NCF Nation: 3-point stance

3-point stance: Pac-12 QB talent

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
1. According to ESPN Insider and Reese’s Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, it’s a thin year for veteran quarterbacks everywhere but the Pac-12. Listing the top pro prospects for the 2015 NFL draft, Savage, speaking with me on the ESPNU College Football Podcast on Wednesday, started with Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Brett Hundley of UCLA, then tossed in Sean Mannion of Oregon State. Not to mention the league has Kevin Hogan of Stanford, Taylor Kelly of Arizona State and Cody Kessler of USC.

2. Dabo Swinney is a good man and a stand-up guy. He is proud of his Christianity and believes it can help others as much as it has helped him. As the coach of Clemson, a public university in a religious state, he is preaching to the choir. I’d bet it never occurred to Swinney that he stepped over the line between church and state, perhaps because the line is blurrier in South Carolina than in Madison, Wis., where the Freedom From Religion Foundation is based. If the foundation’s complaint makes Swinney realize again that everyone is not Christian, then the foundation’s complaint is a success.

3. The town of State College is crowdsourcing a statue to honor the late Joe Paterno, and it’s wonderful that the planned site is not far from Old Main, the home of the Penn State administration that removed the original Paterno statue from outside of Beaver Stadium in July 2012. What are the university administrators thinking? Do they understand they never should have made the removal of the statue permanent? Do they understand how much they rushed to judgment to vilify Paterno? When will they do their part to restore Paterno’s place of honor in Penn State history? The locals are doing their part.
1. The Chick-fil-A Bowl reached back into its history to change its name to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, and they didn’t do it out of fond memories for Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The College Football Playoff, looking for consistency, didn’t want any of the six bowls sharing the semifinals to have only a sponsor’s name. Sponsors aren’t forever. But the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, Orange, and Cotton are. And now, back from the history books, so is the Peach.

2. Next time you think about parity in college football, think about this: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee – six of 14 SEC members – have won the last 37 league championships. Kentucky shared the 1976 championship with Georgia. Before that, you have to go back to 1963, when Ole Miss won and 200-pound linemen roamed the earth. Not to mention that none of the four SEC expansion teams (Arkansas and South Carolina, 1992; Missouri and Texas A&M, 2012) has won the league.

3. I’m just not going to get excited about the fact that next season there will be 40 bowls. You can be outraged all you want that college football is choosing to accelerate its rewards for mediocrity. I feel like the marketplace will decide, and until it does, I’m not going to complain about having more games available to watch in late December and early January. I look at it as easing my transition into winter.

3-point stance: Unlimited meals

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
1. Both USC athletic director Pat Haden and Stanford coach David Shaw last week described expanding training table to three meals a day throughout the academic year as something between mandatory and a national emergency. Cost estimates for the expansion at a major FBS program could be as high as $750,000. It probably would have happened even if UConn point guard Shabazz Napier had not talked about hunger. But embarrassing the NCAA is a good method these days.

2. The reduction of training table to one meal per day took effect in the NCAA’s cost-cutting reforms of 1991. That was the same package that included the 20-hour rule, which has become a mockery, and the “restricted-earnings” assistants, who could be paid only $16,000 per year. The NCAA had to pay a $54.5 million settlement in 1999 to undo that decision. Undoing the cutback on meals nearly guts the entire reform package.

3. SEC commissioner Mike Slive is spending three days this week as the Executive-in-Residence at UMass’ Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management. In a speech Wednesday night, Slive described his job thusly: “Today doesn’t exist for me. I live in tomorrow. That’s my job. Today is the job of 35 other people (SEC staff). I am the trustee of a sacred public trust, and if you live in the South, you know exactly what I mean.” Slive also said the SEC will decide at the spring meeting in Destin next month whether to stay at an eight-game conference schedule, or go to nine beginning in 2016.
1. Texas Tech sophomore Davis Webb is a reason to look forward to next season. Webb threw for 403 yards and four scores in the upset of Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. He went 25-for-37 for 354 yards and four touchdowns in the Red Raiders’ spring game on Saturday. Afterward, he said that Tech fans should expect this team to be one of the best in school history. Can’t wait to find out how that turns out.

2. Junior Maximo Espitia came to Cal after playing fullback at an Oregon high school. He got issued a running back’s number (No. 19), and then former Bears coach Jeff Tedford moved him to tight end. Tedford got fired, and his replacement, Sonny Dykes, shifted Espitia to inside receiver. Late in the nightmare of last season, when Cal went winless against FBS opponents, Espitia moved to safety to plug a hole in the depth chart. This spring, he is playing linebacker. At least he knows everyone on the team now.

3. I understand why Notre Dame is installing FieldTurf at Notre Dame Stadium. After resodding the field three times last year, the athletic department might be sick of fertilizer. But what I love about Notre Dame is the lengths the university has gone to maintain the stadium's look and feel as it did when Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz coached there. Virtually no signage, no field paint, and, yes, a grass field. Oh well.
1. When USC finished practice Tuesday, center Max Tuerk and quarterback Cody Kessler stayed behind to work on snaps. Tuerk, a junior, has started 14 games at guard and six at tackle. But the Trojans need a center, so he’s learning the position this spring. He learned to tape his fingers -- two rings of tape on two fingers, one ring of tape on the other two -- and to carry a towel, all to keep sweat off the ball. He has learned to stay lower and, as he put it, get his feet in the ground faster. “The more reps you take, you don’t have to think about the snap as much,” Tuerk said. “You can think about the blocks.”

2. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is working more under center this spring. “It’s different,” the redshirt junior said. “Being under center and being in the shotgun are two different views. When you are under center, you are right there. ... You have to take your seven-step drop, push up in the pocket while keeping your shoulders (level).” If Hundley has a peccadillo, it is maintaining the balance of his shoulders. UCLA coach Jim Mora said he wants to work Hundley under center to expand the offense. If it helps Hundley in the 2015 NFL draft, even better.

3. Stanford wide receiver Jordan Pratt will be 29 years old when the football season begins. He enrolled after spending eight seasons pitching in the Dodgers’ minor-league system. “I’ll make a comment, ‘Yeah, I remember, Sept. 11, 2001, I got called out of my high school class,’” Pratt said. His teammates respond, “‘High school? I don’t even remember that. I was in preschool.’ There is this time gap. Sometimes I relate better to the TAs in my class than I do the other students. It’s a lot easier for me to talk to the professors. It’s a little easier for them to relate, too.”

3-point stance: No help needed

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
1. Northwestern has played its hand in the unionization issue beautifully. The university never blamed its student-athletes. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has gone public with his opposition to the union, but has done so with facts and without histrionics. The last thing Northwestern needs is NCAA president Mark Emmert making headlines by calling unionization "grossly inappropriate." Emmert has been an ineffective reformer. He lost a lot of credibility by railroading Penn State before he had the facts. He could best help Northwestern by going on vacation for the rest of April.

2. Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann said it would be great if the Newark Star-Ledger went out of business. Hermann doesn't like what one columnist writes about her. The Star-Ledger last week laid off 167 people in her state. You would think an athletic official who has been accused of verbal abuse in the past would think twice before lashing out. Whatever justification Hermann thought she had to say that, she didn't.

3. I got a tour Monday of the not-quite-one-year-old football building that Phil Knight built for Oregon and I have three words: Oh. Em. Gee. Whatever you heard or read about the spare-no-expense design doesn't do the building justice. Italian leather chairs. German lockers. Brazilian wood floors -- in the weight room. Turkish toilets. (I am leaving a few countries out.) Wall coverings and upholstery of football leather. Hand-painted foosball players. And on. And on. The arms race is over. We have a winner.

1. Texas athletic director Steve Patterson made a compelling case Tuesday for the value of participating in college athletics, echoing Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. They both said, in so many words, if you want to go pro, go pro; let college athletics be college athletics. I hope the difference is maintained, too. There is room to provide more benefits to college athletes without professionalizing them. But once an employer-employee relationship is established, the rules will change. Whether they can change without rendering college athletics unrecognizable, ay, there’s the rub.

2. Oregon has won 60 consecutive games when leading at the half, the longest streak in the FBS. Oklahoma is second at 42. Both are perennial national contenders with explosive offenses that can quickly make a game one-sided. But here’s the surprise: Kansas State is third on the list at 39 games. In the five seasons since Bill Snyder returned to the sideline, Kansas State (42-22, .656) has been good, but not dominant. Without dominance, I’d guess the streak has a lot to do with Snyder, mental toughness and a lack of mistakes.

3. Speaking of Oklahoma, did you see the Sooners’ April Fool’s tweet that Blake Bell had returned to quarterback? The surprise is that Bell actually finished last season with a higher efficiency rating (132.20) than the player replacing him, freshman Trevor Knight (125.00). What that tells you is how much Knight improved over the course of the year. He shredded Alabama for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. In the last three games, Knight went 49-of-71 for 547 yards with 2 interceptions and 5 touchdowns for an efficiency of 151.34. That’s why Bell is a tight end.
1. Reading USC’s spring prospectus, this nugget stopped me: In six games last season, the Trojans used a total of 14 or fewer players on defense. That’s a stark illustration of the effect of the NCAA scholarship penalties. USC has eight starters returning on each side of the ball. But of the 49 returning lettermen, 18 were either walk-ons, injured or scholarship guys who just didn’t play. That’s a reminder of the work that Steve Sarkisian has cut out for him, and of how well the Trojans did to go 10-4 last season.

2. Former Penn State assistant coach Jay Paterno entered the race for the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor late, and now he has withdrawn early. Another candidate challenged the legitimacy of the signatures on Paterno’s nomination petitions. The legal battle would have consumed considerable time and money leading up to the May 20 primary. Too bad, because as news stories go, it would have been interesting to see if Paterno could use his name recognition to make voters take him seriously. He seemed to be making headway.

3. If you love writing and you love college football history, make sure you read “His Ownself,” the just-published autobiography of legendary sportswriter Dan Jenkins. He saw TCU play for the 1936 Rose Bowl, and he saw TCU play in the 2011 Rose Bowl. No one covered the 1960s, the decade of Bear Bryant, John McKay and Darrell Royal, better. You also get Jenkins on the last 60 years of golf, from Hogan to Woods. It’s like standing in the corner of a bar with Jenkins holding court. It is great, great fun.
1. Northwestern has become the latest battleground over whether FBS players should be compensated with more than a scholarship. But even as it lost the first of what may be many decisions in the case, the university praised its student-athletes for their participation. That may be smart poker -- if you criticize them, how do you ask them to play hard -- but it also speaks to a bigger picture. The courts will decide if Northwestern is an employer. The university will always strive to be a center for learning and growing.

2. Former Tennessee All-American tailback Hank Lauricella died earlier this week at age 83. Lauricella, a Louisiana native who returned home to a long career in the state legislature, served as a mentor to another Louisianan who played for the Vols, Peyton Manning. Both men became Heisman Trophy runners-up. Former Vols Johnny Majors and Heath Shuler also finished second in the Heisman. Is there any FBS school with the history of a Tennessee that has come so close without winning a Heisman?

3. Even if UMass had made every right decision, the move from FCS to FBS would have been daunting. But the school didn’t make a lot of right decisions. Playing home games at Gillette Stadium, 95 miles away; hiring Charley Molnar as head coach; joining the MAC -- none worked out. So next season the Minutemen will play half their home games on campus. They have replaced Molnar with Mark Whipple, who led UMass to the 1998 I-AA title. And they will leave the MAC after 2015. Talk about your mulligans.

3-point stance: FSU still loaded

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
1. As well as national champion Florida State played last season, the biggest surprise is how many of the Seminoles came back. The Seminoles are returning five first-team All-ACC players. That’s as many as the other 13 ACC teams have on the first and second All-ACC teams combined. Not to mention that Florida State has 113 returning starts on the offensive line. None of that includes tight end Nick O'Leary (second team All-ACC) or defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. (third team). The Seminoles are loaded -- still.

2. West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson leaned on his old friend Tom Bradley to coach the Mountaineers’ defensive line, even though that’s the only position on that side of the ball Bradley didn’t coach in his 33 seasons at Penn State. West Virginia needs the help; its three-man line lost two starters, and the returnees have a total of 13 starts among them. When you’re coming off a 4-8 record, you don’t have a full cupboard. Bradley makes the Mountaineers a more interesting story than they would be otherwise.

3. It would be easy to unleash the snark about Jim Tressel applying for the presidency of the University of Akron. I will leave that to Twitter. Tressel pointed out that he has 35 years of administration in higher education. He works at Akron now, so he and the school know each other. All Akron must do is come to terms with Tressel lying to the NCAA and covering up his players’ transgressions. Is three years in coaching purgatory a sufficient sentence? Auburn decided so in the case of Bruce Pearl. But Akron is hiring a president, not a basketball coach.
1. Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo coached as young assistants at Michigan State in the 1980s. They both became head coaches there in 1995. They remain good friends. Saban this week on Izzo: "He believes in all the same stuff that a football coach believes in: toughness, discipline, relentless competitor, the intangible things that we pride ourselves (on having) as football players and football coaches, because it's a tough game. That's how he coaches basketball. I think it reflects how his team plays."

2. Texas coach Charlie Strong said Tuesday that assistants Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline will be able to work together "because those two guys have been around too long for the egos." I expect Strong is right. But the whole business of job titles in coaching is nothing if not a reflection of ego. Watson is assistant head coach of the offense, which is different, somehow, from Wickline's position as offensive coordinator. Is that really necessary?

3. Coaches love spring practice because they get to teach without having to prepare the team for Saturday. Players don't feel the love. Younger ones endure the drudgery until they figure out it's the time to learn and sharpen skills. By then, they are upperclassmen who know not to look ahead. "If you sit here and think the spring game is on Apr. 19, it will kill you," Auburn senior defensive tackle Gabe Wright said. "You just go into it , 'O.K., 13 more (practices). Let's see what I can get better on.' And there is so much we can get better on."

3-point stance: Playoff pays off

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
1. It might be the first unforeseen benefit of the College Football Playoff: the major programs are curtailing their junk-food intake and increasing the amount of meat on their schedules. Just last week, UCLA and Texas A&M announced a home-and-home. Here’s the best part: only two extra slots are available, yet dozens of FBS programs have upped their games. That’s quite a bang for the playoff buck.

2. Florida might be the top seed in March Madness, but there’s one viewpoint that illustrates how football dominates the Deep South. Five of the BCS teams from last fall made the NCAA Tournament field: Baylor, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Stanford. Five BCS teams failed to make the field: Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State and UCF. That’s two SEC teams, two football-first ACC teams, and one of the southern-most teams in the American. In related news, Alabama began spring practice Saturday.

3. A federal judge sentenced former Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker to eight months in prison last week for his role in a conspiracy in which the bowl reimbursed employees who made illegal campaign contributions to politicians. Junker became a symbol for bowl excess, and the scandal helped usher in the playoff era. But let me remind everyone that Junker spent a lot of that excess on promoting college football as the game’s popularity exploded during the BCS era. Athletic directors, coaches and sportswriters all enjoyed his largesse. Fans benefited from it, too.
1. Let me stipulate that Steve Sarkisian is a talented coach who didn’t get sufficient credit for the resurrection of Washington football. But the expectations that Sark will pick up USC and deposit it into the top 10 are shortsighted. The coach might be new, but the Trojans are still operating under NCAA scholarship reductions. USC still has fewer players than the other contenders, and more of the Trojans are young and inexperienced. A team with one quarterback who has taken a college snap (sophomore Cody Kessler) is headed for the playoffs? USC’s margin of error remains too thin.

2. Hard as it is to believe with a school that has sent Johnny Unitas, Brian Brohm, Stefan LeFors, Dave Ragone, Browning Nagle and Chris Redman to the NFL, but Teddy Bridgewater will likely be the first Louisville quarterback to be drafted in the first round. Blake Bortles of UCF can’t claim that -- Daunte Culpepper went in the first round in 1999. Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M almost could, but Ryan Tannehill became the first Aggie to go in the first round two years ago. Of course the Aggies were a team that ran first and threw later forever.

3. If you love college football, I shouldn’t have to tell you to read Dan Jenkins’ autobiography, “His Ownself,” published last week. Dan’s 80-year love affair with the game shines throughout. My favorite nugget: Dan recounting how 1938 Heisman winner Davey O’Brien once explained to him that two rules adopted in 1934 made way for the passing game we love today. One reduced the circumference of the ball one inch, making it easier to grasp. The other rescinded the five-yard penalty for throwing more than one incompletion in a series of downs.

3-point stance: Texas two-step

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
1. Duane Akina became the seventh assistant from Mack Brown’s staff at Texas to get another job when Stanford hired him as secondary coach. Co-offensive coordinators Major Applewhite and Darrell Wyatt, the two highest-paid assistants, remain on the market. One interesting note: Most coaching contracts see to it that a fired coach gets the agreed-upon amount. If he is hired elsewhere for less than that amount, the first school makes up the difference. Not Texas. If you take another job, Texas is done.

2. Dr. Joab Thomas, the former president of the University of Alabama and Penn State University, died last week at age 81. While at Alabama, Thomas endured the controversy of hiring Ray Perkins and Bill Curry to replace the legendary Paul Bryant. In 1990, Thomas went to State College, Pa., where the equally legendary Joe Paterno turned 65 the following year. When someone asked him about Paterno retiring, Thomas said, “You can't ask one man to replace both Bear Bryant and Joe Paterno.”

3. Jake Trotter’s post Monday described the desire of West Virginia players to turn the program around after a 4-8 record last season. Injuries contributed a great deal to the Mountaineers’ troubles. But the physical and mental burden of traveling to the Big 12 footprint will be an annual drag on West Virginia football. The good news is that in this season’s nine-game conference schedule, the 5/4 split tips to Milan Puskar Stadium. The bad news is that the season opens with a neutral-site game against Alabama in Atlanta.
1. Former West Virginia running back Shawne Alston’s grounds for suing the NCAA and the five equity conferences should dredge up bad memories for college athletics’ old guard. Alston’s antitrust claim, that scholarships covering less than the full cost of attendance amount to restraint of trade, is similar to the restricted-earnings debacle of the early 1990s. The NCAA passed a rule that some assistant coaches in various sports could earn only $16,000. After losing the case, the NCAA eventually settled for $54.5 million.

2. It’s ironic that Alston is suing the five big conferences, which have the funds and the will to pay scholarships that would cover the full cost of attendance. They have been held back by Division I members who don’t have that kind of money and fear the competitive imbalance that would result. But considering that Ohio Stadium seats more than 100,000 and Ohio U.’s Peden Stadium seats 24,000, the competitive-imbalance ship sailed a long time ago.

3. The inclusion of 1994 Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam of Colorado on the new College Football Hall of Fame ballot reminds us of one aspect of what the Hall represents. The Buffaloes’ run of dominance lasted from the late 1980s through the 1990s. The Hall has elected linebacker Alfred Williams (2010) and head coach Bill McCartney (2013). Salaam and running back Eric Bieniemy are eligible. Lined up behind them are cornerback Deon Figures, center Jay Leeuwenburg, linebacker Matt Russell, wide receiver Michael Westbrook, and others. A once-dominant program gets to re-live its success. That’s nice.