NCF Nation: DeWayne Walker

1. You’ve read a lot in the past three days about the feeding frenzy of recruiting that’s taking place at Penn State. You’ve read less about the coaches who choose not to recruit the Nittany Lions, such as Florida coach Will Muschamp, who is a good friend of Penn State coach Bill O’Brien. There are the coaches who are calling their friends on the Nittany Lions as a courtesy to let them know they are recruiting their players. And there are the rest.

2. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Monday that the 10-team league’s round-robin schedule, combined with no championship game, will put the conference champion in position to get into the four-team playoff. That is the eternal debate regarding a conference championship game. Kansas State’s loss to Texas A&M in the 1998 Big 12 Championship left a scar on the league. On the other hand, a conference championship never slowed down the SEC.

3. Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, asked about the impact of the Huskies’ new defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, said a defense can dramatically improve in one season. As an example, he brought up New Mexico State head coach DeWayne Walker. That would be the same Walker who took over the UCLA defense in 2006, when Sark worked as assistant head coach and quarterback coach at USC. On the last weekend of the season, Walker’s defense led the Bruins to a 13-9 upset of the No. 2 Trojans, knocking them out of the BCS Championship Game.

Jim Mora, UCLA get rolling

April, 4, 2012
4/04/12
12:00
PM ET
Not unlike his pop -- "Playoffs? Playoffs?!" -- Jim Mora can be kind of a grump. Not in a "I hate the world" sort of way. More in a football coach-y way.

Which is why I got a kick out of Jon Gold's description of Mora from spring practice No. 1 for UCLA -- Mora's first practice since his ugly departure from the Seattle Seahawks.
The huge smile on Jim Mora's face after the first practice of UCLA's spring football campaign really told the whole story. Perhaps no one was more excited to be back out on the field than he was.

It's been more than two years since he's been on the practice field -- two years, three months, as Mora pointed out, and yes, it appears he's been counting -- and he took out all his frustration on his throat. He was more hoarse than an auctioneer by the time he addressed the media, after spending 2+ hours sprinting everywhere on the field.
[+] EnlargeJim Mora
AP Photo/Kevin ReeceOne of Jim Mora's first challenges will be sorting out the Bruins' situation at quarterback.
Every coach is motivated to win. For one, it's the only way to avoid getting fired. But the very circumstances surrounding Mora's hiring -- his being a lifelong NFL coach who's been out of the game for an extended period of time -- could actually become a positive here. For one, he's hungry to re-enter a competitive environment. Instead of feeling entitled, he's grateful for an opportunity. He's eager to teach, which is more a part of the college game than in the NFL. And, though he likely would never use the term, he also wants to take control of his coaching legacy. Yes, Mora is well aware that some doubt him.

Of course, we typed just about the exact same thing when Rick Neuheisel returned to his alma mater to redeem himself in 2008. At the time, I must confess I -- wrongly -- felt a high degree of certainty he would succeed. (Though, as I've told Neuheisel, I was skeptical about the initial mix of coaching personalities around him, notably the so-called dream team of offensive coordinator Norm Chow and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker.)

It seems like we've been talking about a "culture change" with UCLA football since the declining years of the Bob Toledo administration, which ended nearly a decade ago. But that's Mora's chief task. It's the Point A even before Mora and the Bruins can turn their attention to that school across town, whose (again) rising fortunes don't make anything easier in Westwood.

Gold provides a nice preview of specific -- and less philosophical -- issues the Bruins face this spring. More than a few fans would say the chief task is developing competency at quarterback, which is the primary challenge for new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Mazzone is best known for transforming Arizona State's Brock Osweiler from a basketball player who dabbled at quarterback into a potential first-day NFL draft pick this spring.

Gold's take on the quarterback competition is interesting. While many Bruins fans -- and not a few reporters -- are eager for the newness of touted redshirt freshman Brett Hundley to overtake the more experienced but inconsistent Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, Gold sees Prince and Brehaut as the front-runners.
Brett Hundley and T.J. Millweard will vie for the position in spring ball as well, but it will likely come down to the two seniors, Prince and Brehaut. Prince gets the first snaps, but Brehaut should follow close behind. If one of them shows tremendous consistency with the short pass and develops a good rhythm early, it will go a long way in the coaches' eyes. They're certainly going to be looking out for it.

A single practice, particularly one not in full pads, doesn't reveal much. But here are three positives culled from reports from those on hand: 1. A demanding practice tempo -- a recurring theme among just about every observer -- should make it hard for the malaise of past years to endure; 2. Left offensive tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo, fresh off an LDS mission, looked fit and motivated. That could be transformative for the O-line; 3. Mazzone wants to spread the field. He needs guys to catch the ball. Devin Lucien, Shaq Evans and tight end Joseph Fauria are fully capable of helping him do that. Now he only needs four more guys.
The system of checks and balances is working in Los Angeles. Just consider new UCLA coach Jim Mora's recent hiring of a new new strength and conditioning coach.

The media in Los Angeles is calling attention to a horrible — and infamous — mistake Sal Alosi made when he worked for the New York Jets. It is opining on the riskiness of Mora's hire.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Nick Ut/AP PhotoUCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, left, poses with new head football coach Jim Mora on Dec. 13, 2011.
That is good. That is the media doing its job, holding public figures accountable for their actions.

And Mora and Alosi are talking about the hiring. They are not hiding.

"I understand the criticism, I expect the criticism, it's completely warranted," Mora told LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke. "But I know the fiber of this man."

That is good: Public figures stepping forward to explain themselves in a controversial situation.

And, by the way, well said, Jim.

I love Mora's hire here all the more, even without knowing a whole lot about Alosi as a strength coach, other than that he seems highly respected by a number of NFL players.

As you long-time readers know, I am a big second-chance guy. I believed LeGarrette Blount deserved a second chance. I believed Rick Neuheisel deserved a second chance. I think the ranting and raving of absolutists who act like everything is black-and-white is a pose, one that my life experience has often found to be situational and hypocritical.

But this isn't about praising Mora for giving a guy a second chance. It's about Mora doing what he wants to do with his team and not fretting the PR angles. This is a revealing moment that Bruins fans should feel good about.

Here's a secret of all good head coaches: They insist on autonomy. They hire who they want to hire. They don't allow administrators to dictate whom they hire. Sure, there are obvious parameters -- felonies and NCAA violations tend to disqualify assistant coaching candidates. But the quickest and surest path to failure is a new head coach taking a job and then being steered to hire assistants he doesn't know.

Perhaps the most important quality for a head coach is being a good CEO, and the first thing a good CEO does is hire the right people. He needs to build a cohesive unit that functions on efficiency. To do that, he needs to know whom he's hiring. How he works. How he takes suggestions and criticism. How he teaches and motivates. His work ethic, both on the field and in recruiting.

Further, it's also about loyalty. An assistant who isn't connected to a head coach often feels little reason not to undermine him "off-the-record" if things get tough.

The worst case I can think of was Terry Bowden at Auburn back in the 1990s. His fatal mistake was retaining assistants who worked for Pat Dye. That became a train wreck of epic proportions.

UCLA fans are well-aware of another: Neuheisel's second chance was a dream — coaching his alma mater — that turned into a nightmare, in large part because he agreed to hire Norm Chow as his offensive coordinator and retain DeWayne Walker as his defensive coordinator. Chow and Walker are outstanding coaches, no doubt. But they weren't Neuheisel's guys. A major part of the problem in Westwood the past four years was a lack of cohesion on the Bruins coaching staff.

Obviously, this isn't the same thing. We're talking about a strength coach, not a coordinator. But I am choosing to freight the hiring of Alosi with meaning, meaning that speaks well of Mora and the early — early! — trajectory of his tenure.

Mora wanted to hire Alosi. He knew there would be some negative blowback, and not without justification. But he met that blowback head-on, and now he's got a the strength coach he wanted.

And he's got a strength coach who probably feels pretty darn obligated to bust his rear end and repay Mora's faith in him with a finely conditioned football team.

Neuheisel never got traction at UCLA

November, 28, 2011
11/28/11
7:06
PM ET
Rick Neuheisel spent the last few weeks tirelessly lobbying to keep his job at UCLA, displaying the "relentless optimism" that he has often cited as a foundation for success.

On Monday, less than hour after his termination was announced, a subdued Neuheisel seemed to have a good grasp on why he's not coming back for a fifth year.

"Certainly when you're the UCLA coach you'd like to play better against USC, I know that," Neuheisel said. "We had our chances. When you lose in the fashion that we did, it's a difficult pill to swallow."

[+] EnlargeRick Neuheisel
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireRick Neuheisel's teams were never able to find any rhythm in his four seasons as UCLA's coach.
You can't go 21-28 in four seasons at UCLA, the lowest win percentage -- .429 -- by any Bruins football coach who was around for at least 20 games. You can't go 0-4 versus USC. And you absolutely can not lose 50-0 to the Trojans, as Neuheisel did on Saturday in a game that was widely viewed as his Rubicon.

The source for Neuheisel's comments was ironic, considering the circumstances. He was appearing on a conference call in advance of the Pac-12 championship game. You surely have heard -- it's been relentlessly mocked everywhere -- that UCLA, despite a 6-6 record and said loss to USC, is playing No. 9 Oregon in the conference's first championship game.

The Bruins are the South Division "champions." And their coach is out after the championship game. Offensive coordinator Mike Johnson will be interim head coach starting next week, according to a statement from the school.

So what if the Bruins, 31-point underdogs, win and earn a berth in the Rose Bowl?

"Let's ask that question at the appropriate time," Neuheisel said.

It is, however, the appropriate time to ask why things didn't work out for Neuheisel at his alma mater, where he once went from walk-on QB to Rose Bowl MVP.

It went wrong from the beginning when Neuheisel agreed to form a "dream team" with offensive coordinator Norm Chow and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker. That was a mismatched troika from the start. Also, it's head coaching 101: Never, ever take a job where they suggest/tell you who will be on your staff.

Walker bolted after a year to become head coach New Mexico State, and the Bruins never again got good production at defensive coordinator. Chow hung around, but that turned out to be a bad thing. He and Neuheisel seemed to get along personally but not as coaches. The switch to a pistol offense was messy, and the prolonged process of cutting ties last winter just months after Chow was given an ill-advised contract extension was an ugly tango.

Recruiting peaked in 2010 -- the nation's 10th-ranked class -- and cratered in 2011.

And, really, Neuheisel never developed traction. Neuheisel upset Tennessee in his first game. The next week, the Bruins lost 59-0 at BYU. A 3-0 start in 2009 was followed by five consecutive losses. A strong 2009 finish was followed by an 0-2 start to 2010. A three-game winning streak after that 0-2 start -- including a win at Texas -- was followed by six losses in seven games. This year, the Bruins had won three of four before getting thumped by USC.

Neuheisel lost by 21, 21, 14 and 59 points to the Trojans.

The next coach can't do that.

What can we say nice about Neuheisel's tenure? Some used to question his character. That no longer is an issue. Neuheisel was by the book at UCLA and always conducted himself with class and graciousness. And that was doubly true of his conduct on a day that clearly knocked him for a loop.

Of his time at UCLA, Neuheisel said, "It won't be a bitter memory at all." As for what went wrong, he said, "I have plenty of time to think that over. I'm just thankful for the opportunity. This has always been a place where I wanted to have a chance to bring it back to being a place where everyone could be proud. Obviously, we have fallen short of that, but there are lots of things I'm proud of that happened during my time here. They don't always make it to the front pages of a newspaper."

According to the Los Angeles Times, Neuheisel's buyout is only $250,000. So he'll need to start thinking about his future fairly quickly, something he hadn't done on Monday.

"This has kind of hit me between the eyes a little bit," he said. "I hadn't thought about that. I'm on one track to do the best I can for this particular team. That'll be the case at least through Friday. I love coaching. I know that. I'll take some time to figure it out."

It's hard to imagine Neuheisel getting another shot atop a AQ-conference program any time soon. He could return to the NFL as an assistant. Or he could go into broadcasting.

What's next for UCLA? Almost immediately, big names were included in reports. ESPNLa.com reported that Boise State's Chris Petersen will be athletic director Dan Guerrero's first target. The LA Times said Guerrero "is expected to make a trip to Boise to meet with Petersen. UCLA is believed to be able to offer a contract worth more than $3 million annually that includes donations from boosters."

We'll see. I'd rate those odds as remote, though getting Petersen would be a monumental coup. The Times also lists Houston coach Kevin Sumlin and former NFL coach Jon Gruden as candidates. Yes, at this early juncture, you roll out the usual suspects.

But there's the immediate present first: Neuheisel's final game, one that most would project as a blowout defeat.

Neuheisel has made a habit of finding ways out of messes throughout his tumultuous career. But he wasn't able to do that UCLA, and it's hard to imagine a happy ending for the Bruins on Friday in Eugene.

Non-AQ Weekend Rewind

September, 12, 2011
9/12/11
1:00
PM ET
The good: It was a weekend of big wins for non-AQs. FIU picked up the first win against an AQ team in school history when the Panthers upset Louisville 24-17. New Mexico State stunned Minnesota 28-21, picking up its first win against a Big Ten team, and first win against an AQ opponent since defeating Arizona State in 1999. The Aggies have been one of the worst teams in college football -- coach DeWayne Walker has won six games there in three seasons. Taveon Rogers had two touchdowns and 88 yards receiving.

[+] EnlargeGeorge O'Leary
AP Photo/Reinhold MatayCentral Florida and coach George O'Leary dominated Boston College.
Meanwhile, Conference USA pulled out two wins against AQ opponents: UCF handled Boston College 30-3 and Rice beat Purdue 24-22. Both were milestone wins. Though UCF has beaten AQ programs before, the Knights had never done so at home. They are off to their first 2-0 start since 1998, a season removed from making the Top 25 for the first time in program history. Rice had lost 22 consecutive games to AQ opponents. The win was the Owls' first against a Big Ten team since a 40-34 win at Northwestern in 1997.

TCU rebounded in a big way against Air Force, winning 35-19 in a game that was never close. In fact, the Horned Frogs led 35-9 in the fourth quarter, and played much better on defense, even without leading tackler Tanner Brock.

The heartbreak: The MAC easily had the most heartbreaking day. Central Michigan, Toledo and Northern Illinois had leads on their AQ opponents only to come up just short.

Central Michigan led the Wildcats 13-6 at halftime and had outgained them 227 yards to 94. But the turning point came midway through the third quarter, when coach Dan Enos elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 34. Tim Phillips ran for no gain. Kentucky scored on the next play to tie the game at 13, and Central Michigan never scored again in 27-13 loss.

Toledo had Ohio State on the ropes, but the Rockets killed themselves with one mistake after another: 14 penalties for 102 yards; a missed 45-yard field goal and botched hold on a 50-yard attempt; allowing a punt return for a score. A final interception from Terrance Owens on the Ohio State 17 with 48 seconds closed out a 27-22 loss.

Northern Illinois lost to Kansas 45-42 with 9 seconds left when Jayhawks quarterback Jordan Webb threw a 6-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to B.J. Beshears. The Huskies had taken the lead with 5:03 remaining when Jasmin Hopkins scored on a 1-yard touchdown run. Kansas converted two fourth down opportunities on the winning drive. Chandler Harnish finished 27-of-33 for 315 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and added 89 yards and a career-high three touchdowns on the ground. Harnish has 11 total touchdowns in two games this season.

Not to be outdone, Fresno State and BYU each had halftime leads in their games before losing. The Bulldogs gave up a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that turned the tide and lost to No. 10 Nebraska 42-29. ... BYU led Texas 13-3 but the Longhorns changed quarterbacks in the second half and that seemed to spark them to a 16-13 win. The BYU offense has not exactly gotten immediate results from new offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. The Cougars rank No. 108 in the nation in total offense (275.5 ypg), and No. 107 in scoring offense (15 ppg). Despite that, they could very easily be 2-0.

The ugly: The offense clearly was not invited to the Louisiana-Kent State game. The teams combined for 19 first downs, seven turnovers and 15 penalties in one of the ugliest games of the day. Louisiana had 159 total yards; Kent State 186. Louisiana quarterback Chris Masson threw for 18 yards.

Army was one of the best teams in the nation last season in turnover margin, but so far this season, turnovers have been a big problem in an 0-2 start. In a 23-20 loss to San Diego State, the Black Knights fumbled eight times -- losing three. In two games, Army has given the ball away six times and is at minus-4 in turnover ratio.

Record watch:

  • Ohio coach Frank Solich notched his 100th career win Saturday in a 30-3 win against Gardner-Webb.
  • Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis broke Brett Favre's school passing yards mark of 7,695, in a 26-20 loss to Marshall.
  • Houston quarterback Case Keenum threw for 458 yards and five touchdowns in a 48-23 win against North Texas. He moved into fourth place on the FBS career list for passing yards (14,354) and tied Danny Wuerffel for sixth in career passing touchdowns with 114.
  • Pete Thomas became the first sophomore quarterback in Colorado State history to reach 3,000 yards passing. In a 33-14 win against Northern Colorado, Thomas was 28-for-42 for 259 yards and a touchdown -- but he also threw three interceptions.
Injury update: Colorado State linebacker Mychal Sisson broke his ankle in the second quarter against Northern Colorado and is out indefinitely. Coach Steve Fairchild said the hope is for Sisson to be able to return later this season. ... UTEP starting quarterback Nick Lamaison separated his shoulder in a loss to SMU. ... Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson was pulled from the loss to TCU and got precautionary X-rays after the game for an undisclosed injury. Nose guard Ryan Gardner injured his knee.

Helmet stickers

Eugene Cooper, WR, Bowling Green. Had career-highs in catches (6), yards (134) and touchdowns (4) in the Falcons’ 58-13 win against Morgan State. Cooper’s four receiving touchdowns tied a school record for touchdown catches in a single game.

Jerome Long, DT, San Diego State. Had a career-high 10 tackles in a 23-20 win against Army, and his sack on a critical third-down on Army's last drive of the game took Army out of field goal range.

T.Y. Hilton, WR, FIU. Set a career-high and school record with 201 yards receiving and two touchdowns in a 24-17 upset win against Louisville.

Adrien Cole, LB, Louisiana Tech. Had 9 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and blocked Central Arkansas’ field goal in overtime, his second blocked field goal in as many games.

UCF defense. Held Boston College to three points and 84 yards passing in the 30-3 win. The Knights have yet to allow 100 passing yards in a game this season and have limited their first two opponents to three points and 260 total yards.

Neuheisel shrugs off hot seat talk

April, 22, 2011
4/22/11
2:00
PM ET
LOS ANGELES -- Football coaches get paid big money for high-profile jobs, and fans and administrators expect consistently good results. The threat of getting fired for perceived failure is part of the deal, so hot seat lists for head coaches are part of the annual flow of offseason reports from the media.

UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, after a second 4-8 finish in three years atop his alma mater, will be high on many of those hot seat lists heading into the 2011 campaign. Although deciding what would define a successful season that would cool his toasty stool is a purely speculative task -- a bowl game? eight wins? beating USC? -- it's not unfair to declare that the program needs an uptick. And Neuheisel knows this.

But the hot seat is a bit like "Fight Club." You don't talk about it. Not much, anyway. What good would it do?

"I don't feel it. I'm sure it's there," Neuheisel said. "I don't go up there and sit in [the athletic director's] office and ask every day, but I don't feel it."

What Neuheisel did feel this offseason was a need for change. So he dramatically reshaped his staff: five new coaches, including two new coordinators. He also gave himself the toughest job: quarterbacks coach. The success of the 2011 season may hinge on how consistent and productive the Bruins quarterback is, and considering the Bruins haven't been consistent or productive at the position since Drew Olson graduated in 2005, well, that's even more pressure.

"I'm putting it on me," Neuheisel said. "And I don't want it on anybody else's shoulders. It's been hard for me to watch that position coached by somebody else, and that's no knock on [former offensive coordinator Norm Chow]. Norm's got three Heisman Trophy quarterbacks. But it's what I do. It's what I enjoy doing. I'm excited about the challenge."

Ah, Chow.

[+] EnlargeRick Neuheisel
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesUCLA coach Rick Neuheisel doesn't feel any "hot seat" pressure.
When Neuheisel was hired before the 2008 season, part of the deal was retaining Bruins defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker -- who was a candidate for the job Neuheisel got -- and hiring Chow to run the offense. It was sold as a coaching superteam. One suspects, though Neuheisel doesn't explicitly say so, that it was part of the conversation before he was hired as head coach.

The celebrated arrangement, however, proved a failure. Walker bolted after one year to become head coach at New Mexico State, which is like saying he ran off to Hades to relieve Sisyphus. Chow and Neuheisel divorced this offseason.

"It was a different way of putting a staff together than I'd done at either Washington or Colorado -- this was the first time I ever worked with people that I didn't know," Neuheisel said of the ill-fated troika. "No bad guys. Just philosophy. You can sit in one room and agree that we are all together, but when you splinter off, are you really?"

Enter Mike Johnson to run the Bruins' offense and Joe Tresey to run the defense. Johnson and Neuheisel go way back. They met when Johnson was a backup quarterback at Arizona State in the mid-1980s and Neuheisel was playing in the USFL. They also coached together with the Baltimore Ravens. Tresey and Neuheisel are new to each other, but at least he was Neuheisel's hire.

"I feel much better about the chemistry we have now, having put it together the way I used to put it together," Neuheisel said.

The big story last year was the Bruins' adopting the pistol offense, which was developed at Nevada. The idea was to bolster the sagging running game. Even then, many wondered if Chow would buy in after running a West Coast, pro-style offense his entire career. The pistol helped the running game, but the passing game swirled into the toilet.

If you are looking for potential issues now -- even with the new arrangement -- it could be the "too many cooks in the kitchen" theory.

Johnson is the coordinator and receivers coach and a longtime NFL assistant with no pistol, spread-option background. Neuheisel is coaching the quarterbacks. And Jim Mastro, hired away from Nevada, is the running game coordinator. How will they all mesh into their defined tasks on Saturdays, particularly when the screws tighten in critical conference games?

"It's defined," Johnson said. "My job as offensive coordinator is not to come up with all the ideas. It's to be the leader of the group."

The first order of business is finding a leader on the field at quarterback, but that remains unresolved this spring. Kevin Prince, the injury-prone starter for much of the past two seasons, hasn't been available thanks to a knee injury. Richard Brehaut would start if the Bruins were playing a real game and not their spring game on Saturday. Touted true freshman Brett Hundley has flashed potential at times but is still getting used to the speed of the college game.

The second issue is the offensive line, which has suffered injury woes this spring.

"We got to get lucky there," Neuheisel said.

As a program, the Bruins haven't experienced much luck since going 10-2 in 2005. While rival USC surged, there was only inconsistency and instability in Westwood. When Neuheisel was hired and USC fell afoul of the NCAA shortly thereafter, it seemed as though the Bruins' moment had arrived. Yet, so far, that hasn't proven the case, and a poor 2011 recruiting class while the Trojans ended up ranked in the top five didn't help the hot seat perception.

As Neuheisel said, he's putting it on himself to push the program forward. And if it doesn't work out?

"If it were to happen, that they were to replace me, I'm confident I would find another job," he said. "It wouldn't be the end of the world. I don't think my kids would starve. But I'm adamantly wanting to be here because this is my school and I believe we're closing in on where we want to go."
SALT LAKE CITY -- Circle the date in red: UCLA at Utah on Nov. 12. The Norm Chow-Rick Neuheisel showdown. Emotions will be high as two coaches seek vindication after their failed marriage in Westwood. These guys, clearly, don't like each other.

At least that would be the fun, grudge-match angle.

"Rick's a good guy," Chow said. "There's no bad feelings." And Neuheisel has repeatedly said the same about Chow.

Now, we're not going to smooth over this. Chow, by any measure one of the best offensive minds in the history of college football, didn't succeed at UCLA. The Bruins offense mostly stunk during his three-year tenure. Not all the blame belongs to Chow. Not all the blame belongs to Neuheisel, an offensive-minded head coach who isn't the hands-off sort. Not all the blame falls on the middling talent. What is clear is that Neuheisel cleaned house at UCLA this offseason, and Chow ended up at Utah. And the Chow-Neuheisel separation was a laborious process that required weeks to finalize.

[+] EnlargeNorm Chow
Dustin Snipes/Icon SMINorm Chow has gone from Rick Neuheisel and UCLA to Pac-12 newcomer Utah.
But the endgame is this: Chow ended up at Utah, his alma mater, and with a head coach, Kyle Whittingham, whom he knows well. His marching orders are to remake the Utes offense in his preferred image: pro-style, West Coast (you know: the scheme he developed during his quarter century coaching at BYU).

Whittingham and Chow both say they connected over Tim Davis, whom Whittingham was considering -- and eventually hired -- as his new offensive line coach. Davis had coached with Chow at USC. So Whittingham made inquiries and that conversation led to a, "So, Norm, how are things in Westwood?"

Not so good, said Chow. Whittingham sensed an opportunity.

"Was I looking to make a change?" Whittingham said. "No, not necessarily. But never would I pass up an opportunity to make ourselves better."

Said Chow, "He knew he wanted to change to a more power, down-hill running game."

It took more than a month to cross the Ts and dot the Is, but here is Chow, weaning the Utes away from their spread offense a year after he was charged -- with some discomfort -- with teaching the Bruins the Nevada pistol.

Chow, seven practices into his new job, seems to like what he sees, even though his starting quarterback, Jordan Wynn, can't throw due to shoulder surgery. Wynn, apparently, has shown Chow plenty without throwing a pass.

"Just sitting in meetings with him, it's extremely obvious he's very bright," Chow said. "To me the key element for a quarterback is you've got to be smart. He gets it all."

Chow likes his receivers, believes his offensive line is solid and thinks new additions, Harvey Langi and John White, will be able to get the job done at running back. He likes the Utes intangibles, too.

"Kyle has done a terrific job of preparing them to practice," Chow said.

As for Chow's players, they still seem a little in awe of him. Said Wynn "I honestly didn't expect him to come here. I was like, 'I'll believe it when I actually see him here in Utah gear.' But it happened. It's a great honor to play for him."

Added offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom, "I was waiting for them to say, 'We're bringing back Paul "Bear" Bryant, getting the coaching dream team together.'"

Of course, the adulation won't last if the Utes don't score points. It seemed like Neuheisel enlisted a "dream team" when he had Chow and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker on his 2008 staff. No dreams came of that, unless you're talking about some nightmarish games.

By the time, the UCLA heads to Salt Lake City for a Pac-12 South Division clash, it's likely the newness of Chow will have worn off and the point-production will be what matters.

Chow seems amused knowing that reporters will be eager to play up the perceived emotions of the matchup. Recall that he went through the same routine when the Bruins played USC, where he made beautiful music with Pete Carroll until those two went all Lennon and McCartney and fell out.

This is not, as Chow said, his "first rodeo."

"The minute the game starts, those become just guys in a different jersey," Chow said. "You guys can worry about that."

Non-AQ helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 10, 2010
10/10/10
2:01
AM ET
Time to give out some non-AQ helmet stickers:

Air Force KR Jonathan Warzeka. Tied an NCAA mark with a 100-yard kickoff return in a 49-27 win over Colorado State. Incredibly, Warzeka also had a 100-yard kickoff return against Houston in the 2009 Armed Forces Bowl. The NCAA doesn't add the yards in the end zone so 100 yards is the maximum anyone can return a kick.

Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn. Went 23-of-31 for 325 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a 68-27 win over Iowa State. The Utes had their highest scoring output since beating Wyoming 69-14 in 1983. Seven different players scored for Utah, which scored 31 unanswered points in the second quarter to blow the game open again. Shaky Smithson deserves mention, too. He threw for a touchdown pass and caught another for 293 total yards.

Western Michigan kicker John Potter. Recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff, had a field goal, hit six extra points and scored his first career touchdown on a second quarter fake field goal from 8 yards out in a 45-16 win over Ball State. Potter also had another tackle Saturday to extend his own record to 21 career tackles -- the most by a kicker in school history.

SMU quarterback Kyle Padron. Went 27-of-40 for 381 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in a 21-18 win over Tulsa. Padron has thrown for more than 370 yards in back-to-back victories. SMU (4-2) is off to its best start since 1986, when the Mustangs started 5-1.

Hawaii WR Greg Salas. Had nine catches for 148 yards and three touchdowns in a 49-27 upset win over Fresno State. The Warriors have the nation’s best pass offense behind Bryant Moniz, who threw for more than 300 yards again, and won their third straight game.

New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker. Down to his third quarterback, the Aggies were able to win their first game of the season 16-14 over rival New Mexico in the Land of Disenchantment Bowl. Matt Christian sat out with an injury. His replacement, Tanner Rust, got hurt, and Andrew Manley led the team to the win. Manley completed both of his pass attempts to set up Ryan Stampler's 22-yard field goal with 1:56 remaining to win the game.

FIU coach Mario Cristobal. His team racked up 235 yards rushing to win its first game of the season 28-21 over Western Kentucky. A late defensive stand preserved the victory.
The sorriest state for college football is New Mexico, where two programs are struggling to do much of anything right.

New Mexico and New Mexico State are two of the worst programs in America, having won a combined four games since the start of 2009.

They are among six winless teams going into their big showdown Saturday in Las Cruces. Hey, at least one team will win. That is probably the best thing you can say about the contest featuring two programs in desperate need of a turnaround.

“When I took this job, I knew it was a graveyard for coaches, but that was a chance I was willing to take,” New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker said. “You’re not going to change a program with a history of losing overnight. Hopefully, the university gives me time to do it right.”

[+] EnlargeDeWayne Walker
John Rieger/US PresswireDeWayne Walker knew he was in for a challenge when he took the job at New Mexico State.
Rebuilding is never easy, and both coaches knew they would be in for many nights of frustration. Walker and New Mexico coach Mike Locksley are in their second seasons trying to put their stamp on the struggling programs, but have been met with unfulfilling results.

New Mexico went 1-11 last season, and New Mexico State went 3-10. A quick look at the NCAA stats this season shows them at the bottom of the rankings.

In total offense, New Mexico State ranks No. 116 and New Mexico No. 118. In total defense, New Mexico ranks No. 116 and New Mexico State No. 120. In scoring defense, they are the two worst in the country. In scoring offense, New Mexico is at No. 117 and New Mexico State is at No. 118. The Lobos are losing by an average of 40 points a game; the Aggies are losing by an average of 34 points a game.

When asked directly whether he thought the two New Mexico teams were the worst in the country, Locksley said, “I haven’t seen enough football to say. I haven’t been happy with the outcome of our games, but I’ve also seen some things in our program that leads us to believe we’re headed in the right direction.”

Locksley survived last season even though he served a 10-day suspension for an altercation with an assistant coach and also was the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit.

But fans have grown disenchanted with him, believing him to be in over his head. There was even a report last month that he would be fired after this game and replaced by former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. Both New Mexico and Leach denied the report.

Either way, New Mexico does have some history of winning. The Lobos have been to 11 bowl games, including a run of five straight between 2002-07 under Rocky Long. New Mexico State has had no such success. The Aggies have only been to three bowl games, and their 49-year bowl drought is the longest among FBS teams.

[+] EnlargeMike Locksley
AP Photo/Rick BowmerMike Locksley hopes he's given the time to turn things around at New Mexico.
Some old-time fans point to the curse of Warren Woodson, the last coach to have sustained success at New Mexico State in the 1950s and ‘60s. In 1960, the Aggies posted the only undefeated season in school history and finished the year ranked No. 17 in the AP poll. They beat Utah State in the Sun Bowl -- their last bowl appearance.

But Woodson was forced out after the 1967 season because he was on the verge of 65. University administrators used a state clause that requires employees to retire at that age. New Mexico State has had four winning seasons since then, the last in 2002.

“We have no history of winning,” Walker said. “When we compare our program to New Mexico, Rocky Long built somewhat of a winning program when he was there. When you look at the resources we have compared to New Mexico, it’s not even close.

“I just think at some point, everybody from the administration to the community, we’re going to have to make a decision on how bad do we want a legitimate football program. It’s not about how many head coaches you’re going to bring in to rely on a miracle. We’re going to have to collectively sit down and figure it out.”

Last year, New Mexico State asked fans to donate snacks for its players because the athletic department was forced to trim over $1 million from its budget. The department remains in a deep hole. A university decision earlier this summer to shift $4.1 million annually from education to the athletics program drew faculty outcry.

Both coaches are realistic and know winning is not going to happen overnight. They are asking for patience.

“You want it now and unfortunately we don’t have the control of when that mindset or when that change takes place,” Locksley said. “All you can do is continue to stress the things that are important to your program and continue to recruit to the type of players who fit what you do. ... I see us making small steps toward moving in that direction.”

All quiet on Twitter front

August, 13, 2010
8/13/10
12:02
PM ET
New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker became the second coach in as many weeks to ban his players from using Twitter, joining Boise State coach Chris Petersen in barring the popular social networking tool.

Walker said Thursday at media day: "You've got 105 guys on your football team. It's not a matter of not trusting guys. Guys may say things and do things that can affect not only our football team, but our university, and not even mean it."

Indeed, several players got into trouble last season for their tweets. Former Texas Tech offensive lineman Brandon Carter announced via Twitter that he had been suspended for a game. He appeared to delete his account shortly after that. Meanwhile, linebacker Marlon Williams ripped former coach Mike Leach on Twitter and spewed profanity in another tweet after losing to Houston.

Former South Florida receiver Carlton Mitchell posted a tweet a few minutes before kickoff of the Wofford game, prompting coach Jim Leavitt to stop using Twitter. Current South Florida coach Skip Holtz says he has no ban on the social networking site.

Opinions on Twitter vary. Miami coach Randy Shannon says he has no use for it, and does not have account. But quarterback Jacory Harris does, and often posts his thoughts. Other coaches, like Les Miles, Steve Sarkisian and Jim Harbaugh are very active. Others have assistants put tweets out for them.

It will be interesting to see whether Twitter bans extend to other programs -- especially the bigger powerhouse teams. In the tight-lipped, controlling environment that is college football today, athletes seem less able to talk openly and freely. We can look past these Twitter bans to another example -- starting this season, messages will no longer be allowed to appear on eye black thanks to recently adopted NCAA legislation. Many programs also bar true freshmen from addressing the media as well.
If you ask coach DeWayne Walker, he’d be hard-pressed to sell you on a strong position for his team. He was disappointed in last year’s effort and thought when his squad started the season 3-3 that it had the potential to win five or six games. But in the back half of the season, the offense failed to score consistently, which put more pressure on the defense and ultimately sent the Aggies into a six-game losing streak to end the year. But Walker is confident that his team will be better in 2010.

Here’s a look at the strongest and weakest positions for New Mexico State this spring:

Strongest position: Running back

Key returners: Senior Seth Smith (246 carries, 1,016 yards, one touchdown), sophomore Robert Clay (10 carries, 16 yards)

Key departures: None.

The skinny: The running game was one of the few bright spots for the Aggies last year and should be again with starter Seth Smith fully healthy. Smith played most of last season with a separated left shoulder and he injured his right one during spring drills, but he's expected to recover for the fall. He will have some capable backups in Robert Clay and junior college transfer Kenny Turner, who was an All-American. Running back is by far the deepest position for the Aggies and will be counted on to produce early while the quarterbacks and receivers get on the same page.

Weakest position: Linebacker

Key returners: None.

Key departures: Ross Conner (102 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, one sack), Jason Scott (104 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss), Jamar Cotton (40 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack), Sam King (15 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack)

The skinny: The Aggies lost their three starting linebackers from a year ago and primary backup Sam King, who decided to leave the team in the offseason. That left the Aggies with a lot of unknowns at the linebacker positions and a lot of players with little experience. Junior college transfer Frank Padilla, junior Boyblue Aoelua and sophomore B.J. Adolpho appear to be the top candidates to take over, but none of them has played a meaningful snap at linebacker. Last year’s linebackers were among the team’s leaders in tackles, so these players will have a lot to live up to.
The final batch of non-AQ teams begins spring football this week as many other teams are wrapping up their spring campaigns.

Here’s a look at the biggest issues facing the teams starting spring practice this week:

Kent State, April 5

Biggest issue: The Golden Flashes are looking for a pair of corners to complement their fifth-year senior safeties. Junior Josh Pleasant is the favorite to start in one of the cornerback spots, and junior Chris Gilbert, sophomore Sidney Saulter and redshirt freshman Darius Polk will challenge for the other side.

New Mexico State, April 5

Biggest issue: Scoring. The Aggies were the worst in total offense and scoring offense in the country last season. They averaged just 11.46 points per game. To that end, coach DeWayne Walker hired some new offensive coaches and recruited quarterbacks and running backs to help move the offense forward.

Fresno State, April 7

Biggest issue: Fresno State was originally supposed to start spring football on March 15. Coach Pat Hill said the Bulldogs would utilize its newfound athleticism and speed and add some spread concepts to the offense this spring. He did emphasize that the running game would still be a focus, but finding a new every-down back to replace Ryan Mathews will be a challenge.
New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker doesn’t want to compare his tenure with that of his predecessor, Hal Mumme, but he thinks its important to note that despite a 3-10 record in Walker's first season, the Aggies actually showed progress.

“At the end of the day, you want to be optimistic about everything,” Walker said. “I know when I compare our first year to coach Mumme’s first year, that’s a positive when you’re looking for positives. Basically, we matched his fourth year with the same record in our first year. Not that you want to compare records and all that, but from a positive standpoint you have to try to grab onto something.”

Accentuating the positives is Walker’s goal as he heads into his second spring season in early April. His Aggies started the 2009 season 3-3, but lost their final seven games and most weren’t even close. The Aggies ranked last in the country in total offense and scoring offense and ranked in the 100s in total and scoring defense. What started out as a promising season turned disastrous by mid-October.

“I thought we probably could have won at least two or three more games, but it is what it is,” Walker said. “We’re going to move forward. The most important thing is I feel we have a foundation and we have a team and that was probably the most important element of it, even more so than wins at the end of the day.”

Walker has brought in help on both sides of the ball through recruiting and transfers, but he said the biggest key to turning the Aggies' fortunes around would be the senior class. New Mexico State is a senior-laden team that includes 11 senior starters. Walker said despite the struggles last season, those players bought in and will be counted on to keep the team moving in the right direction.

“With the senior group we have coming back, they believe in our blueprint, in our vision and I think these seniors, they’re excited about continuing to work to change this program,” Walker said. “The one reason I’m optimistic is I think this senior class is a for-real senior class and I’m really anxious to see this class take this team over and try to do something that really hasn’t been done here for a while.”

New Mexico State hasn’t exactly had a lot of success during its history. It hasn’t had a winning season since 2002 (7-5) and has only had nine winning seasons since 1960. That 1960 campaign was the Aggies' finest when coach Warren B. Woodson led them to an 11-0 season and a 20-13 win over Utah State in the Sun Bowl. It was the last bowl berth for the Aggies, giving them the longest bowl-less streak in the country.

“With this team being together for a year now and with the foundation and understanding of my coaching style, we have for the most part our scheme’s in place, I think it’s going to be interesting to see,” Walker said. “We feel like we’ve established a football team even though we made some adjustments on the staff. We feel like our staff is stronger. We feel like our football team is stronger. I think this is the year where we’re going to find out where we are and how much we can close the gap from Year 1 to Year 2.”
It’s hard being a defensive-minded coach in the WAC, and New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker found that out the hard way last season.

[+] EnlargeDeWayne Walker
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteDeWayne Walker has its work cut out for him: The Aggies ranked 103rd in total defense in 2009.
Walker, who took the New Mexico State job last season after serving as the defensive coordinator at UCLA, didn’t know just how tough bringing defense to one of the nation’s most offensive-minded conferences would be. The Aggies, who finished 3-10 last year, ranked 103rd in total defense, allowing 423.62 yards per game -- one of seven teams in the WAC that ranked 90th or lower in the country in total defense.

But Walker hasn’t given up the dream of making New Mexico State one of the better defensive teams in the league. In fact, he’s embraced it. He’s challenged himself and his team to be the defensive team he envisioned -- the team that gave up 24 points per game in the first half of the season, not the one that allowed 44.3 ppg in the second half of the year.

“We don’t want shootouts, we want to be able to play some defense,” Walker said. “I’m a defensive coach. I want to be able to establish one of the better defenses in our conference. I know Boise State, they’ve been kingpin as a team and one of the better offenses and defenses in the conference. We want to be able to play some defense in an offensive conference.”

Walker isn’t naive. He knows that just having a good defense isn’t going to win him games in a conference that featured six of the top 50 scoring offenses in the country.

Last year, New Mexico State was last in the country in scoring with 11.46 points per game. The Aggies had a 1,000-yard rusher that scored just one touchdown. Quarterbacks Jeff Fleming and Trevor Walls combined for 1,141 total yards and six touchdowns. To put that in perspective, Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore eclipsed that passing total before the end of the fourth game of the season and had thrown more touchdowns passes by Game 3. Fleming had more interceptions in his first three games than Moore had all season.

Through the Aggies first six games, the offense averaged 16 points per game. They were down to 8.8 in the second half.

“You hate to pick on one side of the ball, but when we were 3-3, we were averaging 17 to 20 points per game and we’re 3-3,” Walker said. “So, defensively, we were fighting our tails off to keep the scores down. And then when you get to your last half of the season and you’re only averaging seven points a game, you’re not going to win. We’re not the ’85 [Chicago] Bears on defense. We have an identity on defense and I think our guys laid a foundation, but you’re just not going to have a lot of success as a football team if you can’t score some points.”

Walker hired a new offensive coordinator and is in the process of hiring a new running backs coach. He has a lot of confidence in his senior class and has seen a sense of determination this offseason. While a three-win season isn't earth-shattering, it was better than the first year of Walker’s predecessor, Hal Mumme, who went 0-12.

Looking back, Walker said he thought his team could have won two or three more games than it did and he’s using those games as teaching tools and motivation for his players.

Now, he’s hoping that they respond.

“One [winning] year doesn’t really establish consistency when you compare your program to Fresno and Nevada and Boise,” Walker said. “I want to be able to build a program that’s going to be consistent and not just going to be a flash in the pan. You need to have two or three winning seasons to put yourself in that class of quality teams in our conference.

“These kids here, they believe in us, and I just feel like as a coaching staff, we’re obligated to get this thing done.”

What to watch in the WAC this spring

February, 25, 2010
2/25/10
10:00
AM ET
Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:

Boise State Broncos
Spring practice starts: March 8
Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

" All starters but Kyle Wilson return in 2010. Jerrell Gavins, who started at Wilson's outside cornerback position during the Fiesta Bowl (Wilson moved to safety) likely will slip into that starting slot.

" With so many players returning and few questions to answer, the Broncos can really start working on the 2010 season. This will also be a good time to sort out the offensive line (10 O-linemen had at least one start last year) and looking for some redshirted playmakers that could find their way into the lineup this season.

" Defensive line coach Pete Kwiatkowski steps in as the new defensive coordinator for Justin Wilcox, who went to Tennessee, but don’t expect any major changes to the defense. Kwiatkowski was Wilcox’s mentor and the two shared the same vision for the Broncos defense.

Fresno State Bulldogs
Spring practice starts: March 15
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:

" Fresno State lost three top backs in Ryan Mathews, Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding and will spend the spring looking for a replacement. Robbie Rouse is the top returning back, but he’s a smaller back than the ones the Bulldogs lost. Look for Michael Harris to get a chance this spring.

" With Seyi Ajirotutu, Marlon Moore and Chastin West gone, the Bulldogs will be looking to fill their receiver depth to help starting quarterback Ryan Colburn. Coach Pat Hill noted on signing day that he wants to spread things out this year and he’s looking forward to some speed joining the team in the fall. In the meantime, sophomore Rashad Evans, redshirt freshman A.J. Johnson and sophomore J.J. Stallworth will work for playing time with Jamel Hamler and Devon Wylie.

" The defensive front, which struggled late against the running game (most notably Nevada and Wyoming), will be a focus this spring. The Bulldogs return nine starters from the bowl game, including All-WAC first team defensive end Chris Carter and linebacker Ben Jacobs.

Hawaii Warriors
Spring practice starts: April 1
Spring game: April 30

What to watch:

" The offensive line was a question heading into the 2009 season and will be again in 2010. The Warriors lose four senior starters, including center John Estes. Backups Kainoa LaCount, Matagisila Lefiti, Andrew Faaumu, Bronson Tiwanak, Clayton Laurel and Adrian Thomas will be among those competing for starting roles.

" Bryan Moniz finished the season as the starting quarterback and will go into spring ball as the leading candidate to start in 2010, but Shane Austin, who played some in 2009, will challenge for the starting role this spring. Moniz finished the season completing 57 percent of his passes for 2,396 yards, 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

" The Hawaii defense struggled some last year, but should be better if star linebacker Brashton Satele receives a sixth season. The Warriors will be looking for a new right tackle as well as a couple of starting linebackers, but the defense, which improved as the season progressed, should be a pleasant surprise in 2010.

Idaho Vandals
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 23

What to watch:

" The top priority this spring will be reloading the offensive line. The Vandals lost four starters on the offensive line, including All-American guard Mike Iupati. The only returner is left tackle Matt Cleveland. Guy Reynolds Jr. was Iupati’s backup, and players such as Clell Hasenbank, Tevita HalaHolo and Tyron Novikoff will be competing for starting roles.

" The offense carried the team last year, especially the passing game, but starting quarterback Nathan Enderle will have to work out three new receivers this spring. The biggest loss is slot Max Komar, who made key catches all season, including in the Humanitarian Bowl win over Bowling Green.

" The Idaho defense was one of the worst in the country allowing 433.23 yards per game and 36.00 points per game. More often than not, the Vandals were trying to outscore their opponents instead of stopping them defensively. Eleven players with starting experience from last year’s bowl team return; the only loss is strong safety Jeromy Jones. But with the way the defense played last season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some of those positions open this spring.

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Spring practice starts: March 17
Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

" The loss of running back Daniel Porter and tight end Dennis Morris takes out a lot of the offense and scoring the Bulldogs had in 2009. New head coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin will spend the spring looking for playmakers to fit their wide-open offensive style.

" Wide receiver will be a key competition this spring for Louisiana Tech’s new spread offense. Tennessee transfer Ahmad Paige and LSU transfer Tim Molton are both eligible and will join RP Stuart, Cruz Williams and Phillip Livas in the receiving corps.

" Louisiana Tech will be looking for some consistency in the punting game after Cade Glasgow struggled last year. Overall, the Bulldogs punting game averaged 32.91 yards per game, which ranked last in the WAC. The Bulldogs didn’t recruit a punter, so expect some potential walk-on help.

New Mexico State Aggies
Spring practice starts: April 5
Spring game: May 1

What to watch:

" Second-year coach DeWayne Walker was unhappy with the team's scoring, especially in the second half of the season, which prompted him to replace his offensive coordinator and running backs coach. His main priority this spring is finding some consistency at quarterback. Jeff Fleming and Trevor Walls return and redshirt freshman Tanner Rust and true freshman Andrew Manley will challenge, but junior college transfer Matt Christian is the favorite to be the starter.

" The running game was the one bright spot for the offense last season with Seth Smith rushing for 1,016 yards, but he had just one rushing touchdown. Redshirt freshman Marquese Dunn will get a look this spring and will challenge for playing time as Walker looks for playmakers.

" Shoring up a total defense that allowed 423.62 yards per game and 31.62 points per game will be Walker’s project this spring. The Aggies return some key players, but Walker said most of the help on the defensive line will come in the fall.

Nevada Wolf Pack
Spring practice starts: March 5
Spring game: April 3

What to watch:

" The running game is Nevada’s bread and butter and it should stay that way with quarterback Colin Kaepernick and star running back Vai Taua returning. However, the Wolf Pack need to spend this spring working on depth with players such as Lampford Mark, Mike Ball and Stefphon Jefferson.

" The offensive line needs to replace Kenneth Ackerman and Alonzo Durham this spring in order to keep the running game effective. Center Jeff Meads and tackle Jose Acuna are the primary backups for those two spots. The Wolf Pack also will look to build offensive line depth across the board.

" The Nevada defense will spend the spring learning a slightly altered 4-3 defensive scheme under new defensive coordinator Andy Buh. The defense has been the weak link of the Wolf Pack for the past few years, so shoring that up this spring will be a high priority.

San Jose State Spartans
Spring practice starts: March 12
Spring game: April 22

What to watch:

" For the second consecutive season, San Jose State had trouble producing offense mostly because of inconsistent play at quarterback. Jordan La Secla returns as the incumbent, but junior college transfer Matt Faulkner, who enrolled in January, will challenge this spring.

" For as much as the passing offense struggled, the rushing offense was worse. Lamon Muldrow, who led the team with 592 yards and three touchdowns last season will be counted on in the running game, but the Spartans signed three running backs for 2010, including Forrest Hightower, who will challenge in the fall.

" Most of spring practice will be spent learning the new coaching staff and the new offensive and defensive schemes. The Spartans are transitioning from a spread offense to a more traditional style that will incorporate an H-back and a tight end. The Spartans also will move toward an attacking style defense, but will stay in a 4-3 base that will feature both man-to-man and zone coverage.

Utah State Aggies
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

" The primary concern this spring will be finding running back depth after star Robert Turbin suffered a torn ACL during winter workouts. All eyes will be on Michael Smith, Derrvin Speight and Kerrwynn Williams as they try to pick up the slack.

" Second-year head coach Gary Andersen is showing his commitment to defense after shuffling several players on that side of the ball. Nathan Royster is moving from defensive tackle to end, Junior Keiaho and Devin Johnson are moving from end to linebacker, wide receiver Cameron Sanders has moved to defensive back and the Aggies are hoping to get some defensive contribution out of Page Clifford, a transfer from Utah.

" There should be some good competition at wide receiver this spring with Matt Austin returning from injury and Travis Van Leeuewen coming off a redshirt season. Mid-year signees Xavier Martin and Dontel Watkins also will challenge for starting roles. Utah State had a good passing offense with 246.75 yards per game from starter Diondre Borel.

SPONSORED HEADLINES