NCF Nation: 3-point stance

1. Interesting statistic from Phil Steele in his 2014 yearbook: Returning starters are a sign of strength, right? Experience is critical in a sport in which the players have a five-year career span. However, according to Steele, in the last 10 years, only 25 of 82 teams that lost six or fewer starters improved their record. Talent is what talent is, as the last two redshirt freshmen who won the Heisman might attest.

2. Duke doesn’t have quite that much experience, but the Blue Devils do return 15 starters from the school’s first 10-win team in 72 years. Veteran players might not improve a record as much as you think, but Duke’s schedule certainly is dressed for success. The nonconference opponents: Elon, at Troy, Kansas and -- hey, a bowl team! -- Tulane. On the ACC schedule, there’s no Florida State, no Clemson, and no Louisville. That’s not a schedule -- that’s a work of art.

3. NCAA president Mark Emmert will begin his testimony Thursday morning in the O’Bannon antitrust case, and anyone hoping to save some semblance of the current system has to be a little nervous. Emmert is faced with defending a form of amateurism that he is trying to deconstruct even as he defends it. That would be hard for anyone, much less someone who has the shown the ability to immerse himself in hot water when speaking without prepared remarks.
1. Bob Stoops said Wednesday on the ESPNU College Football Podcast that when Oklahoma beats Texas, he gives his Sooners a couple of hours to enjoy the State Fair of Texas with their families before the buses head back up I-35. Stoops said he doesn’t go near the Midway, but he does find a quiet picnic table to munch on a hot dog. After 15 seasons and 160 victories -- the most by any head coach in Oklahoma history -- Stoops remains unimpressed with himself.

2. When Joker Phillips finished the 2012 season as a lame-duck head coach at Kentucky, he discussed the emotions of leaving players and a school to which he had devoted 10 years of his life. That’s not how Phillips left Florida. He resigned Wednesday for personal reasons at a time when coaches and players are not together. Two years ago, someone asked Phillips about his future. “I'm 50 years old,” Phillips said. “I don't have a lot of time. I like to think I'm a young 50, but this game is going fast for me.” His departure from Gainesville came way too fast.

3. BYU went into independence four years ago with such optimism, and why not? BYU is a religious school with a national following. But college sports has gotten more exclusive, and even Notre Dame, the ultimate independent, cut a football deal with the ACC. Still, Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall’s public plea to join the Big 12 sounds like the frustrations of a coach. If BYU were serious about giving up on independence, the university wouldn’t use its football coach to make its case.
1. Anyone else find it interesting that the NCAA agreed to pay $20 million in the EA Sports case to current and former Division I student-athletes on the day before USC comes off probation? The cases are indicative of how the world of intercollegiate athletics has shifted since the Trojans went on probation four years ago. The enforcement process has lost what respect it had. The NCAA model is being forced to remodel because members and the Indianapolis bureaucracy weren’t smart enough to do it on their own.

2. A few days after I wrote about the Curse of Bo (Michigan is 50-41 since Schembechler died in Nov. 2006), author John U. Bacon wrote about a more serious picture of the Wolverines' athletic department. Bacon wrote that pro-style marketing bent on maximizing revenue has cost Michigan at the ticket window with students and long-time ticket holders. Bacon made a compelling point:Treat college fans like customers, they’ll start acting like customers instead of people with emotional ties to the product.

3. The Pac-12 might be the next "it" conference on the field, but the conference doesn’t carry the emotional resonance with its fans that the Big Ten and the SEC do with theirs. The latest example: the Big Ten’s announcement that the league championship will remain in Indianapolis through 2021. That’s an NFL town in a state where football is second, yet the game is a success. The Pac-12 is trying the neutral-site championship this season at the 49ers' new stadium. I am skeptical that league fans will fill it up.
1. Just because talent evaluations end in May doesn’t mean that vacation begins for coaches. David Shaw told me on the ESPNU College Football Podcast on Wednesday that June is a critical month for Stanford. Not only do players come to camp to try to earn a scholarship offer, or visit campus to see if they want to commit, but second-semester grades arrive and the Cardinal coaches get a better idea of which players have a shot at qualifying for admission.

2. Judging by the endorsement of both Shaw and Virginia Tech associate head coach Shane Beamer given on the podcast, the new dead period on the NCAA recruiting calendar in July is the greatest rule change since the forward pass. For two weeks in summer, coaches can’t recruit and recruits can’t meet with coaches on campus visits. Coaches get to recharge before players report in August. My guess: If you want to see a coach that week, go to the beach.

3. Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini’s idea to eliminate national signing day is counterintuitive. He believes that no rule will do just as good a job as too many, that programs will be more judicious in offering scholarships if coaches know that the young man could sign that day. It wouldn’t solve the issue of earlier and earlier recruiting. In fact, that problem might be more acute. Give Pelini credit for thinking outside the coaches’ box. But what in the world would we watch on the first Wednesday in February?
1. I wonder if anyone at Navy spoke with anyone at West Virginia regarding the academy’s agreement to compete in the Western Division of the American Athletic Conference when Navy joins the conference in 2015. It’s no secret that West Virginia is struggling with the demands of its Big 12 travel (2-7 in 2013). Navy will be in a division with Houston, SMU and Tulsa from Big 12 country, as well as Memphis and Tulane, not to mention a game at Air Force or Notre Dame every season. As if the Midshipmen don’t have enough to overcome.

2. I’m sure at some level there is a difference between the autonomy that the five major conferences seek and the “Division IV” they are threatening to form if they don’t get it. But what exactly would that difference be? If they don’t get the autonomy to provide more benefits to student-athletes, then they will leave ... and change what? March Madness? Recruiting rules? In reality, if they have the power to demand autonomy in one area, they are effectively forming a Division IV. Aren’t they?

3. EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing Corporation settled the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit with former student-athletes for $40 million. Approximately $27 million will be divided among as many as 200,000 former student-athletes depicted in various NCAA-licensed video games. Attorneys will divide up the other $13 million. So the players will get a few thousand dollars each. The attorneys will get significantly more each. Can a settlement be fair and still be inequitable?
1. Delighted to hear that the majority of SEC coaches don’t want to play FCS schools any longer. Of course, the coaches would rather play those games than play a road game against a power-conference team, so let’s not get too excited. Two ways for those games to end: The fans continue to stay home, and an SEC or ACC team gets shut out of the College Football Playoff because they play one fewer conference game than the Pac-12 or Big Ten. (Big 12 plays nine with no championship game.) We can hope, right?

2. One benefit of the Big Ten’s expansion is that in the scramble to accommodate Rutgers and Maryland into the scheduling, the Scarlet Knights filled a nonconference opening with Washington State, meaning the Big Ten and Pac-12 will play five games against each other in the regular season for the second consecutive year. And these games were set up before the conferences pushed to begin scheduling each other more often. Meanwhile, the SEC and ACC will keep playing FCS schools.

3. Todd Graham had to endure a lot of abuse when he job-hopped from Rice (one season) to Tulsa (four seasons) to Pittsburgh (one season) to Arizona State. He bruised feelings and his own stature along the way. But with the news Wednesday that he has received his second one-year extension in the last eight months in Tempe, the rough edges of his reputation are being smoothed over. He is 18-9 and has won a division title in two seasons with the Sun Devils. Maybe he really is there to stay.
1. Gentry Estes of Dawgs 24/7 explained the changes Georgia has made in its training program after five players went down with knee injuries last season, turning a top-10 team into an 8-5 team. What’s amazing is that coach Mark Richt continues to say, as he did throughout last season, that he believes the injuries had more to do with coincidence than anything else. Whatever -- the Bulldogs had to try something different.

2. I am annoyed that Brett McMurphy took the top 15 teams from the 2013 regular season and laid out how the new postseason would have made the matchups in the top six bowls -- annoyed because I didn’t think to do it first. I found it reassuring that there are still regional idiosyncrasies in the matchups. Depending on which bowls were in use as College Football Playoff semifinal games, one year Oklahoma would have been left out; another year, Clemson. Why is that reassuring? Conference affiliation with the bowls is a tie to tradition and a reminder that bowls remain, at some level, a reward.

3. The push for autonomy by the five power conferences is a concession to reality and long overdue. The schools didn’t form the political will to make it happen until faced with a rash of lawsuits and other governmental action to get student-athletes more benefits. Big picture, however, the autonomy is a concession to the fact that football, not basketball, makes the decisions. Football generates more money. And now that the rules governing Division I schools are so different, how big an impact will it have on other sports? It can’t be good for March Madness.
1. Hey, NFL, here’s an idea that might minimize the number of underclassmen who declare for the NFL draft but shouldn’t (36 of 98 early entries went undrafted this year). An underclassman can petition the league to learn where he might be drafted. Personnel execs give the player a grade. The league should take those grades and make them public, comparing them to where the players actually go in the draft. A player given a second-round grade could see that the previous year, X percent of players who got those grades actually went in the second round or better. Accurate information might counter agents telling kids what they want to hear.

2. A USA Today study showed nearly half of the players selected in the last three NFL drafts came from five states (California, Texas, Florida, Georgia and Ohio). That actually should set off alarm bells. The sport of football already is dealing with parents reluctant to allow their young children to play because of the danger of head injuries. The less national the sport is, the greater the danger that it could be marginalized in the future.

3. You can argue over the merit of the 10-point proposal that Pac-12 Conference presidents sent to their peers in the other four equity conferences. But the fact that the Pac-12 CEOs have made it known that they want and expect significant change is great news for those of us who love intercollegiate athletics. The Pac-12 proposals would increase benefits and decrease time demands on student-athletes. Here’s hoping those proposal survive to become NCAA rule.
1. The SEC released Monday its schedule rotation for nondivisional conference opponents, laying out in stark terms the cost of playing only eight conference games a year. For instance, Texas A&M players who enroll this fall will play UCLA twice (2016-17) and never play Georgia or Vanderbilt (the fifth-year guys will get Kentucky in 2018). Or this: Missouri plays at Kyle Field this fall, and the Tigers won’t return to College Station before 2026, when this year’s first-graders will enroll in college. That’s conference play?

2. I can’t recommend highly enough the breakdown of Big Ten balance sheets that my colleague Matt Fortuna began Monday in a four-part series. The numbers are staggering, yes, but the explanation of expenditures by Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis provides depth and detail to the amount of resources afforded to scholarship student-athletes. I’m for giving them full cost of attendance, but as Fortuna highlighted, the increase in services provided by schools over the last decade is staggering.

3. At the Tulane commencement Saturday, Wynton Marsalis used words and his horn to give graduates a compelling message. But the best moment came when university president Scott Cowen singled out former Green Wave defensive back Devon Walker, paralyzed in a game two years ago. When Cowen asked spectators and Walker’s fellow graduates “to show our love and our respect for this incredible young man,” they responded with a 40-second standing ovation.
1. Now that the ACC has decided to play eight conference games instead of nine, ACC commissioner John Swofford, speaking with me Wednesday on the ESPNU College Football Podcast, sounded skeptical of the proposal that his members might play one another in a “nonconference” game. Swofford made a good point. That option has always been available, and the schools haven’t rushed to embrace it.

2. The College Football Playoff hasn’t begun yet, but as a March Madness fan, Auburn senior defensive tackle Gabe Wright said he would like to see it expand beyond the four-team format that will begin in January. However, Wright continued, he is wary of the emotional toll the playoff will extract. “They got to figure out a way for it to be equal,” he said. “It’s hard to go from the Iron Bowl to the SEC Championship and then go into another thing. That would be hard for anybody.”

3. The NCAA penalized Oklahoma State two hours of practice time per week because the Cowboys’ grades narrowly fell short of NCAA minimum standards, and it will be interesting to watch how head coach Mike Gundy shaves down his practice sheet. Does his trim each of his four weekly practices by 30 minutes? Does he try to take it from his walk-throughs on Fridays? Does he shave time equally from offense, defense and special teams? And if the Cowboys win anyway, will they be used as an example to ease the workload of players?
1. The disparity of opinion regarding the linemen on the consensus All-America team and what NFL teams thought of them is large. Of the eight offensive and defensive linemen from the All-America team, five were drafted in the fourth round or later. Meanwhile, the two receivers and four defensive backs on the All-American team went in the first 41 picks. It could be that different offenses in colleges call for different skills in line play. But the ability to run and move in space, on offense and defense, is valuable in any scheme.

2. The two best quarterbacks in college football, Jameis Winston of Florida State and Marcus Mariota of Oregon, had best stay healthy. Winston’s backup, Jacob Coker, will play at Alabama. Mariota’s backup, Jake Rodrigues, announced Monday that he will transfer. Mariota got hurt last season, and Winston’s off-field problems are well-documented. And yet the one-play-away mantra of coaches that applies to every other position doesn’t apply at quarterback. What’s different? The demands of the position or the egos of the guys playing it?

3. Now that the ACC athletic directors have voted in favor of keeping the status quo of eight conference games, the circle is complete. The ACC and SEC point to each other and say, but we’re playing them! Yes, four schools are. And Notre Dame will be on five ACC schedules a year. Nine ACC games is doable. Asking fans to pay retail prices for bad opponents -– and with four non-ACC games, there are plenty –- is not right.
1. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley watches the video of the Bruins’ losses to Oregon (42-14) and Stanford (24-10) “countless times,” more than he does any of the team’s 10 wins. “As a quarterback, it comes to the point where, honestly, I don’t even have to watch the film. I can go back in my head and go over all the plays. It’s certain things like that that give you that edge to want to be so much better.”

2. I am sorry to see the Pac-12 is looking at a neutral site for its fourth conference championship game. Rewarding the team with the best record is the model nearly every major professional postseason uses. I thought one of the reasons the league went to campuses centered on a concern that Pac-12 fans might not attend a neutral site the way that Big Ten and SEC fans do. Nothing has changed there.

3. Penn State coach James Franklin said the other day he ran into a Wegmans grocery store in State College to buy four apples, and it took him 90 minutes to leave. Every shopper wanted to chat with him, and Franklin didn’t feel like he could say no. That made me think of a conversation I had a few years ago with Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who has remained in Norman for 15 seasons in part because Sooners fans allow him to live his life, up to and including grocery shopping. Give it time, Coach Franklin. Give it time.
1. One of the more interesting stories in college football this fall will be the fate of Oregon senior Johnathan Loyd, who showed up for spring practice to play wide receiver after four seasons playing point guard for the Ducks. Loyd stands all of 5-8, so if he survived a Pac-12 basketball career, he is tough by definition. Loyd has also shown his ability to operate in space. The Eugene Register-Guard reported how Loyd got lit up the first time he caught a punt, which should teach him the wisdom of the fair catch.

2. I found the ranking system announced by the College Football Playoff selection committee last week to be so painstaking that you want to shout, “Get on with it!” The members vote, and the three teams getting the most votes are ranked the highest. And then the committee basically parses three teams at a time until it reaches 25. Why bother? Why not do what the basketball committee does: announce the field and run for the airport? The CFP committee believes this method will be more open. It also might prime the public to accept the legitimacy of the committee’s final poll.

3. On the football field, Jameis Winston performs with a maturity beyond his years. He continues to do the reverse off the field, embarrassing himself, his family, his teammates and his coaches. Winston evaded prosecution for sexual assault because the police botched the investigation. Handed that second chance, he got busted for shoplifting. Winston combines once-a-generation athleticism and magnetism in a way that few people ever have. That doesn’t excuse him from knowing right from wrong. His quick apology last week indicates that he’s aware of society’s rules, at least until the next incident.
1. The SEC’s “new” schedule policy, mandating one nonconference game against a school from the other four equity conferences, is not new at all. That’s what the SEC schools do now. Since FBS schedules expanded to 12 games in 2006, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Texas A&M have played three seasons in which they played no nonconference games against a school from one of the big conferences. The other 11 SEC schools have done that a total of three times. In other words, the policy that the SEC announced Sunday codifies what the schools already do. The SEC just missed an opportunity to give its fans better games.

2. At the other end of the spectrum is Georgia, which has played 15 nonconferences against teams from the other equity conferences over the last eight seasons, and that doesn’t include No. 5 Boise State in 2011 (Broncos won, 35-21). In those eight seasons of more challenging schedules, the Bulldogs finished in the top five in 2007 and 2012. Vanderbilt and South Carolina are tied for second with 12 games against the other equity leagues. Alabama and LSU lead the SEC West schools with nine apiece.

3. I took a hard-hat tour Monday afternoon of the new College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. The building is a fascinating attempt to meld the history and the emotion that draws us to the game. A cathedral-like setting on the third floor will honor the game’s best players and coaches. The first two floors will be more devoted to the fan experience, from karaoke fight songs to state-of-the-art digitization that will feature your school’s historical highlights on the video board as you walk through the facility. The plan is to be open for the 2014 season.

3-point stance: Pac-12 QB talent

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
5:00
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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.

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