Athletic director Kirby Hocutt declared that there’s “never been a more exciting time” within the Texas Tech football program.

And that is precisely why the Red Raiders elected to make a huge investment in their 35-year-old head coach.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsKliff Kingsbury's contract extension is due in big part to the excitement that he has generated at Texas Tech.
Kliff Kingsbury agreed to a contract extension Friday that will make him the fourth-highest paid coach in the Big 12. Tech will play Kingsbury $3.1 million in 2015, with a $200,0000 raise each year to $4.1 million through 2020.

Tech isn’t necessarily rewarding Kingsbury solely for the mere eight wins he’s brought the Red Raiders last season.

Instead, the school is rewarding Kingsbury for the excitement he’s brought to the program. And the news Tech revealed earlier in the day was proof of that excitement.

Just hours before they disclosed Kingsbury’s extension, the Red Raiders held a press conference announcing the launch of a capital campaign to raise $185 million to construct an indoor practice facility and build 30 suites as part of a renovation of the Jones AT&T Stadium south end zone.

The school would not have fashioned such a project had Kingsbury not filled up the stadium last season. Nor would Tech have raised the $75 million it already has committed for the project without the buzz Kingsbury has generated for the program.

“We are very fortunate that we have 85 suites in Jones AT&T Stadium and they're all at capacity right now,” Hocutt said. “There is a wait list for folks who have requested those seats.”

Kingsbury’s return to Lubbock spearheaded the formation for that demand.

Bucking a national trend of declining student attendance, Tech actually set a student season-attendance record in Kingsbury’s first season. This summer, Tech sold out its season-ticket allotment for the first time in school history, shattering the previous record by roughly 7,000.

Hocutt attributes all of the above to a “new pride” in Tech football. And Kingsbury, who was Mike Leach’s first great quarterback for the Red Raiders when he played from 1999-2002, is the one flying the banner.

And he's the one who has unified what previously was a fractured fan base.

Sure, the Red Raiders still have a ways to go on the field. Another November swoon last season underscored that. But before that, Tech started out 7-0 and reached its first top 10 ranking in five years despite rotating through a pair of true freshman quarterbacks. And even after the late-season losing streak, the Red Raiders bounced back to throttle Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl.

Going into this season, Tech appears to have one of the best young quarterbacks in the country in sophomore Davis Webb. And the Red Raiders have been going toe-to-toe with prominent programs for blue-chip talent. Tech already has landed commitments from a trio of ESPN 300 recruits including Jarrett Stidham, one of the top quarterback prospects in the country.

There’s plenty of excitement for where the Tech football program is.

But plenty more for where Kingsbury is taking it.

Chat: CFB Saturday Live

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
7:00
PM ET
On the first full day of the college football season, we'll be with you for more than 14 hours here at CFB Saturday Live.

From 9 a.m. to noon ET, get ready for game day while chatting with 12 of our reporters scattered throughout the country. Then from noon to 8 p.m. ET we'll be bringing in real-time reaction and analysis from dozens of our experts about all of the games. And finally, join us back in a live chat at 8 ET to discuss the evening slate as it happens.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney joked this week that he still wakes up seeing images of Georgia’s Todd Gurley sprinting down the sideline on a 75-yard touchdown run early in last year’s matchup between the Tigers and Bulldogs. It’s a tough image to forget.

Yes, Swinney’s team escaped with a 38-35 win, but Gurley and the Georgia ground game looked dominant. Gurley carried just 12 times but racked up 154 yards and two scores. Overall, the Bulldogs ran for 222 yards in the game and scored five times on the ground. That vaunted Clemson defensive front had few answers.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesRunning back Todd Gurley and Georgia's ground game torched Clemson last season.
Now, as the Tigers get set for their return trip to Athens, Georgia, that image of Gurley bursting through the line of scrimmage and outrunning an overwhelmed secondary to the end zone remains front and center.

"It’s like tackling a tree trunk," said Clemson safety Robert Smith.

Finding a way to corral that tree trunk will be Clemson’s top defensive priority Saturday, and it will need to be a team effort.

The strength of Clemson’s defense is its front seven, particularly along the line, and that showed, even during Gurley’s stellar performance a year ago.

Here is a breakdown of Georgia’s rushing performance in last year’s game:

.

When the Tigers stacked the box and Georgia kept runs between the tackles, a few big plays developed but the Bulldogs’ overall success rate was way down. When Gurley and his cohorts bounced runs outside -- as he did on that 75-yard touchdown sprint -- things got ugly.

The interior of Clemson’s defense remains strong with Grady Jarrett, Josh Watson and Stephone Anthony up the middle, but personnel changes in the secondary and a one-game suspension for defensive end Corey Crawford raise questions about the Tigers’ ability to seal the edges.

That has put an emphasis on fundamentals, defensive coordinator Brent Venables said.

"We didn’t tackle great [last year], gave up too many explosive plays," Venables said. "I know our guys can hold up physically, but your secondary is going to have to tackle well in run support."

Of course, that is easier said than done against a runner like Gurley, whose combination of speed and power makes him tough to catch, let alone bring down.

"Just his combination of size, strength and speed," Jarrett said, "it’s second to none."

Venables likely has a few tricks up his sleeve for this year’s matchup. When Vic Beasley was pressed this week on how much he might work as a stand-up rusher or outside linebacker, he simply grinned.

The line has gotten stronger, too. Clemson’s front seven will feature six senior starters. It’s a unit that led the nation in tackles for loss a year ago.

The other advantage for Clemson this time around is that the Tigers know what’s coming. That can be a double-edged sword, Smith said, but his defense remains confident.

"You can’t let what he did last year affect you this year, but you know what he can do," Smith said. "He’s a tremendous running back. We saw up close and personal. We don’t forget. But we also can’t let that hinder what we’re going to do this season."

'A one-time, all-time upset'

August, 29, 2014
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If you haven't already, make sure to check out my oral history of Appalachian State's 2007 upset over Michigan here. One quote that stands out in the piece is former Wolverines receiver Greg Mathews description of game week from that year:
"I'll speak for myself, and I know there were obviously some of my teammates doing the same thing as well. It was welcome week, where all the students had come back to school and class hasn't started yet and we just got out of camp. Throughout that week, there were a bunch of parties. Every night of the week, it was like a crazy, insane party. I just didn't manage that very well. Guys were missing practice, coming to practice hung over, having to sit out because they were hung over. We lost that game that week."

There are plenty of other memories well told in the piece, including those of Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards, safety Corey Lynch (who blocked the kick to seal the victory), former Wolverines players Carlos Brown, Tim Jamison and Donovan Warren and current Michigan coach Brady Hoke.The upset was a dark chapter in Michigan history; the Maize and Blue hope to create some better memories on Saturday as the Mountaineers pay a return visit to the Big House.
(Pause for laughter)

(Pause again, for laughter)

(Pause, again, still for more laughter)

UCLA head coach Jim Mora had just been asked a purely-for-fun, purely-hypothetical question: What if UCLA and USC had to play in Week 1?

“I don’t think it would be a good deal,” Mora said. “You want the drama to build. I don’t know what it would be like. I never thought of that. [Pause for laughter, again]. It would make for an interesting off season. You’d have a whole lot of time to talk about it rather than just a week. Heck, I don’t know.”

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/David Zalubowski Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre relishes the opportunity to play a rivalry game in Week 1. But most Pac-12 coaches would rather wait until the end of the season.
 The roots of this comical concept stem from the fact that while most of the Pac-12 will be dining on desserts in Week 1, the Colorado Buffaloes have to play a rivalry game with Colorado State right out of the chute.

And make no mistake -- this is a rivalry game. This will be the 86th game in the series (the Buffs lead 62-21-2), which has been played off and on since 1893 and annually since 1995 (the longest gap was between ’58 to ’83).

It doesn’t matter that Colorado is in the Pac-12 and Colorado State is in the Mountain West. This game is as heated as it gets.

“We think of this as a traditional rivalry, no doubt about it,” said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre. “You hear about it every day. Everybody is up and down Interstate 25, and CU fans and CSU fans run into each other. The kids know each other. The coaches know each other because we speak at different clinics and run into each other all of the time.”

Colorado State got win No. 1 for coach Jim McElwain in 2012 with a 22-17 victory. A year later, the MacIntyre era kicked off with a 41-27 victory.

“The pros of it are it’s a big, heightened game,” MacIntyre said. “It keeps your kids on their toes. They hear about it all the time. It makes it a little more special. All opening games are special. But this puts an extra flavor to it, so to speak.”

That got the Pac-12 blog to thinking … simply for extra flavor … what if every rivalry game in the league was played in Week 1. What would the storylines be?

  • Territorial Cup: New Arizona QB faces new ASU D as RichRod looks for first win in rivalry.
  • The Big Game: Bear Raid looks to get off the mat against two-time conference champs.
  • The Civil War: Potential first-round picks Marcus Mariota and Sean Mannion duel in opener.
  • UCLA-USC: Oh jeez … can you imagine USC and UCLA squaring off Saturday after the week the Trojans have had? This one writes itself.
  • The Apple Cup: Chris Petersen’s Washington debut against the Cougs.

Look, we know this isn’t ever going to happen. But it’s fun to think about the possibilities. Right?

“Oh, we wouldn’t like that. I wouldn’t like that at all,” said Arizona State coach Todd Graham, [OK, guess not]. “I’m a fan. I don’t want to start the season off with a rivalry game. We love that being at the end of the season for our fans.”

The consensus was that if the rivalry game was in Week 1, so be it, the coaches would prepare per usual. But it just wouldn’t feel the same.

“One year we played Hawaii after [we played Oregon] at the end of the year and that felt funny,” said Oregon State coach Mike Riley. “It would definitely make for an interesting start to the season.”

Because the CSU-CU game is an out-of-conference showdown, the thought is that this game is best played before league play cranks up. And that makes sense.

“Late in the conference, you’re worried about conference games and getting to the conference championship game,” MacIntyre said.” I think playing it early in the year is a good thing for both of us.”

So, no. Pac-12 rivalries should not be played in Week 1. But the tradition works for the Colorado folks so don’t mess with it. It will make for a fun debut Friday night and add some sizzle to a Week 1 slate that doesn’t have a ton of gusto.

And we can all get on board with Graham: “That game is the game for us. You can win 11 games and lose that one and have an unsuccessful season. You could lose 11 and win that one and have a successful season. That’s how big that game is for us. I kind of like it where it’s at.”
STILLWATER, Okla. -- It’s no wonder why J.W. Walsh will start at quarterback for Oklahoma State on Saturday when the Cowboys face the defending national champion Seminoles.

Walsh is always the last to leave the practice field. And the first to arrive in the film room. And he climbs stadium steps faster than any player on the team.

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
AP Photo/Tyler EvertJ.W. Walsh has been a leader for the Cowboys, but he'll need to produce to stay on the field this fall.
 “He’s gained the respect of the team,” said linebacker Ryan Simmons. “Everyone trusts him because he’s shown he wants what’s best for this team.

“He’s our quarterback. ... We’re pulling for him and we’re going to depend on him.”

Walsh didn’t earn that trust overnight.

In his first career start two years ago, he showed he was a gamer, totaling 357 yards while nearly leading the Cowboys to a fourth-quarter victory over then 12th-ranked Texas.

Two games later, he validated his toughness, throwing for 415 yards against Iowa State while playing through a serious knee injury.

Then in the opener last year against Mississippi State, Walsh displayed his determination, essentially willing a sluggish Oklahoma State offense to a 21-3 victory.

“He’s the leader of this team,” guard Zac Veatch said of Walsh, who's been off limits to the media this preseason. “People follow him.”

But the biggest question for an Oklahoma State team long on youth and short on experience is not whether Walsh can finally lead the Cowboys as their full-time quarterback.

“He feels the urgency,” Veatch said.

Two years ago, Walsh lost a three-way battle for the starting job to true freshman Wes Lunt. Walsh stepped in after Lunt suffered a knee injury of his own. But Walsh was relegated to operating the Cowboys’ short-yardage package behind Clint Chelf after returning later in the season from his knee injury.

Last season, Walsh took over the offense three series into the Mississippi State game. But after finishing 15th nationally in QBR in 2012, Walsh struggled with his accuracy and decision-making in 2013. And after several games with the offense sputtering with him at quarterback, the Cowboys turned back to Chelf, who became just the second Oklahoma State quarterback ever to earn first- or second-team all-conference honors.

This offseason, Walsh found himself in another three-way battle with true freshman Mason Rudolph and former walk-on Daxx Garman. But even though neither Rudolph nor Garman had ever taken a college snap, coach Mike Gundy waited until this week before finally indicating that Walsh would start against the Seminoles. Gundy also previously suggested that Garman could get 10-15 snaps Saturday.

“Each one of those guys has come a long way since the spring,” Gundy said. “They’ve come along and they’re doing better. If they’re out there in a crucial situation, we’d like to be able to use those guys when we want to use them, not when someone else determines when we use them.”

Because of his experience and leadership, the Cowboys would probably prefer to use Walsh.

Garman has the bigger arm, which seems to be the better fit for an offense stocked with capable receivers. Rudolph, the gem of February’s signing class, has the higher ceiling.

But Walsh has the team.

“He’s the leader of the team,” said cornerback Kevin Peterson. “In workouts, he’s always going to be first. His work ethic is really great. I have all the confidence in J-Dub. If I want to pick anybody, it’s going to be J-Dub, because he shows all the leadership attributes.”

Walsh, however, will have to demonstrate more than merely leadership to keep the job. He’ll have to complete passes at a better rate than the 59 percent he did in 2013.

He’ll have to avoid the costly interceptions, the last of which in the red zone against TCU last fall finally cost him the job.

And he’ll have to flash more of the big-play ability -- both with his wheels and his arm -- he did two seasons ago as a freshman.

The Cowboys want Walsh on the field. But they also want the best quarterback, too.

“Him having the experience and being the veteran is great,” Veatch said. “And him being the veteran and having the experience is going to help him be the guy that plays.

“But whoever is the best guy is going to play.”

Walsh has already proven he’s Oklahoma State’s leader.

Saturday night against the No. 1 team in the country, he’ll have the chance to prove the Cowboys can depend on him to be their quarterback, too.
College football teams will pay their opponents in excess of $12 million this weekend, ESPN.com's Darren Rovell reports, and two Big Ten teams are leading the way in those costs.

Michigan and Nebraska are both paying $1 million apiece for their nonconference "guarantee" games, making them the only teams to hit the seven-figure mark.

But those two are hardly an exception in the conference. Of the top 11 payouts, six Big Ten teams made the cut: Michigan State (Jacksonville State -- $620K), Illinois (Youngstown State -- $560K), Iowa (Northern Iowa -- $550K), and Purdue (Western Michigan -- $525K), in addition to the Huskers (Florida Atlantic) and Wolverines (Appalachian State).

Home games are a huge priority for most teams, and paying opponents means those teams above don't have to worry about scheduling home-and-home contests. Penn State's James Franklin said during the spring that his main objective in scheduling was simply to reduce away games.

"I want to get as many [home games] as we could get," he said. "If we could figure out how to get 11, I would like to get 11 home games.

"I don't think that's necessarily going to happen."

Click here to read Rovell's story and how teams outside the B1G stack up.
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- What feels better -- scoring a touchdown or sacking a quarterback?

Saturday, when the Beavers take on Portland State, Oregon State defensive end Obum Gwacham -- who’s currently listed as the back up right end behind Dylan Wynn -- has the opportunity to answer that question.

Typically the people who find the end zone and the ones who take quarterbacks to the ground are not the same people. For the past three seasons, Gwacham has been a slot receiver for the Beavers. But he wasn’t heavily used due to other players stepping up and a few nagging injuries. He appeared in 38 games and only caught 11 passes for 165 yards and one touchdown, which triggered the move to the defensive line.

And with the move, and his one touchdown catch in hand, he could move into a select group who knows which is better -- TD or sack? There are actually quite a few guys who could help Gwacham find the answer.

Since 2000, there have been 96 players who’ve both recorded a touchdown reception and tallied a sack during their college careers (starting with the 2000 season) according to ESPN Stats & Information. In the Pac-12, over that same time span, there have been 12 players to accomplish both. And at Oregon State? There has only been one other -- Gabe Miller.

Like Miller, several of those players who were able to accomplish both were tight ends. The transition from tight end to defensive end seems a bit more manageable and one that makes a certain amount of sense. But to go from slot to pass-rusher? That’s a bit more difficult.

Oregon State defensive line coach Joe Seumalo first brought up the idea last season and knew that if Gwacham committed to changing his diet and exercise routines, that he’d be able to successfully make the transition to the other side of the ball -- and into the trenches -- by the fall.

This meant that Gwacham needed to spend more time with strength and conditioning coach Bryan Miller, who stressed one principle: Don’t panic.

“If they’re a good athlete, if they have good genetics, if they take care of going through the steps in a logical manner, it should happen,” Miller said. “When people hit the panic button … a lot of times it backfires.”

Lucky for Miller, Gwacham had the athletic ability, genetics and level head to take the process step-by-step.

[+] EnlargeOregon State's Obam Gwacham
Courtesy of Oregon State athleticsObum Gwacham before
The next step was getting Gwacham to focus on his nutrition, and a big part of that was getting Gwacham to eat at the right times of the day. It's harder than it sounds considering Gwacham was balancing football, classes and a personal life.

Breakfast, Miller explained, was the most critical because it’s so easy for most people -- especially tired, college athletes -- to skip breakfast. Then, Gwacham needed to make sure he was eating immediately after the workout and then another solid meal 45 minutes after the workouts. Those foods don’t even account for big, nutritious lunches and dinner, plus a high-caloric snack before bed.

“The whole process of gaining weight,” Miller said, “is you being uncomfortably full at every meal. A lot of people go to dinner and eat a big dinner and think, ‘Oh my, I’m so full,’ but you look at the rest of the meals through the day and it was nothing. They have to do that at every meal.”

On top of that, he needed to do fewer speed workouts and more lifting.

After focusing on those elements through the winter, the spring season wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be, Gwacham said. He was able to hold his ground for the most part even though he was lined up against offensive linemen who were pushing 300 pounds. Meanwhile, Gwacham’s body -- still moving up the scale -- was south of those numbers, sometimes by nearly 75 pounds.

[+] EnlargeOregon State's Obum Gwachum
Courtesy of Oregon State athleticsObum Gwacham after
But he pushed that aside and tried to focus on making himself as comfortable as possible as fast as possible in the spring so everything would come as second-nature in the summer and fall.

“I kind of thought of it as: as a receiver, I was always going up against a DB -- you’ve got to give them a move and try to get by them,” Gwacham said. “It’s almost similar with playing D-end. The guy you’re going up against is a little bigger, he could be a little quicker but I feel like I’m more athletic and I think I’m faster than them so I have to use what I have to work to go against them.”

Last March, Gwacham weighed in at 220 pounds with 7.1 percent body fat. In July, he finished at 240 pounds and just 7.9 percent body fat, meaning he gained 19.4 pounds of muscle.

Miller said he has seen players gain more weight than Gwacham was asked to gain, but the fact that he retained his speed and explosiveness through the whole process is incredibly impressive.

Whether the payoff is worth it or not will show itself this season. As a wide receiver, he only scored one touchdown. But on Saturday, he’ll line up in the trenches for the first time. And maybe after he faces Portland State quarterback Kieran McDonagh, he’ll be able to really know whether it’s more satisfying to score a touchdown or take down a signal caller.

“It’s hard to rank them,” Gwacham said. “After that first sack, I guess we’ll see.”
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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

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
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ESPN 300 defensive tackle Darian Roseboro announced his decision Friday. Watch to see why the 6-foot-4, 285-pound prospect chose Michigan.

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

August, 29, 2014
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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."

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