The Kansas Jayhawks released the details of David Beaty's contract on Friday, and it's clear the first-time head coach isn't afraid to bet on himself. Beaty will receive a base salary of $800,000 in an incentive-laden deal which features $25,000 bonuses for every Big 12 game the Jayhawks win.
If Beaty is able to lead Kansas to a six-win season, the "professional services" portion of his salary receives a $100,000 raise for the remainder of his five-year deal. He'd also receive a $100,000 bonus for coaching KU in a bowl game.
You have to admire Beaty's confidence. Kansas needed a more affordable coach after paying more than $11 million to buy out Turner Gill and Charlie Weis. Beaty isn't afraid to bet on himself and take the incentives to lead a program that's lost 41 of its last 44 games in Big 12 play.
You can read more about Beaty's contract and incentives at The Kansas City Star.
Last year, the No. 1 passing defense in the country belonged to Clemson.
This shouldn't be a huge surprise. The Tigers' defense was tops in the nation in 11 categories, and its 157 passing yards per game and 5.3 yards per attempt averages were just the icing on the cake.
But the common wisdom is, despite returning a hefty dose of young talent in that secondary, it's a unit that's apt to take a step back in 2015. The reason is the loss of stars like Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Stephone Anthony in the front seven.
"They need to be better than what they were," Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "That ball may not come out [as fast]. They'll need to be tighter in their coverage, play better awareness and eliminate some mistakes. They need to make marked improvement."
If Venables says it, it's surely true. Then again, the engineer of Clemson's remarkable defense doesn't mind using blunt pessimism as a means of motivation. Venables wants Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse and Co. to get better, regardless of how good they were a year ago.
But there should be no question that this secondary is ready to play a leading role in 2015 after enjoying the spoils of Beasley’s pass rush in 2014. In fact, the numbers suggest that, even if Clemson's front seven hadn't been so dominant last year, the secondary would've been awfully good.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Clemson's D affected the quarterback (via either a sack or a hurry) on 29.6 percent of dropbacks last season, which ranked second in the ACC to Virginia Tech. That type of disruption obviously helps the DBs -- forcing the ball out faster and increasing the probability of an offline throw.
But what about the other 70 percent of the time when the quarterback wasn't under pressure?
The numbers show a pretty consistent performance for the Tigers' DBs regardless of the pass rush, with the ACC's lowest yards per attempt and fewest plays of 20-plus yards.
When the QB remained in the pocket, no team allowed a lower completion percentage than Clemson (53.7 percent) and the Tigers' YPA allowed (5.5) was nearly a yard better than any other ACC defense.
In other words, this was a secondary that held up well in coverage.
"I felt this way last year," Kearse said. "We want to show that we're the most talented on the field every time we step out there. It was great to have those guys up front and do what they did, but we held our own in the back end -- and we're going to do the same this year."
Still, Venables' concerns aren't without merit.
Last year, Clemson brought more than four rushers on just 24.7 percent of passing plays, according to ESPN. That was among the lowest rates in the ACC, a course made possible because Beasley and the rest of the line were so effective without additional help. That strategy might not be as effective this season, and Venables said he's willing to open things up if necessary.
"If four doesn't get there, you bring five," he said. "If five doesn't, you bring six. If you're desperate, bring seven. We're aggressive by nature. We want to be able to get there out of our base, but we're not afraid to bring pressure."
So there might be more times this season when the corners are left out on an island, and after Clemson's first spring scrimmage Wednesday, Venables wasn't entirely enthusiastic with his options there.
But perhaps the biggest worry for Venables isn't the shortcomings of Clemson's DBs when the pressure isn't there, but rather the amazing success when it was.
As good as Clemson performed when opposing QBs had time to throw, the numbers when they were hurried were absolutely off the charts -- an 18.1 percent completions percentage, 2.0 yards per attempt, no touchdowns and just one completion of more than 20 yards.
Clemson had 83 such plays last year. If that number is cut significantly in 2015, even those same solid stats the Tigers managed in non-pressure situations last year would be a serious step back.
So perhaps it's not fair to say that the DBs will suffer if the pass rush isn't as good. The numbers suggest they won't. What's more accurate is that if the pass rush isn't there as often in 2015, the DBs simply need to do more to make up for that lost production.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It’s a terrible cliche, but we’re going to have to let this thing play out.
Alabama’s quarterback competition, despite our incessant need for more information and more insight, is, for the most part, unknowable. That is, unless your name is Nick Saban or Lane Kiffin. And even then, their patience far exceeds the general public’s.
Former Florida State transfer Jake Coker seems to be more confident, Saban has said.
Stud freshman Blake Barnett seems to have great leadership qualities, Saban said as well.
But are they frontrunners to replace Blake Sims, who threw for the most yards in a single season in school history last year? If not, where do they rank in relation to the other candidates at the position: Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell and Alec Morris?
Maybe we’ll get a clearer picture come A-Day when the final scrimmage of spring will be open to everyone, but for now it’s hard to tell.
The only thing we do know is that the staff has changed the way it looks at the position this year.
“We’ve tried to make it a little easier with what we’re doing at that position so that they don’t have the burden as some of the guys in the past have had so that the inexperienced players can develop a little more quickly,” Saban said.
While it’s unclear whether that means a trimmed-down playbook or fewer calls made at the line of scrimmage, it does add an extra layer of intrigue to the competition, seemingly opening the door for youngsters like Barnett and Cornwell, a redshirt freshman.
But at the same time it might be a relief to someone like Coker, too, considering his struggles a year ago learning a new offense. He was the more prototypical fit with a stronger arm and more ideal size than Sims, but Sims ultimately showed more comfort running the offense and won the job early on in the season.
When Coker spoke to the media prior to the Allstate Sugar Bowl in January, he said he had made strides in practice and during spot duty late in games.
“I’ve gotten better I feel like in all areas of playing quarterback, but especially as far as learning this offense and getting more fluid and on time,” Coker said.
Center Ryan Kelly, who spoke at the start of spring practice, said he’s seen a difference in Coker, too.
“He’s obviously more mature, obviously, being a fifth-year guy,” Kelly said. “You’ve seen the in and outs of college football, and I think he’s done a great job stepping into a bigger leadership role. Last year, being his first year, it’s just hard to step into a role like that when you don’t really know a lot of guys. Now that he’s had a little bit of time to meet everybody and kind of hang out and build people’s trust up, I think he’s going to have a good year.”
Of course, that’s only one player’s opinion, and we likely won’t hear from Coker or any of the other quarterbacks at all this spring. They’ll fight to win the job first, and then they’ll live to tell us about it.
For now, though, we’re left to read the tea leaves. Pretty soon we’ll have scrimmages, which may or may not include passing statistics.
If you’re looking for a starter to be named this spring, don’t hold your breath. It’s a competition, but another cliche you hear often in sports -- a sense of urgency -- isn’t part of the equation.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- When an all-time program great leaves a school, his presence is felt far longer than the last time he played.
This spring at Florida State, it’s not just Jameis Winston’s name being consistently thrown into that conversation. Former receiver Rashad Greene is talked about at length despite leaving almost three months ago, and he’s spoken about in a manner that can be described as nothing short of reverential.
After four seasons starring at Florida State, finishing as the program’s most prolific receiver, Greene is pursuing an NFL career. His absence leaves a gaping hole at receiver in both leadership and production, but his successors said they’re using the lessons Greene passed along to make up for his departure.
“We’re going to take what he told us and do what we have to do,” junior receiver Jesus Wilson said.
Wilson is the most experienced receiver on the roster. He’s started seven games; Greene started 43.
The Seminoles will rely on a group of mostly freshmen and sophomores. Wilson and Kermit Whitfield are the only juniors at the position, which is why Wilson acknowledged it is his time to take on a bigger role. The 5-foot-9, 181-pound receiver registered 42 catches as a sophomore. He caught only three passes as a freshman.
While Florida State lacks experience and a proven commodity at receiver with Greene graduating and Kelvin Benjamin bolting for the NFL following the 2013 national championship, the current group of Florida State receivers has the talent to potentially make up for it.
Redshirt sophomore Isaiah Jones, who was academically ineligible last season, was an ESPN 300 recruit in the 2013 class. Whitfield also was a highly-ranked recruit in that 2013 class. Sophomore Ermon Lane was the No. 2 receiver in the 2014 class, and Travis Rudolph was not far behind at No. 6. Two 2015 receivers are already enrolled and participating in in spring practices: top-rated athlete George Campbell and sixth-ranked receiver Da’Vante Phillips.
“Just working on our craft and that goes into learning the playbook,” said Rudolph, about the key to turning the promise into on-field production. “What can stop a guy from his highest potential is not learning the playbook.”
Rudolph said he doesn’t assume he will be the No. 1 receiver in the fall, but that it is what he’s working toward -- and he expects his teammates to be doing the same. Rudolph arrived in Tallahassee as one of the more polished high school players, so the expectation was for the 6-foot-2, 187-pound South Florida native to play early. After failing to record a catch in the season’s first three games, Rudolph finished the season with 555 yards. He capped his freshman campaign with six receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown in the Rose Bowl.
“It went well, but not as well,” Rudolph said. “But I just got my feet wet and now I know how the system is and adjusted. … Now I’m at the point where everything is natural.”
Last season, Rudolph started six games and worked his way to becoming Winston’s No. 2 threat on the outside. Sean Maguire, the odds-on favorite to be the starting quarterback, worked with Rudolph with the second-string offense to start last fall and he said the difference between Rudolph then and now is “night and day.”
Then Maguire brought up the name from the past, inciting the hype and trying his best to curb it within the same breath.
“I’m not comparing anyone, but I slowly see him going toward Rashad, that route,” Maguire said. “... I was here when Rashad was a sophomore and this is going to be Travis’ sophomore year. They’re both great players, explosive, got that fifth gear to go get the ball and Travis is becoming a leader pretty much every day out there, too.”
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is not inviting the comparisons, but he isn’t squashing them, either. He said he will wait and see whether Rudolph is the next Greene.
For what it’s worth, Greene had 38 catches as a freshman -- the same as Rudolph. Greene used that season to springboard to 232 more.
“There’s nothing that says he won’t [be like Greene],” Fisher said, “but until someone does that, I’m not going to say they’re going to do that, you know what I mean?”
Nebraskans might be landlocked in their home state, but they're no strangers to sea change.
They saw Nebraska leave behind its history in the Big Eight/Big 12 for a new home in the Big Ten. They watched the program move from two handpicked successor coaches -- Tom Osborne and Frank Solich -- to an outsider (Bill Callahan) doomed by a historically bad defense, and another coach (Bo Pelini) doomed by a combustible personality and four-loss seasons. Their most painful adjustment has been the drop in prestige, as Nebraska hasn't won its league since 1999. Although Husker fans still invest greatly and demand great things from the program, the pragmatic ones know a national title run likely isn't in the immediate future.
The next reminder of Nebraska's new reality will come this fall when the offense takes the field. With rare exceptions, the Huskers are opting out of the option, the system that defined the program and its success for decades.
New Nebraska coach Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf are longtime pro-style practitioners. Langsdorf spent last season coaching Eli Manning and the New York Giants quarterbacks after nine years as Riley's offensive coordinator at Oregon State.
"We’ve taken some things from the Giants and implemented them here, and then a mixture of stuff we’ve done in our history with Oregon State," Langsdorf said last week. "We even go back to our New Orleans [Saints] days when Mike and I were there [in 2002]. The coordinator in New York [Ben McAdoo], I was with him in New Orleans.
"We've combined a lot of different ideas over the years."
This isn't the first time Nebraska has veered from the option. Callahan brought in the West Coast offense from the Oakland Raiders. But Pelini used a scheme that featured option elements, mobile quarterbacks and prolific I-backs like Roy Helu, Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah.
"You look back at their history, they were a wishbone-option team," Langsdorf said. "We're probably not going to get a whole lot into that."
It's yet another reminder that times have changed in Husker Country.
"The offense that we ran is very obsolete," said former Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier, who triggered the option attack that helped the Huskers win consecutive national titles in 1994 and 1995. "There's not very many teams that still run option football. The ones that are still running it are very successful at it. Look at Georgia Tech, Air Force, Navy, teams like that, they're having success.
"But to get the type of player teams want, you have to change the offense to fit their style. That's what Nebraska has been doing over the years."
Frazier has followed Riley's offenses for years and is impressed with his schematics and player development skills. He also thinks Langsdorf's NFL experience will help Nebraska's quarterbacks, who in his mind have "the biggest challenge" in adjusting.
They will be under center more and running less, although Langsdorf wants to use their athleticism on bootlegs and sprint outs. The most significant shift comes in the way the quarterbacks must read defenses. So far this spring, it has resulted in more interceptions than the coaches would like.
"A lot of it's not knowing which defender to key or which safety to look at," Langsdorf said. "They're throwing the ball late because their footwork's not right, not throwing it on time or they're not anticipating throws. It’s an accuracy issue but it’s also a read-progression issue.
"All the stuff is probably a little tougher adjustment for them, but everyone’s doing a good job of working at it."
The Husker I-backs and offensive linemen could remain the big men on campus, as they have for decades. Riley had eight 1,000-yard rushers and six players with more than 250 carries at Oregon State, including Steven Jackson with a nation-high 350 in 2003. But Nebraska's wide receivers, who saw a spike in production under Pelini, will be an even bigger part of the offense now.
Riley had 10 receivers eclipse 1,000 yards at Oregon State, including Biletnikoff Award winners Mike Hass and Brandin Cooks. Nebraska never has had a 1,000-yard receiver. Its single-season receptions record is 63.
"We’re probably running a few things downfield a little bit more," Langsdorf said. "We're teaching them some timed routes where they have to count some steps and do some things a little differently than they have in the past."
Nebraska's offense will be doing quite a few things differently in its quest to recapture the program's past glory. Frazier, who lives in Omaha, thinks Husker fans will be fine with the new approach.
"Nebraska fans are very loyal to the program," Frazier said. "They just want to see a team play hard. Nebraska's a blue-collar state and they want the football program to represent them that way. Being almost 20 years since I played there, almost 12 years since Coach Solich left, I don't think the style of offense is really going to matter.
"Being productive, being consistent and playing hard matters more than anything."
Dave Clawson was only half kidding when he said the offensive line he inherited at Wake Forest last year would've struggled to match up physically with some high school teams. Talent was one problem, but the size and strength were the immediate concern.
A handful of incoming freshmen probably could've started, but Clawson redshirted them to give them time to bulk up. The rest battled through an unmitigated disaster -- one of the worst offensive performances by an FBS team in recent memory. But as the Demon Deacons hit the practice field this spring, there are only faint reminders of just how bad last year was.
"There will be some growing pains, kids getting out there for the first time," said Wake offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero. "But physically, those younger guys are good players. They're getting better every day, and that's really where you see the biggest difference in our football team. That's really the one spot that's been different, no doubt.
To truly appreciate the current state of affairs, it's best to understand rock bottom.
Last season, the line coughed up 26 more tackles for loss than any other team in the country.
Quarterback John Wolford was sacked once every 8.2 attempts, the worst rate of any QB in the nation.
When the QB wasn't on the ground, the running game mustered just 2.47 yards per rush -- the worst rate by any FBS program in more than 10 years.
For the year, Wake averaged just 3.4 yards per play. That's a half-yard less than any other Power 5 team in the last decade.
Turning those numbers around is a daunting task, but as gory as the results were at times last season, the momentum for Clawson's program is clearly pointed in a positive direction.
"We survived it," Ruggiero said. "Now, they're executing the offense a little better and things aren't breaking down as quickly. We've got to keep getting better and do that against Florida State and Clemson and Louisville, so it's certainly not going to be an overnight thing. But there's definitely optimism."
Ruggiero said he's confident that he'll at least have a solid five -- and maybe a few more for depth -- to start the season on the line.
Josh Harris, last year's best blocker, returns at left guard. Redshirt senior Dylan Intemann is getting work at both tackle and guard this spring, providing some much-needed versatility. Junior Will Smith got his first year of real experience under his belt last year, and he's shown marked improvement. Redshirt freshmen Justin Herron, Phil Haynes, Patrick Osterhage and Ryan Anderson have all looked vastly improved from where they were a year ago.
Most importantly, the entire group simply looks like a contingent of real ACC linemen.
"Just looking at the numbers they're lifting, it's just a lot different," Ruggiero said. "You add up the poundage, and we're just playing stronger and more physical. That's just guys in the weight room for one year."
It's not a fully-stocked cupboard yet, but when the Deacons line up during practice, they actually look like a functioning offense routinely.
There's a trickle-down effect. The line does its job, and everyone else can finally do theirs.
"John was avoiding disaster most of the time last year as opposed to actually running plays," Ruggiero said. "This year, he's getting to run some plays and actually execute things and get to the second receiver and third receiver in a progression and have guys in the right spot."
It may sound like marginal progress, but the starting point was so low that the steps Wake is taking this spring appear immense comparatively.
There are still concerns. Experience is lacking. The skill positions are young, too. There's no established depth at running back.
It's a process, and Wake's coaches are still digging for answers. But for the first time, there's a hint of what could be in store, a faint outline of the offense Clawson and Ruggiero envision for the future.
"The young guys are definitely giving us a chance to be a little more optimistic than we were last year," Ruggiero said. "As they continue to improve not just this year but next year and the year after, we'll keep on an upward swing."
One day, Brandon Harris will look back at 2015 and either smile or wonder what could have been. This is the year that will potentially make or break his LSU career.
If the Tigers are going to take a stab at the SEC Western Division, Harris has to be the starting quarterback. The sophomore is too talented as a passer and too gifted an athlete, and LSU is in desperate need of a spark under center.
With all due respect to Anthony Jennings, who went 8-4 as a starter last year with 1,611 passing yards, Harris is the present and the future for LSU at quarterback. He just has to be. Yes, most of this has to be based on potential and his schooling of high school kids, but we saw glimpses of brilliance from Harris at times last year. There was the valiant comeback attempt against Mississippi State in which he threw for 140 yards on 6 of 9 passing and had two touchdowns. A week later he overwhelmingly out-dueled Jennings in a win over New Mexico State with his 178 yards and three touchdowns on 11 of 14 passing.
But there was also a dark side, like his dreadful 3 of 14 performance a game later against Auburn, which was his first -- and only -- start of the year. After that, Harris threw just one more pass during the Tigers' final seven games.
Harris not seeing time in other games is on him, and he knows it. His preparation wasn't good enough to beat out Jennings during practice, and it certainly wasn't good enough for him to try and best him in games.
That has to change because there's just no getting around the fact that he's more physically gifted than Jennings. He might not have had the mental part down last year, but Harris' throwing and running ability can't be wasted this season. For as admirably as Jennings played at times this season, he's held back in ways that Harris isn't when it comes to arm talent, and he isn't a consistent passing threat for defenses to fear. Jennings' 47. 1 percent completion percentage on third downs is a problem, especially when he's completing just 40 percent on third downs between 7 and 9 yards. Completing less than 48 percent of your passes in the second and third quarters of games just won't cut it either.
There's no reason Jennings can't grow and evolve too, but Harris has all the physical tools needed to be a bigger threat for LSU. The decision-making part is yet to be seen, but Harris appears to be progressing this spring.
"I’m going into my second spring. Obviously I know everything I need to know now," Harris said earlier this spring. "I feel more comfortable with everything we’re going to run. Obviously it’s a wide-open quarterback position, quarterback job, so everything is still even reps-wise. Again, going into my second spring, so I’m more comfortable. I don’t have to have someone telling me what to do or this and that. I’ll get everybody on the same page ... I expect to help this team win. I just expect to play more this year. I think with the ability God’s blessed me with, with Cam [Cameron] and them teaching me, I think I’ll play a big role this upcoming season."
Last year, the younger, more immature Harris was both wide-eyed and a little carefree during his first year at LSU. The supposed next big thing at quarterback for the Tigers was everything but that, as he watched his hype sink into the bayou from the sidelines for most of the year.
The No. 2 dual-threat quarterback by ESPN's RecruitingNation arrived with a mountain of hype strapped to his back, but started just one game and saw time sparingly during a season of passing ineptitude that left the Tigers at the bottom of the league when it came to throwing the football.
When a highly-touted prospect can't do better than a starter who completed just 48.9 percent of his passes and averaged a paltry 123.9 passing yards per game, something's wrong. Harris clearly wasn't ready to be the guy.
Say what you will about how LSU's coaching staff used its quarterbacks last year, but even Harris knows he wasn't fit to be LSU's starting quarterback in 2014.
"Looking back, I would say I wasn’t ready," Harris said.
And that's fine. For every freshman phenom, there are hundreds who just aren't ready or don't even see playing time. But for LSU to advance in 2015, Harris has to be the guy.
There's a reason Harris was one of the most sought-after quarterbacks back in high school, and everyone picked him to come out of last spring as the starter. Harris now has the chance to take the huge steps needed from Year 1 to Year 2, which are crucial for both he and LSU.
So far, Harris' play has been met with mixed reviews this spring, but improvement is there, and so is a drive he hopes propels him this spring and beyond.
"I’ve always carried a chip on my shoulder, and I carry a chip on my shoulder now," he said. "People are going to talk about you until the day you die. I’ve always carried a chip.
"My thing is not letting me be my downfall, improving, overutilizing our coaches and looking for every way to improve."
LOS ANGLES -- A day after court documents were unsealed to reveal an apparent bias toward USC by the NCAA, quarterback Cody Kessler could only shrug it off. He saw first-hand what the NCAA sanctions did to the Trojans, but his interest in the subject remains almost nonexistent.
And why wouldn’t it?
Nothing that came from the documents related to former USC assistant coach Todd McNair’s defamation lawsuit against the NCAA will have any bearing on the current team. It’s not like the NCAA will pay a penance in the form of extra scholarships to USC named after Reggie Bush. No, this is all just more ambient noise at a place where they’ve had practice tuning it out.
“A lot of people over the years said it. ‘This isn’t fair. This isn’t fair,’” Kessler said in reference to the NCAA sanctions. “And people were always mad about it. But the way we approached it was that it is what it is. It happened. It’s in the past now. I think we’re better from it and ultimately we learned from it.”
To what degrees those lessons will play a role in football-related matters is tough to quantify, but USC will take any advantage it can as its looks to replace defensive lineman Leonard Williams, running back Buck Allen and receiver Nelson Agholor among several others in pursuit of a College Football Playoff berth and a national title.
Anything that doesn't factor into those goals is treated with the appropriate amount of attention. Usually none.
"We had enough guys that have been here for a while and have dealt with a lot," Kessler said. "Anything that gets thrown at us, we'll be ready for."
At the halfway point of spring practice, Kessler remains happy with his call not to join Williams, Allen and Agoholor in pursuit of an NFL career. More than a passing thought went into the decision after he threw 3,826 yards and tied the school record with 39 touchdowns passes last season. But after after talking it through with his family and meeting with coach Steve Sarkisian, it became obvious which path he preferred.
“When I made up my mind, I texted Coach Sark and told him I couldn’t leave without winning a national title with him,” Kessler said.
So despite signing arguably the best recruiting class in the country, it was Kessler’s pledge that will have by far the greatest impact on whether the Trojans can navigates their way back to the top.
“I felt the same way [about him],” Sarksian said. “That’s why you should come back. Guys make decisions to stay or to go, and at the end of the day the college experience is so unique and if you feel like you have a chance to win a championships you should try to do it because once you leave, that’s it. You don’t get another opportunity to do it.
“I think we both feel like we have a chance to do that. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but I think we understand we’re capable of it.”
Will Be Making My College Choice April 3rd! @ Ocean Lakes High School 6pm... Anyone Can Come, No Charge Decision, Decisions, & Decisions.=— Levonta Taylor (@iamlevonta) March 24, 2015
WACO, Texas -- Shortly after Baylor's "Friday Night Lights" scrimmage last week, LaQuan McGowan took in the photo capturing the second-biggest moment of his college football career.
The Bears' mammoth tight end had broken free down the seam of the field, snagged a pass and smashed through intrepid free safety Mallory Franklin, who dared to duck in his path.
"I'm 400 pounds," McGowan said. "Just doesn't seem fair or even."
Baylor inside linebacker Grant Campbell would agree.
During the first week of practice this spring, McGowan exploded off the line and met Campbell, who had sprinted right for him. Campbell later would explain that he wanted to see what would happen if he just hit McGowan as hard as he could.
"That wasn't the smartest idea," McGowan said.
The encounter left the 230-pound Campbell staring up at the sky, prompting coach Art Briles to summarily bar McGowan from anymore contact in practice.
"It could have been really bad," McGowan said. "I have to watch how I hit people because it doesn't take much effort for me to knock someone over.
"But once the season starts, they're going to turn me loose again."
That's a frightening proposition for Baylor's 2015 opponents, who will have to deal with the unprecedented issue of matching up against a 6-foot-7, 410-pound tight end, who not only can decapitate defenders, but possesses the agility to run routes and has enormous, yet soft, hands.
"You can throw a ball as hard as you can at Quan, and he's going to catch it like this," said Baylor offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, picking up an iPhone case off his desk. "It's incredible."
Long before he hauled in a touchdown pass in the Cotton Bowl, McGowan had dazzled teammates in practice with a knack for snatching any ball tossed in his direction.
"He can catch passes one-handed, behind his back," said receiver KD Cannon. "He can do it all. His hands are so big. It's really fun to watch."
After watching McGowan warm up with the quarterbacks and receivers before every practice last season, Art Briles decided he wanted to install a play for the backup guard.
"That was Coach Briles' baby," Kendal Briles said of his father.
The Bears had planned to unleash McGowan in the regular-season finale against Kansas State, but never found the right moment.
But in their bowl game against Michigan State, McGowan's moment finally came.
Lining up to the left on the weak side of an unbalanced formation, McGowan looked up to see if any of the Spartans' defenders had noticed him. They hadn't.
"That's when I knew I had it," he said.
McGowan easily hauled in a 21-yard touchdown reception to deliver the most memorable highlight in a wild 42-41 loss chock-full of them.
If Baylor's spring scrimmage was any indication, many more pass-catching highlights could be on the way. But McGowan confessed he still watches the Cotton Bowl catch daily on YouTube, noting how it was a "proud moment" for him.
"It opened doors for me," McGowan said of the play, which inspired his audition for tight end this spring.
That wasn't the first time, though, he has seen doors opened for him.
McGowan grew up in a rough Dallas neighborhood. So rough that his mother feared he might not ever make it out. When he was 11 years old, she enrolled him at the Cal Farley's Boys Ranch, a nonprofit school with about 250 students outside Amarillo, Texas, that takes in at-risk boys and girls.
"I remember first bumping into him in the dining hall line," said Mike Wilhelm, the school's chaplain. "I thought he was a junior in high school."
Being that big that young wasn't easy. McGowan kept mostly to himself at first. But sports eventually gave him an outlet.
Ironically, McGowan didn't enjoy contact initially, so he tried out for the cross country team his sophomore year.
"I did it for like two days," McGowan said. "Then I realized that was too much running."
Eventually, McGowan grew to love football. He starred for the basketball team, too.
The school, however, had difficulty finding basketball shoes for McGowan, who wore a Size 22 by the time he reached high school. Dan Adams, Cal Farley's president, tried everywhere, including the Dallas Mavericks, to find shoes that would fit. The Mavs couldn't help, either. But they put Adams in touch with the Phoenix Suns, who had the solution: Shaquille O'Neal wore the same size.
"This big box shows up in my office and it's two pair of Size 22 shoes from Shaq," Adams said. "LaQuan was just beaming."
McGowan doesn't know where he'd be now had he not gone to Cal Farley.
"I think one thing I always needed that I never had was a dad," McGowan said. "Every kid needs a father figure and the Boys Ranch kind of did that for me even though there were a bunch of different people there that filled that role."
Wilhelm and Adams were two of those men.
"LaQuan is a special person and it has nothing to do with his size," said Wilhelm, who recalled the time McGowan spent a spring break delivering food to kids who lived in a tough neighborhood in Amarillo. "He's a big man, but he has a big heart, too."
Through football, McGowan has given the Cal Farley kids another person to look up to.
"Even the younger kids who've never met him, they know LaQuan, they know about the Cotton Bowl catch," said Wilhelm, who's noticed a wave of green and gold attire surfacing on campus. "He's become a hero to a bunch of kids who have come here from all kinds of unfortunate backgrounds and needed a hero."
Another door is open for McGowan. Best of luck to anyone who tries to stop him.
BUFORD, Ga. -- There is an ongoing argument among fans from the states of California, Florida and Texas about which state produces the best football talent. For years it was a two-state race between California and Texas due to shear numbers of prospects that signed with Division I universities on an annual basis. In recent years, Florida has been much more in the conversation and is now arguably the most talented state when factoring in FBS signees, Power 5 signees and NFL draft choices vs. California and Texas who have a much higher population.
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The Horned Frogs and Buffaloes will play in Boulder, Colorado, in 2022 and in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2023. It will be the first meeting between the schools.
Even though the Big 12 and Pac-12 -- which both play nine league games -- do not require their league members to play at least one nonconference Power 5 opponent, both schools have lined up several future home-and-home series against nonconference Power 5 teams.
TCU has series scheduled with Minnesota (2014-15), Arkansas (2016-17), Ohio State (2018-19) and California (2020-21).
Colorado has a four-game series with Nebraska (2018-19 and 2023-24), two games with Minnesota (2021-22) and also will visit Michigan in 2016.
Just over a year ago, I took a look at each Pac-12 head coach's career and ordered their best individual seasons as decided by each team's final spot in the AP poll. At the time, it seemed like a pretty impressive list.
This year's updated version takes it to another level after four Pac-12 coaches -- Steve Sarkisian, Todd Graham, Jim Mora and Mark Helfrich -- fielded the best teams of their head-coaching careers in 2014. That's not including Gary Andersen, whose most recent Wisconsin team was his best ever, and finished ranked higher than any Oregon State team during Mike Riley's 14-year, two-stint tenure.
In reverse order, here is the updated list. Remember, for consistency and simplicity's sake, each coach's best season is defined by its final ranking in the AP poll.
No. 12 Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech, 2012
Dykes' record: 9-3 (4-2, third in WAC)
Final AP rank: unranked
Highest AP rank: 19
Bowl result: no bowl
The team: The Bulldogs finished the season as the country's highest scoring team (51.50 ppg) and top-ranked offense (577.9 ypg). They rose to No. 19 in the AP poll before losing their final two games of the season, including one against Mike MacIntyre-coached San Jose State in the season finale. Louisiana Tech was offered a spot in the Independence Bowl, but it was given away while the school unsuccessfully sought other bowl options. Dykes left for Cal after the season.
No. 11 Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State, 2012
MacIntyre's record: 10-2, (5-1, second in WAC)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 21
Bowl result: Beat Bowling Green in Military Bowl (MacIntyre did not coach)
2014 Pac-12 rank: 10
The team: Two years after coaching San Jose State to a 1-11 record in his first season as head coach, MacIntyre's team became the first in program history to finish in the final AP poll -- although, the Spartans were unranked when MacIntyre accepted the job at Colorado. SJSU didn't beat any ranked teams, but lost just 20-17 to Stanford, which went on to win Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championships. The other loss came to Utah State, which finished No. 16.
No. 10 Steve Sarkisian, USC, 2014
Sarkisian's record: 9-4 (6-3, tied for second in Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 20
Highest AP rank: 9
Bowl result: Beat Nebraska 45-42 in the National University Holiday Bowl.
The team: Sarkisian was at No. 11 last year with his 2013 Washington team that finished No. 25, but moves up a spot after his debut season in Los Angeles. It was an underwhelming season by USC's standards, but quarterback Cody Kessler's emergence and an impressive collection of young talent gave the impression the program is trending in the right direction. High point: beating No. 13 Stanford in Week 2 to end the Cardinal's FBS-best 17-game home winning streak. Low point: A 38-20 loss to UCLA to fall out of the Pac-12 South race.
No. 9 Gary Andersen, Wisconsin, 2014
Andersen's record: 10-3 (7-1, first in Big Ten West)
Final AP rank: 13
Highest AP rank: 11
Bowl result: Lost to eventual national champion Ohio State 59-0 in conference championship; beat Auburn 34-31 in Outback Bowl (Andersen did not coach)
The team: In Andersen's second year in Madison after leaving Utah State, the Badgers began the year ranked No. 14 in the AP poll. They dropped their opener in painful fashion against LSU, but a seven-game winning streak to close the regular season had Wisconsin in the College Football Playoff picture. High point: Melvin Gordon set the FBS single-game record with 408 yards rushing against Nebraska (only to see it broken the next week). Low point: The Badgers were no-shows against Ohio State and five days later Andersen was announced as Mike Riley's replacement at Oregon State.
No. 7 (tied) Todd Graham, Arizona State, 2014
Graham's record: 10-3 (6-3, tied for second in Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 12
Highest AP rank: 7
Bowl result: Beat Duke 36-31 in the Hyundai Sun Bowl
The team: After an 8-1 start, Arizona State had a clear path the College Football Playoff, but a surprising loss to Oregon State ended any fantasies the Sun Devils were harboring concerning a national title. They remained in position to win the Pac-12 South, but a loss to Arizona in the Territorial Cup prevented an opportunity to play Oregon for the conference title. High point: ASU rose to No. 7 after its blowout-turned-collapse-turned-rout of Notre Dame. Low point: See, Territorial Cup.
No. 7 (tied) Mike Leach, Texas Tech, 2008
Leach's record: 11-2 (7-1, tied for first in Big 12 South)
Final AP rank: 12
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Lost to Ole Miss in Cotton Bowl
The team: The Red Raiders started the year at No. 12 and moved up to No. 6 after an 8-0 start. They rose to No. 2 after Michael Crabtree's memorable touchdown catch secured a win vs. No. 1 Texas. After two weeks at No. 2, the Red Raiders lost to No. 5 Oklahoma in a game that propelled Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford to the Heisman Trophy. Leach arrived at WSU in 2012.
No. 6 Jim Mora, UCLA, 2014
Mora's record: 10-3 (6-3, tied for second in Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 10
Highest AP rank: 7
Bowl result: Beat Kansas State 40-35 in Valero Alamo Bowl
The team: Brett Hundley returned to UCLA for his third year as the starter despite being projected to be one of the earliest quarterbacks off the board in the NFL draft. A trendy national-title pick, UCLA's season lost steam after a 4-2 start, but it remained in the thick of the Pac-12 South race until losing to Stanford in the regular-season finale. Again using the final AP poll as a gauge, it was UCLA's third consecutive season of improvement under Mora.
No. 5 David Shaw, Stanford, 2011
Shaw's record: 11-2 (8-1, second in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 7
Highest AP rank: 3
Bowl result: Lost to No. 3 Oklahoma State, 41-38 OT, in Fiesta Bowl
The team: Andrew Luck's final team did not win the Pac-12 or the Rose Bowl, but it should still go down as a better team than its 2013 counterpart, which won both and also finished ranked No. 7. With the understanding that winning the 2012 Pac-12 title doesn't necessarily mean the same team would have done it in 2011, look at the two teams. Kevin Hogan was great that year, but in a hypothetical game between those Stanford teams, is anyone picking against the version with Luck? Shaw's first team made the program's second of four-straight trips to a BCS bowl where it came this close to beating a very good Oklahoma State team in the Fiesta Bowl.
No. 4 Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia, 2005
Rodriguez's record: 11-1, (7-0 Big East champions)
Final AP rank: 5
Highest AP rank: 5
Bowl result: Beat No. 8 Georgia in Sugar Bowl
The team: Freshmen QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton were the names of note for the current Arizona coach. West Virginia started the year unranked and its lone loss came to then-No. 3 Virginia Tech. It was the first of three consecutive double-digit win seasons for the Mountaineers, who were undefeated in Big East play and capped the season with a win over No. 8 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. A strong case can be made that West Virginia had a better team in 2007, when Rodriguez left following the regular-season finale to become head coach at Michigan. The Mountaineers were ranked No. 2 (No. 1 in the coaches poll) going into Rodriguez's final game, but lost to a 4-7 Pittsburgh team in the 100th Backyard Brawl, which cost them a chance to play for the national title. They finished No. 6.
No. 3 Chris Petersen, Boise State, 2009
Petersen's record: 14-0 (8-0, WAC champions)
Final AP rank: 4
Highest AP rank: 4
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl
The team: Washington's second-year coach has one of the best resumes in college football. Many consider Boise State's undefeated 2006 team that beat Oklahoma in that's year memorable Fiesta Bowl as the school's best, but three years later the Broncos finished 14-0 and finished a spot higher in the final AP poll. They opened the season at No. 14 and started with a win against No. 16 Oregon in Chip Kelly's first game as head coach. Boise capped the season with a win against undefeated TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. The team's offensive coordinator, Bryan Harsin, is now its head coach and its defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, serves in the same capacity at USC.
No. 1 (tied) Mark Helfrich, Oregon, 2014
Helfrich's record: 13-2 (8-1, Pac-12 champions)
Final AP rank: 2
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat Florida State, ranked No. 1 by the AP poll and No. 3 by playoff selection committee, in first College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl; lost to Ohio State 42-20 in the championship
The team: Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy, the Ducks won the most competitive Pac-12 in years (ever?) and ended Jameis Winston's career with a loss that would have humbled many others. All that stood between the Ducks and their first national title was Ohio State, which left no doubt in the championship to leave Oregon on the doorstep of history. Among Pac-12 coaches, only Utah assistant head coach Dennis Erickson also knows what it's like to be the head coach of a Heisman winner (Shaw gets an asterisk for 2011).
No. 1 (tied) Kyle Whittingham, Utah, 2008
Whittingham's record: 13-0 (8-0, Mountain West champions)
Final AP rank: 2
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 Alabama in Sugar Bowl
The team: In Whittingham's fourth season as head coach, the Utes finished as the nation's lone undefeated team after starting unranked. Utah opened with a win at Michigan -- Rodriguez's first game as the Wolverines' coach -- and went on to beat four teams that finished in the final AP poll, including Alabama (6), TCU (7), Oregon State (18) and BYU (25). Quarterback Brian Johnson threw for 336 yards in a convincing 31-17 win against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.