NCF Nation: 100-day checklist 2013

100-days checklist: Pac-12

May, 21, 2013
5/21/13
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Here are five things the Pac-12, its players and its teams need to focus on with 100 days until the 2013 season begins.

1. Oregon needs to put the NCAA in its rearview mirror: Oregon and former coach Chip Kelly appeared before the NCAA's committee on infractions (COI) on April 20 (it was incorrectly reported that the meeting happened a day earlier). That means the odds are good the Ducks will know their fate before the beginning of the season. Moreover, the odds are favorable that the Ducks won't lose their 2013 postseason. That's nice for the program, considering Oregon is again a top national title contender, and the pressure is on new coach Mark Helfrich to make sure it stays that way. Getting the Willie Lyles matter resolved will make for one fewer distraction for the Ducks to claim they haven't even noticed.

2. New QBs are sometimes crowned in the offseason: Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon State and USC still have wide-open QB competitions. While coaches can't watch offseason workouts, players are gathering on a near-daily basis for conditioning and 7-on-7 work. That means aspirants for starting jobs are working with their teammates, the guys they need to win over to the notion of their stepping into cockpit of the offense. How a QB carries himself matters. How he leads these "voluntary" sessions matters. And a QB sure as heck can substantially improve between May and August. Just look at Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, who went from worst to first in the Sun Devils' 2012 QB race after spring practices.

3. Larry Scott & Co. need to send an SOS: Off-field issues are big-time this offseason. The college football powers are setting up a new four-team playoff to begin in 2014, and the Pac-12's interests are simple: Strength of schedule. The selection committee must create an unforgiving system that demands tough scheduling or functionally disqualifies teams that willfully play weak schedules. First off, there needs to be an agreement on conference scheduling. Every conference participating in the new playoff needs to play the same number of conference games, either eight or nine. If that proves unworkable, which it shouldn't, then the conferences that choose to play eight conference games should be required to play two nonconference games against AQ conference foes. This would fall under the title of "Standing up to the SEC."

4. Get bigger, stronger, faster, and do so without getting hurt: Injuries are the biggest drag in college football. Summer injuries are even worse because they: (1) Happen without full-go contact; (2) Are more likely to take a big or entire bite out of the season, depending on how late in the offseason they occur. Still, players need to work. The offseason can be physically transformative, particularly for younger players. A guy can put on 10 to 15 pounds. Or lose them. Quickness can be boosted and a power-clean total can rise. The best-conditioned team may not always win, but at least it knows it did all it could when the final whistle blows. So: Lots of sweat but no knee injuries.

5. Stay out of trouble: All work and no play makes Pac-12 players dull boys. These guys need to have fun. They deserve it. And the Pac-12 blog is no prude. But, golly, fellas, stay on the right side of the law. If you drink, you cannot drive. Period. No matter how annoying that guy is being at the bar/beach/party, you cannot punch him. Be wary of social entanglements that seem just a bit too eager. If something is not yours, don't take it. While it's entertaining to watch the Hulk smash things, it's not the same with you. Yes, have fun. Just don't be stupid and hurt yourself and your team with your poor decision-making.

100-days checklist: Big 12

May, 21, 2013
5/21/13
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We're only 100 days away from the college football season, but today we're looking at what each conference needs to do, team by team, between now and then. Here's the Big 12's checklist.

1. Sort out and develop those quarterbacks. I've written about it plenty, but there's no doubt that the quarterbacks are the story of the Big 12 this offseason. There won't be lots of experience next fall, but there will be a lot of talent. To tally the Big 12 quarterbacks: Four teams (Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU, West Virginia) still possibly don't know who their Week 1 starter will be, and another (Oklahoma) hasn't officially announced one, though Blake Bell appears to have earned the job. Two more Big 12 teams (Baylor, Texas Tech) will have quarterbacks making their first career starts in Week 1. Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson will be making just his third career start and Kansas' Jake Heaps will be making his Jayhawks debut after starting almost two seasons at BYU. Texas' David Ash is the league leader with 18 career starts, and though TCU's Casey Pachall has 17, he hasn't officially won the job and hasn't played since October.

2. Try to find a national title contender. The Big 12 won't have much preseason hype, but consider this: Oklahoma State was picked third in the Big 12 preseason poll in 2011, with just one vote to win the league. Kansas State was picked sixth last season. By November, those squads had made it very, very clear that they were the Big 12's best teams in those respective years, and were right in the thick of the national title race.

3. Get to politicking with pollsters. That said, the preseason hype will be at an all-time low this year in the Big 12. The conference has never started a season without a team in the top 10, but that looks likely to happen this year. It's going to take a lot to change that, but here's guessing most coaches across the Big 12 aren't real excited to have their teams earn a bull's-eye on their backs. Oklahoma being preseason No. 1 in 2011 offered another reminder that preseason polls don't mean a whole lot.

4. Mix in the new faces. Everybody's dealing with freshmen in fall camp, but teams like Kansas State, Kansas and West Virginia are mixing in tons of new contributors who were nonfactors on last year's teams or not even on the roster this time last year. Oklahoma is doing it on defense, too.

5. Keep bringing up the rear. The Big 12 coaches have been trumpeting the bottom half of the league, an argument for the top half's road to the national title game being college football's most difficult. Having nine teams crack bowls after the 2012 regular season helped that case, but the league will need it to continue. Kansas is moving in the right direction while trying to end its 21-game losing streak, but it's not going to be easy for Iowa State to make another bowl game after this season.

100-days checklist: SEC

May, 21, 2013
5/21/13
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We’re 100 days away from the start of the college football season.

Let’s get out our checklist and see what needs to be done before the 2013 season kicks off and the SEC tries to make it eight in a row.

SECTide envy: Alabama is no stranger to being the hunted. That’s just the way it is when you win three of the last four national championships. But it seems like everybody is gunning for Nick Saban and the Tide these days. The truth is that everybody outside of the Tide Nation is tired of seeing Alabama win all the time. Saban’s too zeroed in on what’s right in front of him to be distracted. We’ll find out if the same can be said about his players. Leadership on this team will be important. Saban said after the spring game that some players on the team were too comfortable. That needs to change if Alabama is going to hoist that crystal football for the third consecutive year.

Johnny Football’s encore: Speaking of being a target, think some defenses in the SEC are stoked about getting another shot at Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel? He made more than a few defenses look silly last season and only got better as the season progressed. Sure, it was everybody’s first look at Manziel, and there will be more of a scouting report on him in 2013. But as Manziel said this spring, the Aggies will have a few new tricks up their sleeve as well, and he’ll benefit from having been through the league once. It will be interesting to see how much more he can grow as a quarterback.

Getting defensive at Georgia: It’s been well documented how much the Bulldogs lost on defense. Seven of their starters from a year ago were selected in April’s NFL draft. That’s a serious talent drain for any program, but defensive coordinator Todd Grantham isn’t fretting. He likes the young talent in the program and likes what he saw from those guys this spring. Freshman safety Tray Matthews is going to be a star, and sophomore outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins is poised to be the dynamic finisher off the edge that Jarvis Jones was the last two seasons. The key will be growing up in a hurry. The Bulldogs open the season at Clemson and also get South Carolina and LSU in the month of September.

Resolving Jeremy Hill's status: There was a time when LSU appeared to be loaded at running back, especially with the way Terrence Magee performed this spring. But Hill was the centerpiece of that backfield with his blend of size and speed. He had a pair of long touchdown runs against both South Carolina and Texas A&M last season that were the difference in those games. He remains indefinitely suspended from the team following his arrest on simple battery charges and recently had his probation restructured to include a curfew. It’s unclear when and if he will return because of his legal problems.

Taking that next step: Ole Miss and Vanderbilt are both riding high after big seasons a year ago. The Commodores won nine games for the first time in nearly a century, and the Rebels won a bowl game in Hugh Freeze’s first season. The question now: Can they build on their success from a year ago? We’ll start to get answers right away. They open the season against each other in a Thursday night game (Aug. 29) in Nashville.

100-day checklist: Big East

May, 21, 2013
5/21/13
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We have officially reached the 100-day mark until the college football regular season kicks off. There is still plenty of business to tend to until then -- much of which is being discussed this week at the Big East's spring meetings in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. -- so here is a checklist of five things that the conference needs to accomplish between now and Aug. 29, when three league teams (UConn, Rutgers and UCF) will be among the 34 to start their 2013 campaigns before everyone else.

1. Release a new logo: The league will officially become known as the American Athletic Conference at the conclusion of the 2012-13 college sports season. A new logo is on the way, but is not expected to be revealed during this week's conference meetings, though we could see it in the next couple of weeks.

2. Get QB answers: Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, USF and Temple all exited the spring with open competition under center, though some seem to have a lot more clarity (Cincinnati, Houston, Temple) than others (Memphis, USF). For the other five teams, the summer is about continuing the growth of returning starters, all of whom took big steps this spring to build off their 2012 campaigns (particularly Rutgers' Gary Nova and UCF's Blake Bortles).

3. Find a true No. 2 to Louisville: No, the Cardinals have not already won the AAC in their final year in the conference before moving to the ACC. But the early Heisman Trophy and NFL draft hype surrounding quarterback Teddy Bridgewater -- coupled with preseason top-10 appearances in every major forecast, a favorable schedule and the overall brilliance of its athletic department this academic year -- has the hype at previously unforeseen levels on campus. Louisville still has 12 games to deal with once the first ball is kicked this fall, but it is the only team in the conference that, this far out, seems to have most of the answers it needs heading into the season. Who will make the biggest strides in the next 100 days to close that gap and emerge from the pack of relative unknowns in the league? This is, after all, the conference's last year with a guaranteed BCS bowl berth.

4. Make the rounds: Matt Rhule does not need to meet and greet all that many new people in the Philadelphia area since he was a longtime Temple assistant, but he is stepping into his first career head-coaching job. Willie Taggart has been a hit back in his home area of Tampa, Fla., but he is taking over a roster that has vastly underachieved the past two years, and he is entering recruiting battles with local rival and Big East newcomer UCF. Tommy Tuberville has had great success on the recruiting circuit so far at Cincinnati, but he has a big standard to live up to in following the footsteps of the school's past three head coaches. How will each new head coach in the conference further establish himself in the dog days of summer?

5. Houston must figure out several game locations: One of the more overlooked aspects of one of the conference newcomers this season is the Cougars' need to determine where they will play all of their home games. Four of them have been slated for Reliant Stadium, but the school's Oct. 12 game against Memphis and Nov. 23 tilt with Cincinnati still need locations. Rice Stadium and BBVA Compass Stadium are the options, according to the Houston Chronicle.

100-days checklist: Big Ten

May, 21, 2013
5/21/13
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Good news: We are just 100 days away from the start of college football.

To mark the occasion, we're pulling out a checklist today of things that Big Ten teams need to accomplish between now and the start of the season. It's not quite "The Final Countdown" (cue GOB Bluth), but we are inching ever so close to kickoff. Here's what needs to happen in the next 100 days:

1. Identify a starting quarterback at Iowa, Indiana, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin: It seems as if there are an unusually high number of Big Ten teams who don't know for sure who their starting quarterbacks will be in the fall. (You could also add Illinois and Minnesota to this list, though it appears likely that Nathan Scheelhaase and Philip Nelson, respectively, would have to lose the job in the summer.) Iowa had a three-man race this spring that will probably come down to Jake Rudock and Cody Sokol in training camp. There's very little separation between Cameron Coffman, Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson at Indiana. Connor Cook continues to breathe down the neck of incumbent Andrew Maxwell at Michigan State. Tyler Ferguson claimed the starting job at Penn State during the spring, prompting Steven Bench to transfer, but highly touted recruit Christian Hackenberg will push for immediate time. Purdue will likely decide between senior Rob Henry and true freshman Danny Etling. Joel Stave and Curt Phillips separated themselves from the Wisconsin QB derby this spring, while incoming junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy could expand the race this summer. All these situations should work themselves out in August, but no team wants to be dealing with an unsettled quarterback competition once the season starts.

2. Solidify the defensive front sevens at Nebraska and Ohio State: The Huskers and Buckeyes stand out as two of the top Big Ten contenders in 2013, but both have serious questions at defensive line and linebacker. The issue is more dire at Nebraska, which struggled there last year and is replacing all but one starter from 2012. Summer arrivals, including junior college star Randy Gregory, could make an immediate impact, and players coming back from injury such as linebacker Zaire Anderson and defensive tackle Thad Randle will need to play up to potential. Ohio State is less concerned about its defense after the spring performance of defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, but linebacker Ryan Shazier is still the only returning starter in the front seven. Curtis Grant must finally live up to his talent to provide help to Shazier, and someone must assume John Simon's leadership role.

3. Locate the next great receivers: A few Big Ten teams, such as Nebraska, Penn State and Indiana, don't have to worry too much about who will catch the ball this year. But just about everybody else needs to find playmakers in the passing game. The top of that list includes Iowa, which couldn't generate a downfield passing attack last year; Illinois, which needs receivers to make new coordinator Bill Cubit's spread system work; Michigan State, whose young wideouts must improve on last year's shaky performance; Minnesota, which doesn't have many proven weapons to surround Nelson; and Wisconsin, which still must find a complement to Jared Abbrederis. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is hoping some incoming freshmen augment a very thin receiver group, while Michigan needs to replace the production of Roy Roundtree. Purdue and Northwestern have lots of speedy options but could use the emergence of a true No. 1 target. Receiver was a weak spot as a whole in the Big Ten in 2012, and hopefully some players will improve through offseason voluntary passing drills.

4. Strengthen the running game at Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and elsewhere: It's a cliché to say that you have to run the ball to win, but in the case of the Big Ten, that's always been true. That's why it's so vital for the Wolverines and Spartans -- who both expect to contend in the Legends Division -- to find answers in their rushing attacks. Michigan is replacing its entire starting interior offensive line after struggling to get a running game going outside of Denard Robinson last year. Fitz Toussaint is hoping to bounce back from a disappointing season and a leg injury, while hotshot freshman Derrick Green could get lots of carries right away. Michigan State's efforts to replace workhorse extraordinaire Le'Veon Bell this spring ended up with converted linebacker Riley Bullough emerging as the top back in a mediocre field. Three incoming freshmen will compete for time right away this summer. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson put a heavy emphasis on the running game this spring, hoping for more balance after his team led the league in passing and finished last in rushing last season. Iowa has depth for once at running back but needs to stay healthy there, as the ground game is the key to the Hawkeyes' entire offensive philosophy. Nebraska also can't afford injuries, as Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross are the lone backs with any experience. Illinois averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a team last year, a number that must improve. And while Purdue loved what it saw from Akeem Hunt this spring, he still must prove he can be an every-down back after attempting only 42 carries last season.

5. Mesh with new coaches: Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Purdue's Darrell Hazell are the fresh faces among head coaches in the league, and while they did a great job of connecting with their players this spring, they still need to get their new systems fully in place. The Badgers will be using some new, 3-4 looks on defense, while Hazell wants a more physical and disciplined team than we've seen from the Boilermakers of late. Michigan State has a new offensive playcaller in Dave Warner, while Cubit was one of many staff changes at Illinois. Penn State's John Butler takes over from Ted Roof as the Lions' defensive coordinator. With only 15 spring practices so far to implement their styles, those new coaches have had to rely on a lot of classroom time and players learning on their own. That will have to continue this summer during voluntary workouts and then will intensify when preseason practice begins. For new coaches, it's a race against the calendar -- and the calendar says there are only 100 days until kickoff.

100-days checklist: ACC

May, 21, 2013
5/21/13
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As of today, there are 100 days until the start of the college football season.

You bet we’re counting.

If you’re Scot Loeffler, Virginia Tech's new offensive coordinator, 100 days must feel like a nanosecond. The Hokies aren’t the only ones, though, with plenty of work to do before the season begins. Here’s a checklist of five things the ACC and its teams must accomplish before the opening kickoff:

1. Name starting quarterbacks. Syracuse can’t even talk about Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen yet because he’s not on campus and won’t enroll until next month, but the Orange are just one of several teams in the ACC that still have an ongoing quarterback competition. Virginia’s quarterback controversy has seemingly gone on for years, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has yet to officially anoint Jameis Winston as EJ Manuel’s successor. Pitt is also still searching for a dependable leader, along with NC State.

2. Find an offense in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech has become one of the ACC’s brand-name programs, a consistent winner and a representative in the Top 25 and BCS standings. That changed last season when the Hokies bumbled their way through their most disappointing season in 20 years. Coach Frank Beamer made sweeping changes to his offensive staff, but little improvement was seen in the spring game. Loeffler said it wasn’t a true indication of the progress that was made in the other 13 practices, but also conceded there is still a lot of work to be done. With Alabama looming in the season opener, all eyes will be on the ACC in Week 1. When the Hokies are good, the ACC is better.

3. Improve defensively. With the exception of Florida State, which finished the season ranked No. 6 in the country in scoring defense, 2012 wasn’t a banner year for ACC defenses. The conference usually has some of the nation’s best defenses -- including Boston College -- but there was no Luke Kuechly and no identity for the Eagles last fall. Miami beat Duke 52-45. Georgia Tech beat North Carolina 68-50. Clemson beat NC State 62-48. Clemson took a major step forward defensively with its bowl win against LSU, but the defense must become elite in its second season under coordinator Brent Venables if Clemson is going to be a national-title contender.

4. Minimize the turnovers. Virginia Tech was No. 86 in turnover margin last year, and quarterback Logan Thomas threw three picks in the spring game. Boston College was No. 88 in the country in turnover margin, FSU No. 93, NC State No. 99, Maryland No. 104, Virginia No. 110. That’s almost half the league ranked among the worst in the country in turnover margin. The Hokies play Alabama. Virginia plays Oregon. BC plays at USC. FSU is at Florida, and the Seminoles turned it over five times versus the Gators in FSU's 37-26 loss last year. The Gators scored 10 points off turnovers in that game. If the ACC is going to stand a chance, it can’t give away freebies.

5. Stay out of the trainer’s room. Virginia Tech standout corner Antone Exum is still rehabbing from the torn ACL he suffered in a pickup basketball game. The bulk of Wake Forest’s offensive line was walking wounded all spring, and that group will make or break the Deacons' season. Clemson backup quarterback Chad Kelly and starting tight end Sam Cooper both tore their ACLs this spring. If the ACC is going to beat the best this fall, it needs its best players on the field. For some programs, like Boston College, the depth isn’t there to afford injuries.

100-day checklist: Notre Dame

May, 21, 2013
5/21/13
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Notre Dame does not have quite as many question marks heading into the 2013 season as it did last summer. For one, the Irish have their quarterback of the future. They also have a coach who proved during a perfect 2012 regular season that he is the right man for the job. And they have -- for the next 24 years, at least -- erased questions about their relevancy within the college football landscape.

But no teams are perfect (seriously, it hasn't been done since Auburn in 2010-11). So, with 100 days standing between us and the college football season -- and 102 standing between the Irish and their Aug. 31 opener against Temple -- we will take a look at three things the program needs to cross off its checklist this summer.

1. Find offensive playmakers: George Atkinson III bulked up this offseason and did not run for the track team to focus on adding to his workload. He is the most experienced man in an Irish backfield that lost its top two rushers from a season ago, but he will be pushed by redshirt sophomore Amir Carlisle, redshirt freshman William Mahone, junior Cam McDaniel and incoming freshman Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston, both of whom are four-star prospects. The three-man battle to replace Tyler Eifert at tight end, meanwhile, will be waged among Troy Niklas, Ben Koyack and Alex Welch.

2. Integrate incoming freshmen: Bryant and Folston are two of the incoming freshmen who appear ready-made for the college level. Linebacker Jaylon Smith and safety Max Redfield figure to see time as freshmen, too. Early enrollee receivers such as Corey Robinson and James Onwualu, both of whom saw added time following the spring departures of Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson, also may see playing time.

3. Stay levelheaded. This really shouldn't be much of a problem for a program and players who seemingly always have the bull's-eye on their back, regardless of the win-loss record. Still, a renaissance 2012 campaign and a return to college football's elite will only up the ante for this group to do similar things this fall, especially with so many pointing to Alabama's title-game rout as a sign that 2012 may have been a fluke.

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