time college football fans saw a Diaz-coached defense on the field, the Longhorns allowed a school-record 550 rushing yards in a 40-21 loss at BYU on Sept. 7, 2013.

Then-Texas coach Mack Brown fired Diaz the next day.

After largely spending the rest of the 2013 season in isolation, Diaz will return to the sideline as Louisiana Tech's defensive coordinator in Saturday’s game at No. 4 Oklahoma.

[+] EnlargeManny Diaz
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesOn Saturday, Manny Diaz will coach his first game since being fired after Texas' loss to BYU last September.
For Diaz, it's his first shot at redemption, albeit against what is expected to be one of the country’s most prolific offenses.

"Everybody in this profession is at heart a competitor," Diaz said. "I'm super, super excited about the opportunity to get back out there and go at it again."

Diaz's fall from grace was nearly as stunning as his meteoric rise through the college coaching ranks. A former ESPN production assistant, Diaz started as a graduate assistant at Florida State in 1998 and was a defensive coordinator at an FBS school within eight years.

After spending four seasons at Middle Tennessee State from 2006-09, Diaz transformed Mississippi State’s defense into one of the country’s best in 2010. In 2011, Brown hired him to turn around Texas' defense.

The early results at Texas were good: The Longhorns led the Big 12 in total defense, rushing defense and pass defense in his first season. In 2012, the Longhorns allowed only 212 passing yards per game in the pass-happy Big 12 despite losing star defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and linebacker Jordan Hicks to injuries.

Then, the wheels fell off at the start of the 2013 season. Nearly a year later, Diaz is reluctant to talk about what transpired at Texas. He has never criticized Brown or the decision to replace him with Greg Robinson only two games into the season.

"There's nothing to me that matters about what happened," Diaz said. "The issues there were multifaceted, and I think everybody involved, if they had a chance to go back, would change some things."

In the end, firing Diaz didn’t accomplish much. The Longhorns lost to Ole Miss 44-23 the next week before winning six games in a row, including a 36-20 upset of then-No. 12 Oklahoma. But the Longhorns lost three of their last four games, allowing 38 points against Oklahoma State, 30 against Baylor and 30 against Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

Brown was forced to resign and coached the Longhorns for the final time in the bowl game. Brown, who had a 158-48 record in 16 seasons with the Longhorns and guided them to the 2005 national championship, now works as an analyst for ESPN.

Diaz, 40, spent much of last season coaching his sons' football teams. He consulted with a few teams but declined to name them because "Twitter would blow up."

Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz called him in January and offered him a job. Holtz wouldn't have had to go far to find out what really happened to Diaz at Texas last season. His son, Trey, is a sophomore walk-on quarterback with the Longhorns.

"I think Skip had an intimate knowledge of what was really happening behind the doors," Diaz said.

Diaz isn't the only coordinator looking for redemption this season. Former Kansas coach Mark Mangino, who resigned amid allegations that he abused his players, is Iowa State's new offensive coordinator. New Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder's past two college coaching stops, as Georgia Southern's head coach and then Auburn's defensive coordinator, were far from spectacular. New Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's defense at Georgia allowed a school-record 377 points last season.

But perhaps no coach has fallen as hard or fast as Diaz, who went from a wonder boy to, well, the butt of jokes in a matter of a couple of games.

"I think it's the nature of this profession," Diaz said. "I think you see it now more than ever. I think the game is more volatile than ever."

Diaz's career rehab will start near the bottom of FBS football. Last season, the Bulldogs went 4-8 in Holtz's first season. Louisiana Tech's victories came against FCS foe Lamar and FBS opponents UTEP, Florida International and Southern Miss, which combined to win four games in 2013. The Bulldogs lost consecutive games against Tulane, Kansas (which ended a 22-game losing streak to FBS foes) and Army in September.

Holtz hired Diaz to do what he did at every one of his previous stops -- make the defense better.

"I think Coach Diaz has done a phenomenal job with this defense and the things he has put in," Holtz said. "I think he makes it very complicated, but yet, at the same time, it is very simple for them to learn. It appears complicated, but I think he has really simplified it in terms of being user-friendly for the players to take it and embrace it."

The Bulldogs' first challenge is a daunting one, trying to slow down OU's high-powered attack. The Sooners had their way against Diaz's defenses in two previous meetings, outscoring the Longhorns 118-38 in victories in 2011 and '12.

"It's a program I have a lot of respect for," Diaz said. "They challenge the bond of your team. When I got here and found out we were playing Oklahoma, that's the first thing I told our players. It's what they do with their style of play and tempo. If you drop your gloves, they'll pound you."

The Bulldogs' defensive coordinator knows all too well about being knocked down. Will Diaz get back up?

Grady Jarrett overlooked no more

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Grady Jarrett's looks are deceiving. He’s a squat 6-foot-1 and, on most days, he’s pushing 300 pounds so that when pads and a helmet supplement his physique, he looks about as wide as he is tall, the type of interior lineman opposing rushers need a road map to find their way around.

But it’s an optical illusion. Strip away the pads and the jersey and there is a chiseled warrior underneath, an athlete in the strictest sense.

"I saw him the other day with his shirt off, and he’s ripped," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

[+] EnlargeGrady Jarrett
AP Photo/ Richard ShiroAccording to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, the determination showed by Grady Jarrett, left, has made an impression on the entire team.
Indeed, Jarrett, the senior defensive tackle for the No. 16 Tigers, is meticulous about his body. He watches what he eats. He trains methodically. He monitors his sleep schedule. He is, as Swinney concluded, "completely committed."

Yet, it’s Jarrett’s body that has been the evidence critics have used against him again and again, starting with the team he is set to face in Clemson’s season opener Saturday, Georgia. Jarrett, who grew up in Conyers, Ga., wanted to play college football at Georgia, but the Bulldogs simply weren’t interested.

"You always know about Georgia growing up," Jarrett said. "You see the 'G' everywhere. But they didn’t really want me like that."

It was easy to dismiss Jarrett as too short, too slow, too ordinary, and when he was coming out of high school, there were plenty of schools that fell for that illusion.

ESPN ranked Jarrett as the No. 80 defensive tackle in the nation. He was the 22nd-ranked player in Clemson’s 2011 signing class, which included receiver Sammy Watkins and linebacker Stephone Anthony and four other defensive linemen. Mississippi State was the only other Power Five school to show much interest, never mind the 198 tackles, 63 for loss, and 27.5 sacks he accrued in his final two seasons at Rockdale County High School.

"The perception of me from a lot of people coming up through recruiting wasn’t really good at all," Jarrett said. "And it’s something I used to take personally."

But Clemson didn’t buy into the illusion. Swinney watched the film, saw how Jarrett used that undersized physique to create leverage against opposing linemen. He saw the pedigree, that Jarrett was the son of former NFL linebacker Jessie Tuggle, that he was a protege of Ray Lewis, a man Jarrett refers to as an uncle. He saw the drive of a player everyone else said was too small carrying a massive chip on his shoulder.

For Swinney, Jarrett was a hidden gem.

Of course, back then, Clemson needed all the help it could get on defense. In Jarrett’s freshman season he played just 61 snaps. The Tigers’ defense was a disaster, culminating with an embarrassing 70-33 thumping at the hands of West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. But the Tigers’ D and Jarrett were both works in progress, and Swinney knew the finished product would be special.

As a sophomore, Jarrett worked his way into the starting lineup. He recorded 10 quarterback pressures, 8.5 TFLs and helped the Tigers’ defense move from 85th in the nation in TFLs to 30th. A year later, he was even better, making 83 tackles, including 11 behind the line of scrimmage, for a defense that led the nation in TFLs.

Jarrett wrestled in high school, and he used those skills against his opposition. He turned his undersized frame to an advantage, a short guy in a game where getting low is optimal.

"He’s probably one of the lower athletes I’ve gone against," said Clemson center Ryan Norton. "He’s very athletic, and his pad level is unbelievable."

Slowly but surely, the perceptions of Jarrett began to change, and those teams that dismissed him so easily were forced to take notice.

"People see what I can do now," Jarrett said. "I feel like it was up to me to change that perception. I believe I have, and now I’m trying to capitalize off it."

Even after two strong seasons, however, Jarrett toils largely in the shadows. In a conference loaded with top defensive tackles last season, Jarrett wasn’t considered on the same level as Aaron Donald or Timmy Jernigan. Even in his own locker room, Anthony and Vic Beasley get the bulk of the defensive hype.

But the people who know him, who know the program -- they understand.

"If I was going to start a program right now, I’d pick Grady Jarrett first and build everything else around that guy," Swinney said. "He’s that impactful. His worth ethic, his drive, his ability to hold other people accountable and lift others up, and that chip he has on his shoulder -- he’s special."

To hear his coach and teammates talk, Jarrett is the best player in the country no one seems to know about, and that is a label he’s happy to embrace.

Jarrett isn’t flashy. He doesn’t want to be. Instead, he is focused on every minor detail, determined to get it all right. On a team that boasts nearly two dozen seniors, on a defensive front that includes eight seniors in the two-deep, that work ethic has made Jarrett the unquestioned leader.

"When he says something, everybody’s attention is drawn to Grady," said Beasley, an All-American who led the ACC in sacks last season. "He’s a very vocal leader, and he just does it by example also. He’s good in the classroom and on the field. He keeps us going. He’s that main guy on the defense that gets us hyped and keeps us going."

It’s a role Jarrett has embraced this season. In truth, he’s not quite sure how it came about. He simply showed up, did his work, spoke out when he needed to and listened when the others talked. It came naturally, but it feels good to finally get the respect he's deserved.

"If your peers look to you for guidance, that’s the ultimate respect," Jarrett said. "Being able to go to Vic or Stephone and they take to it, that’s really humbling for me."

As Jarrett gets set to kick off his senior season against Georgia’s explosive ground game Saturday, he insists he is not out for revenge, not hoping to prove a point to another team that rejected him. He has all the love he needs now.

But there is that tinge of bitterness, that knowledge that this is his last chance to remind the school down the road from his boyhood home that it missed out on something special.

"There’s always a little extra incentive," he finally relented.

But there’s more ahead, plenty of other last chances to make his mark before his college career ends and a fresh round of evaluations by scouts and coaches and critics begins. There is so much more he wants to accomplish.

There is a sense of desperation to this season, Jarrett said, and that is something his coach doesn’t mind hearing.

Still, Swinney was never one of the critics, never fooled by the illusion. The chip on Jarrett’s shoulder drives him, so Swinney won’t knock it off. Still, he knows this isn’t the end for Jarrett. It’s the beginning.

"He’ll play for a while on the next level," Swinney said. “I know he’s not sexy looking. He’s not 6-3. But he’ll outplay all of them guys."
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Dan Mullen wants the pressure. He wants gaudy expectations and anxious fans.

Mississippi State’s head coach is entering his sixth season in Starkville, heading a team viewed as a legitimate contender in the SEC Western Division. It’s not something this program is used to and situations like this for programs like this usually don’t work out, but this is the exact position Mullen wants his team to be in.

“Hopefully we have a lot of pressure Week 10, 11 and 12 of the season and then we’ll see how we deal with it then,” Mullen said.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis"These guys want to win a championship," Dan Mullen said. "They want to get to Atlanta and go play for that title."
“These guys want to win a championship. They want to get to Atlanta and go play for that title. The expectations on the outside don’t get to them. … In their minds, this is what we want. There’s no pressure on them, that’s their goal to go out and accomplish this right now.”

And why not? In a league that has seen the talent gap from the top to the middle tighten in recent years, both divisions really are up for grabs. And the Bulldogs return 18 starters, 16 of whome are upperclassmen.

Mullen has a potential All-SEC quarterback in the very versatile Dak Prescott, the Bulldogs’ top five receiving targets from last year are back, and the defense is finally stacked with an SEC-caliber lineup in its two-deep.

The naysayers point at past failures this program has had, most notably it’s tumble in 2012. That’s when Mississippi State started the season 7-0 and rose as high as No. 11 in the AP poll before losing at Alabama 38-7. The Bulldogs then went into a full free fall, losing four of their last five games.

A year earlier, the Bulldogs went 7-6 after a 9-4 season that included wins over Florida, Georgia, Ole Miss and an absolute thrashing of Michigan (52-14) in their bowl game.

This is a program that has made it to one SEC championship game (1998) -- and lost -- and it hasn’t won 10 games in a season since 1999. In the past three seasons, Mullen is 0-15 against teams that finished the season ranked in one of the final polls, and SEC West foes Alabama, Auburn and LSU have a combined 36-3 record against Mississippi State since the start of the 2000 season.

History hasn’t been kind to the Bulldogs, and it certainly isn’t on their side, but players don’t care. They’re concerned about the present and foresee a special season in Starkville.

“To be honest, we don’t care about respect,” redshirt junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney. “We’re just going out there to play to win. We know what we can do. People are going to put us down, but that’s just a part of life.”

To Mullen, who is 36-28 during his five years with Mississippi State and owns the highest overall winning percentage by a Mississippi State coach since 1956 (.563), this is the most complete team he’s had in Starkville. For the first time, Mullen feels like he can rotate quality depth in and out at just about every position, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

He has an All-America-caliber defensive lineman in Chris Jones whom Mullen could see sharing a handful of reps this fall because there isn’t a lot of drop off with the players around him. He’s happy with playing five of his safeties and six of his linebackers this fall.

Jones might be the biggest talent on the team, but Mullen finally sees a deep, collective group of quality players who can carry this team in 2014.

“I don’t think we have superstars. I don’t know if were a team loaded with first-round draft picks, but I think we’re loaded with a bunch of really good football players,” Mullen said. “I like having that depth instead of having five superstars and then role players around them.”

On paper, Mississippi State’s nonconference schedule is an absolute cakewalk, but road trips to LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss could thwart their Atlanta hopes. But the Bulldogs aren’t running from it. They know that in order to be relevant in the SEC West in late November, this team has to take down the big boys.

There’s the opportunity to catch a relatively unproven LSU team on the road in late September, while Texas A&M and Auburn will visit Starkville. Then there’s that road trip to Alabama on Nov. 15, which could hold the Bulldogs’ SEC fate.

To senior cornerback Jay Hughes, the team isn’t even looking at its schedule. It’s looking at the players in the locker room and the coaches around them. That’s where their focus is, and where their confidence is bred. Hughes believes there’s something great in Starkville, and he can’t wait for the Bulldogs to show it.

“It’s almost like we know, man,” Hughes said. “We have as good of talent as anybody with the numbers that we have and the experience we have on the field. We have the talent, we have the numbers, so what are we going to do?"
Here are five things I learned in college football this week:

1. We’re often guilty of putting too much stock in a team’s opening performance, but it was clear Thursday night that South Carolina is going to miss star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney a lot more than Texas A&M is going to miss Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel.

South Carolina’s defense had no answer for A&M coach Kevin Sumlin’s high-flying offense, as sophomore Kenny Hill threw for 511 yards and three touchdowns on 44-for-60 passing in the Aggies’ 52-28 rout at South Carolina. Hill broke Manziel’s single-game record for passing yards in his first career start and never seemed nervous on the road.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Williams
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesSouth Carolina's new 3-4 defense had a rough debut against Texas A&M as the Aggies racked up 680 total yards.
Afterward, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier even seemed to criticize defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, who installed a 3-4 defense during the offseason.

“I thought we would play a lot better,” Spurrier said. “I have been reading like you guys have about our new 3-4 defense. Did anybody like that 3-4 defense? But I don’t know if it would have mattered if we’d have played a 6-6 defense. I don’t know if 12 out there would have helped that much.”

During the offseason, I said several times that I thought South Carolina might be one of the most overrated teams in the country, given its personnel losses on defense. I also believed the Gamecocks would miss departed quarterback Connor Shaw much more than some people believed. I might have been right on both accounts.

2. Ole Miss had its struggles against Boise State in Thursday night’s opener at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Quarterback Bo Wallace threw three interceptions in the first half, and the Rebels couldn’t pull away from the Broncos until early in the fourth quarter of a 35-13 victory.

Still, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has plenty of reasons to be excited, mainly that his vaunted freshman class of 2013 is a year older and wiser. Sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche is becoming one of the toughest blocking assignments in the country and safety Tony Conner is a future NFL first-round draft choice. Receiver Laquon Treadwell is also fantastic.

Are the Rebels deep enough and experienced enough to challenge Auburn, Alabama and Texas A&M in the SEC West? Probably not. But the Rebels might be good enough to knock off any of those teams in one game and have a say in which team wins the division.

3. The season can’t get here soon enough for new USC coach Steve Sarkisian. One day after Sarkisian had to indefinitely suspend team captain Josh Shaw for lying about how he suffered two high ankle sprains over the weekend, he was accused of being a racist by running back Anthony Brown, who quit the team.

Brown made his accusations on Instagram and other social media, claiming, “Sark treated me like a Slave in his office.” Sarkisian said the accusations were “shocking,” and anyone who has met the former Washington coach would have a very difficult time believing they’re true.

4. So-called football factories such as Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas were in the news for all the wrong reasons during the offseason, as coaches at those schools had to dismiss several players for off-field problems.

But the recent troubles at high-academic institutions like North Carolina and Notre Dame prove it can happen anywhere. UNC coach Larry Fedora suspended four players from the Tar Heels’ opener against FCS foe Liberty on Saturday, a couple of days after Yahoo! Sports reported that a walk-on receiver suffered a concussion during an alleged hazing incident.

The Fighting Irish announced Thursday that a fifth player, safety Eilar Hardy, is being held out of practice and games while the school investigates an allegation of academic misconduct. The Irish have already suspended receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore.

5. Kudos to Virginia Tech for giving coach Frank Beamer a new two-year contract extension, which might keep him with the Hokies through the 2018 season. Sure, the Hokies have uncharacteristically struggled the past couple of seasons, but we too easily forget that Beamer built his alma mater into a national powerhouse when most people believed it could never be done.

It’s also significant that new Virginia Tech athletics director Whit Babcock gave him the deal instead of Jim Weaver, the retired AD who was one of Beamer’s biggest supporters. The Hokies have won 15 games the past two seasons, after winning 10 games or more in each of the previous eight. Beamer built the program, and he should be given an opportunity to get it back to the top of the ACC.

CommitCast: K.J. Hill (11 a.m. ET)

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
9:00
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ESPN 300 wide receiver K.J. Hill is set to make his college choice. Watch live at 11 a.m. ET as the No. 208-ranked player in the country makes his decision.

Arizona State 45, Weber State 14

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
2:32
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video D.J. Foster rushed for 147 yards and three touchdowns in Arizona State's 45-14 win over Weber State.
ATLANTA -- It was by no means a pretty win, but it was a win nonetheless for No. 18 Ole Miss. In a game that featured eight Ole Miss false starts and seven total interceptions (a record for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game), the Rebels trudged their way to a sloppy 35-13 win over Boise State inside the Georgia Dome. It most be noted that 28 of those Ole Miss points came in the fourth quarter.

Momentum awkwardly traveled back and forth between the teams before Ole Miss sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell put the Rebels ahead by eight with a beastly 14-yard touchdown grab with 12:26 remaining in the fourth quarter.

1. Finding that menacing Megaquon

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Quarterback Bo Wallace, who was having one of his more forgettable performances to this point, saw the obvious mismatch with the 6-foot-2, 229-pound Treadwell facing Boise State cornerback Cleshawn Page (5-9, 178) to his left. Without hesitation, Wallace looked to his left and zipped a pass to where only a leaping Treadwell could get it. The sophomore caught the pass at the 2 and tumbled into the end zone to give the Rebels a 14-6 lead.

Offensive coordinator Dan Werner: "We felt like if we could get him singled up, which they weren't letting that happen very often, but if we did, we were going to audible and run the fade. Bo did a nice job; he saw that they were bringing the free safety, so we had one-on-one coverage and he just threw it up high and let Laquon make a play."

Treadwell: "Man-to-man, throw it up. That's really all I saw. I knew he was pressing. He tried to jump jam, but he kinda jumped offside. After he did that, I knew he was beat, and I was just waiting for Bo to throw the ball, really."

2. Bouncing Adeboyejo

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Not to be outdone a couple minutes later was fellow sophomore receiver Quincy Adeboyejo, who officially put the game away with a springy 31-yard touchdown catch. Adeboyejo, whose touchdown was set up by a fantastic interception by safety Tony Conner two plays earlier, caught a bullet of a pass from Wallace at Boise's 10-yard line before bouncing off two defenders and into the end zone to make it 21-6.

Treadwell: "I think that broke Quincy out of his shell. Quincy's a great player and we know he can play. It's just that he's inconsistent, but now I think that broke him out of his shell, really, and he should have a great season. I think that really helped the offense."

3. Can't catch Cody Core

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So this is what Ole Miss' offense was supposed to look like, huh? An offensive line that struggled all night (did I mention those eight false starts?) held its ground for the second Wallace needed to find Core sprinting through the middle of the field. Core caught the ball in space and was gone.

Wallace: "It was just a vertical route. We swung the backs so maybe the husky would jump out and give us leverage, and they did, so we got it. It's something that we ran in camp that when we first put it in, it was tough on our defense. We felt like that would be a good play for us."

Core: "I saw the field open and I trusted my teammates and just cut loose. I actually didn't [see the linebacker jump out], but I knew the cornerback was behind me so if I cut over to the other side, it would be for the field."

Ole Miss 35, Boise State 13

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
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Bo Wallace passed for 386 yards and four touchdowns in Ole Miss' 35-13 win over Boise State in Atlanta. Receiver Cody Core caught four passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns for the Rebels.
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COLUMBIA, S.C. – Maybe the whole Johnny Manziel phenomenon was a bit overblown.

That’s not to diss Johnny Football. Few players in the SEC have been more entertaining or transcendent. No, it’s more a validation that the other guy rocking the visor, the guy with the “good negotiator” and $5 million salary, knows what he’s doing.

Manziel, Case Keenum, Kenny Hill

It obviously doesn’t matter who’s playing quarterback for Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin. His offenses are going to put up points, and lots of them.

The Aggies left little doubt Thursday night that they’re going to be just fine without Manziel -- especially if they can straighten out some bugs in the secondary -- by slicing through a helpless South Carolina defense in a 52-28 declawing of the No. 9-ranked Gamecocks before a stunned crowd of 82,847 at Williams-Brice Stadium.

“Quite frankly, there was a chip on our shoulder. Basically, nobody gave us a chance in this game,” Sumlin said. “What we did tonight kind of shows that we’re not a one-trick pony. We’re not anywhere near where we want to be, but we’re not going anywhere any time soon.”

It’s hard to know where to start when heaping praise on the Aggies, who had outgained the Gamecocks 142 yards to 1 at one point in the first quarter en route to scoring the most points against South Carolina on its home field in the Steve Spurrier era. The only other time an opponent had hung 50-plus on South Carolina in Williams-Brice with Spurrier on the sideline was when Tim Tebow came to town in 2007 on his Heisman Trophy march.

As fate would have it, Tebow was in the house Thursday as part of the SEC Network’s coverage and witnessed a Heisman Trophy-like performance.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesIt took just one game for Texas A&M's Kenny Hill to break Johnny Manziel's school record for most passing yards in a game.
"Give Texas A&M and their coaches and players credit. It was a mismatch tonight," Spurrier said. "I don't know what else you can say. If we played them again, they'd be a three-touchdown favorite. We tried everything we could to slow them down."

Hill, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound sophomore, broke Manziel’s Texas A&M single-game passing record in his first start. He finished 44-of-60 for 511 yards and three touchdowns and was the essence of composure. He spread the ball around, got rid of the ball quickly and leaned on an impressive array of receivers.

And up front, it was a total mismatch. The Aggies’ offensive line manhandled the Gamecocks in rolling up a staggering 99 offensive plays and 680 yards of total offense – the most ever gained against any South Carolina team.

Hill joked that he was more nervous meeting with the media than he ever was on the field.

“I was more excited than nervous,” Hill said. “I was ready to go. I’ve been ready for this my whole life. Everybody was doubting us, and we were just ready to go and prove everybody wrong and that we could be good without Johnny.”

Hill wasn’t quite ready to take on a nickname yet, although he was asked about it.

“I don’t really like Kenny Football. That’s sort of played out,” he said to a round of laughter.

If you’re wondering, Manziel was 23-of-30 for 173 yards and no touchdown passes in his first career start in 2012, a 20-17 home loss to Florida.

“It’s the reason I came to Texas A&M, to replace Johnny,” said Hill, whose record night sent the Gamecocks to their first home loss after 18 consecutive wins.

The Texas A&M players were almost nonchalant about Hill’s performance. They didn’t necessarily see a record performance coming in his debut, but they knew following in Manziel’s footsteps wasn’t too big for him.

“He’s a pocket passer. He’s going to stay in the pocket,” said Texas A&M receiver Malcome Kennedy, who caught 14 passes for 137 yards. “If you stay on your routes, he’s going to put it right there.”

For Sumlin, this was especially sweet, although he did his best to downplay it afterward.

Spurrier, in vintage form, had taken a few shots at the Aggies’ nonconference schedule and how they rolled up a lot of their big numbers against smaller teams last season. He also quipped during the SEC Media Days that Sumlin had a good negotiator after Sumlin received a raise to $5 million annually when the University of Southern California showed interest in him.

The truth is that Spurrier and Sumlin are friends and even went to Ireland together to play golf two summers ago. Spurrier visited the Texas A&M locker room after the game. Even so, Sumlin made it clear that he wasn’t a big fan of some of the things said about his program during the offseason.

“I heard somebody say we made a bunch of yards against the little teams, but we also made a few yards tonight,” Sumlin cracked.

Granted, it was just one game, but he was genuinely peeved that anybody would suggest he and his staff would suddenly forget how to coach just because Manziel was gone. All offseason he was bombarded with questions about life without Manziel.

Sumlin’s public response was that the Aggies had recruited extremely well to a system they believed in. Privately, he couldn’t wait for the opportunity to fleece a few more SEC defenses with a system that has a way of bringing a defense to its knees no matter who’s playing quarterback.

On Thursday, the Gamecocks were on their heels from the Aggies’ first possession and never recovered. Just a thought: Maybe Jadeveon Clowney had a little bigger impact on that South Carolina defense than some people gave him credit for a year ago.

Either way, it’s clear that Texas A&M has recovered much better without its departed star than South Carolina has without its departed star.

Here’s another thought: The entire complexion of the Western Division race all of a sudden looks a little different, and we’re only a game into the season. If you’re going to beat the Aggies, you'd better be able to score.

The same goes for the Eastern Division race. South Carolina has two weeks to shake off this nightmare and find something that works on defense before Georgia visits.

In the meantime, looks like they’re not going to cancel the season in College Station after all.

Texas A&M 52, South Carolina 28

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
10:11
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video Kenny Hill threw for an Aggies' record 511 yards with three touchdowns in Texas A&M's 52-28 win over South Carolina.

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