NCF Nation: Garrett Gilbert

McCarron, Miller among the best in Week 9

October, 29, 2013
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AP Photo/Paul VernonsBraxton Miller was at his best against Penn State.

Week 9 featured blowouts and surprises; the top four teams in the BCS standings won by a combined 144 points, yet No. 7 Miami needed a fourth-quarter comeback against Wake Forest to remain undefeated. South Carolina had a comeback of its own against No. 5 Missouri; the Gamecocks’ win probability fell to 2.8 percent before they scored 17 straight points to send the game to overtime.

With the help of ESPN’s new college football metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information takes a look back at the best individual and team performances of Week 9.

Best Individual Performances

AJ McCarron had a Week 9-high 97.4 opponent-adjusted QBR in Alabama’s 45-10 win against Tennessee. McCarron completed 9-of-12 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter. The Tide led 21-0 and had a 91 percent chance of winning after the first 15 minutes of play.

Blake Bortles posted a 97.0 opponent-adjusted QBR in UCF’s 62-17 win against Connecticut. Bortles had career highs in completion percentage (83.3 percent), touchdowns responsible for (five) and raw QBR (98.3) in that game.

Braxton Miller had a 95.7 opponent-adjusted QBR in Ohio State’s 63-14 win against Penn State. Miller threw for a career-high 252 yards and accounted for five touchdowns. This season, Miller leads the Big Ten in completion percentage (70.6 percent), third-down conversion percentage (45.7 percent) and opponent-adjusted QBR (80.4).

Jameis Winston had a 94.8 opponent-adjusted QBR in Florida State’s 49-17 win against North Carolina State. He now has an opponent-adjusted QBR of 90 or higher in each of his past four games, the longest active streak in the FBS.

Explaining Garrett Gilbert’s QBR

SMU’s Garrett Gilbert had 635 yards of total offense against Temple, the seventh-most by any player in FBS history. However, Gilbert’s opponent-adjusted QBR was ONLY a 84.9. Why?

First, Gilbert faced a Temple defense that was allowing a 68.3 Total QBR entering the game, third worst among BCS automatic qualifying conference defenses. As a result, Gilbert’s QBR fell almost 10 points when adjusted for the defense that he faced. Further, Gilbert started slow, holding a 58 Total QBR midway through the second quarter when the Mustangs were trailing 28-7. In the second half, he had a 99.2 Total QBR as he led SMU to a 59-49 victory.

Best Team Performances

Offense--Ohio State gained 686 yards and scored nine offensive touchdowns against Penn State. The Buckeyes added 42.8 expected points on offense, their most against an FBS opponent in the last 10 seasons. In terms of offensive EPA, Ohio State has two of the top four offensive outputs of the season.

Defense-- USC held Utah to three points and forced four turnovers in its 19-3 win. The Trojans contributed 31.1 expected points on defense and -13.5 expected points on offense and special teams combined. That means that if USC had an average defense (EPA = 0), and everything else remained the same, the Trojans would have lost by about two touchdowns.

Special Teams-- Louisiana Tech kicker Kyle Fischer made all five of his field goal attempts in Louisiana Tech’s 23-7 win at Florida International. Fischer’s five field goals were tied for the most by a player this season. Louisiana Tech punter Logan McPherson also had two punts that pinned Florida International inside of its own 15 yard line, including a punt downed at the Florida International 1 in the first quarter.

Looking ahead to Florida State vs Miami (Fla.)

No. 3 Florida State hosts No. 7 Miami (FL) (8 pm ET, ABC) in a top-10 matchup with plenty of history. It is the 13th time in series history that the two will meet with both in the Top 10, but the first such meeting since 2004.

This season, Florida State ranks second in offensive EPA per game and Miami ranks 12th in defensive EPA per game. However, the teams have been trending in opposite directions in their past four games.

Florida State’s average margin of victory in its past four games is 36.5 points, including two wins over ranked opponents by a combined 100 points. In those games, Winston has a 94.8 opponent-adjusted QBR, which leads the FBS during that time.

On the other hand, Miami has needed fourth-quarter comebacks against North Carolina and Wake Forest to remain undefeated. In each of those games, the Hurricanes’ win probability fell below 25 percent in the second half.

Further, Miami has had at least four turnovers in three of its past four games and has allowed 39 points off turnovers during that time.

Video: National player of the week

October, 28, 2013
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Mark Schlabach takes a look at SMU's Garrett Gilbert, who had a record-setting performance against Temple and is this week's five-star player of the week.

3-point stance: Oregon’s road test

October, 10, 2013
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1. Oregon plays its first ranked opponent this season when it goes to play its biggest out-of-state rival, No. 16 Washington. Duck quarterback Marcus Mariota is in the middle of setting a school record, having thrown 202 consecutive passes without an interception dating back to the 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford. Here’s a streak that may end Saturday: Mariota has yet to throw a pass in the fourth quarter in five games this season.

2. The story broke Thursday that Tennessee and Virginia Tech will play in 2016 somewhere within the 160,000-seat Bristol Motor Speedway. It’s safe to say that the game will set the modern attendance record, which Michigan raised to 115,109 earlier this season when Notre Dame made its last scheduled Big House appearance. However, the all-time record remains the estimated 120,000 who jammed into Soldier Field in Chicago for the first Notre Dame-USC game in the Midwest. The Irish won, 7-6, in 1927.

3. A lot of Texas fans date the beginning of the Longhorns’ woes to Colt McCoy’s shoulder injury early in 2009 BCS Championship Game. Austin native Garrett Gilbert replaced McCoy and acquitted himself well for a true freshman in that setting. But Gilbert proved prone to the big mistake, and he transferred last season to SMU. Last Saturday, Gilbert completed 45-of-70 passes for 484 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in the three-overtime loss to Rutgers. That’s the type of game everyone thought was in him.

Aggies' defense shows progress in win

September, 22, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Coming off a thriller that few will soon forget, No. 10 Texas A&M had a few questions to answer going into Saturday's battle with SMU.

Though it's way too early to surmise that they've permanently answered some of those questions, the Aggies certainly took steps toward a few solutions in their dominant 42-13 win over the Mustangs at Kyle Field.

The biggest question about the Aggies after three games surrounded their defense, or lack thereof. If Texas A&M (3-1) couldn't prove that it could get stops against an opponent like SMU (the Aggies already allowed significant yardage to Rice and Sam Houston State, though the unit was shorthanded for both games), when would it ever show that? The rest of A&M's SEC schedule is coming, starting with a road game at Arkansas on Sept. 28.

Fortunately for the Aggies, the unit showed some progress.

[+] EnlargeDeshazor Everett
AP Photo/Bob LeveyDeshazor Everett's move to safety this week was one of several moves that help jumpstart the Texas A&M defense.
Though SMU compiled 292 yards in the first three quarters as A&M built a 42-6 lead, the Aggies were stellar on third downs, holding the Mustangs to just four conversions on its first 14 attempts in that span and 5-of-16 for the game.

"We looked pretty fast out there tonight," Aggies defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "There were times where we looked extremely fast, which is what I was hoping was the case. We still have some areas that we've got to work on, but it was a much better game from our sideline tonight."

Snyder made two key personnel changes this week. He moved starting cornerback Deshazor Everett to safety to help address the issues the Aggies have had in coverage and he inserted true freshman Darian Claiborne into the starting lineup at middle linebacker.

"I think we have the right guys on the field right now," Snyder said. "[Claiborne] needs to play and needs to be on the field. He was able to make the adjustment from [weakside linebacker] to [middle linebacker] in a week. … I was really proud of him. He handled getting the front [seven] set, he brought a lot of energy, he's a lot like Steven Jenkins and I was very, very happy with that."

Everett spent time at both cornerback and safety last season, so it's not an unfamiliar move for the junior. By moving him back there, the Aggies moved third cornerback Tramain Jacobs to the starting lineup next to De'Vante Harris, and he didn't appear to miss a beat. Everett said because SMU runs an offense similar to A&M's, the transition was smooth.

"It was pretty simple," Everett said. "I see those formations a lot and I know what the safety's checks are to me at corner. … It kind of helped me because I know where the corner is going to be and where I should be if I were a corner, to want safety help."

Was Saturday a sign that a cure-all is coming to a defense that ranked in the bottom 20 in the nation in total yards allowed and rushing yards allowed coming into the game? Far from it. But it was a much-needed positive performance from a group that has struggled through youth, inexperience and missing personnel because of suspensions or injuries in the first three games. On-field communication and the ability to make adjustments in the first three games was a chore simply because of the lack of consistency in starting personnel from week to week.

"In the first couple, three weeks … there were a lot of moving parts and guys out there just worrying about doing their job, not being able to communicate," head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "There's definitely a comfort factor with having all your pieces back and being able to not only play that play but also make adjustments as the game moves on."

With the Aggies resuming SEC play next week in Fayetteville, Ark., having some success on defense is key.

Offensively, the Aggies ran smoothly, as they have most of the year. Quarterback Johnny Manziel threw strikes when he stayed in the pocket and chewed up rushing yards when he darted out of it. His night, which included 244 passing yards, 102 rushing yards and three total touchdowns, was done by the 10:06 mark of the third quarter with the Aggies leading 39-6. Malcome Kennedy (six catches, 83 yards) continued to show that will be a legitimate receiving threat to complement star sophomore receiver Mike Evans and the running game was productive and efficient, led by Manziel and Ben Malena (13 carries, 71 yards, two touchdowns).

The win wasn't without its warts though. Like SMU, the Aggies were heavily penalized (there were 29 accepted penalties in the game, 13 of which went against the Aggies for 114 yards) and the kicking game continues to be a struggle. Sophomore place-kicker Taylor Bertolet missed back-to-back point-after-touchdown kick attempts in the first half and was replaced thereafter by junior walk-on Josh Lambo. And what happened when Lambo entered the game? Holder Drew Kaser bobbled a snap -- the second time that's happened this season -- and as a result, Lambo's first PAT attempt failed.

When Lambo connected on a PAT after a Malena touchdown run with 11:34 remaining in the third quarter, it almost seemed as if the cheers for Lambo were as loud as those for Malena's touchdown. Finding a solution at place-kicker is critical if the Aggies expect to remain contenders in the SEC West. Against SMU, those points left on the field didn't matter. Against Ole Miss or LSU on the road later this season, they might.

Sumlin, when asked who will be kicking field goals and PATs moving forward, called the situation "a competition."

"We're going to keep the competition up just like we do at every position," Sumlin said. "Lambo came in and did a good job. … It's just like any other position. … We evaluate guys every week, no matter what the position, so there will be competition there."

But the Aggies made some plays on defense. They forced a turnover that led directly to points when defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. jolted the ball loose from receiver Jeremiah Gaines, a fumble that Everett returned for a 12-yard touchdown. Linebacker Tommy Sanders intercepted a pass late, and though he fumbled, freshman defensive end Daeshon Hall was able to scoop it up for a 39-yard return. The secondary was tested a few times in the first half by SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert (37-of-62 passing, 310 yards) but passed with flying colors when it came to third downs or plays near the end zone or red zone.

"I feel like going back into SEC play [next week] it was great for us to come and play well," Hurd said. "It was great for our defense to put a good showing out tonight."
AUSTIN, Texas -- Years from now, the 2011 BYU-Texas game won’t likely be remembered for anything more than its 17-16 final score, just another pair of numbers on a list of all-time results. A win, a close win but still a win, and nothing more.

But if Mack Brown is right and Texas does make another run at a national title soon, if the Longhorns do become elite again, perhaps we’ll look back on Sept. 10, 2011, as one of the key milestones of the rebuilding project.

You see, it was in that game when, with 9:42 left in the second quarter and a chorus of boos raining down from the stands of DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium, Garrett Gilbert walked off the field and never returned.

The fresh start Gilbert would get under new offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin lasted less than two games, undone by a bum shoulder and a deeply shaken confidence. He had surgery three days later and left the program within three weeks.

David Ash
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesDavid Ash played against BYU two years ago, but he's a completely different player now.
Oh, and Texas trailed BYU 13-0. David Ash and Case McCoy would have to take over and scrap together a victory, initiating a quarterback battle that would continue for nearly another year.

That Longhorns team was inexperienced and full of freshmen. It had five new coaches. It had to lead the program out of the 5-7 ditch. Two years later, Texas and BYU meet again.

These Longhorns might not look too terribly different from the 2011 squad, but so much has changed.

“Back then we still had, what, three quarterbacks?” senior offensive lineman Trey Hopkins said. “We had a new offense, a whole new staff came in, so many things. Young offensive line, young quarterbacks, young wide receivers, young everything. Everything was brand new and fresh to us.”

The Texas team that takes the field Saturday in Provo will feature 14 starters who played against BYU in 2011, including eight who will have started both games. The Texas two-deep has nearly 30 players who appeared in that 2011 contest.

“Now people have settled in. We know the system, we know each other, we’ve played next to each other for years now,” Hopkins said. “We’ve been in the great wins and the tough losses together. It’s almost like a completely new team going against them now.”

The task of rebuilding Texas has largely fallen on the shoulders of Texas’ 2011 recruiting class. From that group of 21, 13 played against BYU as true freshmen. None of the signees have transferred. They’ve agreed to ride this roller coaster together.

Seven of those 2011 signees will start against BYU this weekend, and a total of 14 have earned starts in their career. They comprise the core of this veteran roster.

Remember, these are the kids who signed two months after the 5-7 season ended. They signed despite that 2010 season and despite the coaching shakeup. They signed because they wanted to fix Texas.

Those players say now that having to overcome adversity before they ever showed up on campus made them closer and more determined to turn the program around.

“That group had something special about them, or they would’ve left,” Brown said. “They cared about Texas. They were very loyal to me and to the coaches that were still here. They had every opportunity to be negative and leave, and they didn’t.

“I think that’s one of the reasons they’ve come in here and helped us get this thing back in the right direction.”

Junior cornerback Quandre Diggs was one of the guys who kept that class intact during the turmoil. He still remembers sitting in the stands with Cedric Reed, Steve Edmond, M.J. McFarland and others and watching Texas’ season fall apart. When the coaches left, he worked the phones to make sure everyone stuck to their word.

“We all stuck together,” Diggs said. “It’s just tremendous, tremendous chemistry we have between our 2011 class. I love those guys like brothers. It’s something special we have.”

Back when BYU came to town, Diggs and Jaxon Shipley were learning on the job as true freshman starters. Malcolm Brown led the team in rushing. Now they’re just a few of the veteran leaders of a vastly different team.

The Longhorns have won 16 games and lost nine since BYU came to Austin. They’ve found their starting quarterback, surrounded him with weapons and developed one of the nation’s most experienced offensive lines. Their defense is out to prove itself after take a step backward in 2012.

“If we want to claim we’ve grown since the last time we played them, the table is set for a great challenge and, really, a measuring stick at this point in the season to see where we’re at,” offensive lineman Mason Walters said.

Garrett Gilbert is long gone now, as are any doubts about who should be Texas’ starting quarterback. Ash had to laugh Monday when asked how much he has grown up. These past two years haven’t always been easy, but he’s proud of how far his team has come.

“I think we came in at a difficult time when things were changing a lot,” Ash said. “A lot of us had to play young. We took our licks early, but I think we’re starting to learn from it all, all of the things we struggled through. I think now we’ve played football long enough that I think we can be a good ballclub.”

Just how good? We’ll know more after Saturday, after Texas takes on a familiar foe.

DALLAS -- Baker Mayfield is not a normal freshman.

The Texas Tech walk-on quarterback led the Red Raiders to a 41-23 win over SMU at Ford Stadium on Friday night. Here’s how it happened.

How the game was won: The Red Raiders pulled away in the fourth quarter, scoring 21 consecutive points to put the game away after SMU had cut the margin to 20-16 after three quarters.

Player of the game: Mayfield accounted for five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing) in his first collegiate game. The walk-on true freshman settled down more and more as the game went on, finishing 43-of-60 for 413 yards and four touchdowns. He scored on an 11-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run to help secure the win.

Turning point: Mayfield’s 33-yard pass to Jordan Davis with 1:01 left in the first half. The freshman zipped the ball through a tight window to Davis before the safety could arrive, and Davis did the rest. It seemed to give the Red Raiders’ quarterback renewed confidence that he could get it done against SMU.

Unsung hero of the game: SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert has to be disappointed with a loss, but he did as much as he could to prevent the season-opening setback. He accounted for 441 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown run.

Unsung hero of the game, Part II: When he wasn’t holding on running plays, Texas Tech receiver Eric Ward was close to unstoppable. The senior finished with 13 receptions for 150 yards in the win.

What Texas Tech learned: Coach Kliff Kingsbury learned that Mayfield can excel in his offense. Anytime you start a true freshman, particularly at quarterback, you never know how he will respond. Mayfield responded by making big plays without making the big mistake. Kingsbury will be smiling all the way back to Lubbock.

What SMU learned: The Mustangs learned they need to find some playmakers on offense. Dropped passes, limited yards after catch and a general lack of explosiveness was the underlying narrative for June Jones’ squad. Gilbert is going to need some help from his teammates if SMU hopes to have success in 2013.

SMU season preview

August, 16, 2013
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Today we're looking at Southern Methodist University, which is being picked to finish near the bottom of the rankings in The American Athletic Conference's inaugural season.

Coach: June Jones (107-75 career, 31-34 at SMU)

2012 record: 7-6

Key losses: RB Zach Line, WR Darius Johnson, LB Taylor Reed

[+] EnlargeGarrett Gilbert
AP Photo/Michael SullivanQuarterback Garrett Gilbert returns as the Mustangs' leading rusher -- averaging 3.7 yards per carry last season.
Key returnees: QB Garrett Gilbert, LB Randall Joyner, CB Kenneth Acker

Newcomer to watch: DB Shakiel Randolph

Biggest games in 2013: at Texas A&M (Sept. 21), at TCU (Sept. 28)

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The Mustangs will be looking for somebody to replace Line in the running game this year. Amassing 1,278 yards and 13 touchdowns as the main rushing threat last season, Line was crucial to the SMU offense that gave Gilbert the ability to be a dual-threat -- running for eight touchdowns and passing for 15. Gilbert won’t be able to do it all this season, so the Mustangs could be looking to Line’s little brother, Prescott Line, to carry some of the responsibility.

Forecast: While SMU has the benefit of not having to play AAC-favorite Louisville in the regular season, it plays three Texas heavyweights in the nonconference schedule. Opening with Texas Tech on a Friday night, the Mustangs travel to Texas A&M and TCU in back-to-back weeks in September. SMU has tallied four consecutive winning seasons and has played in four consecutive bowl games, but the first half of the Mustangs’ schedule might be too ambitious with Rutgers waiting as the first American Athletic game on the schedule. SMU is picked to finish eighth in the conference.

Like several teams in the American Athletic, the Mustangs are rebuilding on defense, having to work with a new group of defensive linemen. But four starters return in the secondary, including Acker, who was named to the watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award that goes to the nation’s top defensive back. Acker had 13 interceptions and 12 pass breakups last season. Joyner and Stephon Sanders are the returning starting linebackers.

Offensively, SMU fits the American Athletic trend of teams having an established quarterback. Gilbert was on Jones’ radar when he was just a recruit committed to Texas because Jones had a relationship to Gilbert’s father. When Texas wasn’t the right fit for Gilbert, Jones welcomed him.

“It’s a plus for him that he's involved at SMU now and doing what he's doing,” Jones said. “I noticed last year by middle of the season he was finally starting to get a little bit of his confidence back. I think he took it upon his shoulders to compete and win maybe three, four games through the end that just was him, and even though we did it a little bit different than we normally do it, which normally doing it is passing the football. He was a very good runner. We inserted some things into the game plan to allow him to do some things that he does very well. And he gained a lot of confidence both in the passing game just from doing that.”
We'll soon have the American Athletic Conference media days. Here's some info to get you started:

When: July 29-30

Where: Newport, R.I.

Big names in attendance: QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville; QB Garrett Gilbert, SMU; WR Brandon Coleman, Rutgers; LB Greg Blair, Cincinnati; LB Yawin Smallwood, UConn; S Hakeem Smith, Louisville; QB Gary Nova, Rutgers.

Five storylines/things to watch:

1. Name tags might be mandatory. The American will have 10 football-playing schools this season: UCF, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, Louisville, Memphis, Rutgers, SMU, USF and Temple. Louisville (leaving for the ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten), two of six holdovers from the former Big East, depart the league after the season. East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa jump to the American from Conference USA in 2014.

2. Can Louisville win the league and crash the BCS championship game in its last season in the league? After going 11-2 and trouncing Florida 33-23 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl last season, the Cardinals bring back 14 starters, including a Heisman Trophy nominee in Bridgewater. Can anybody in the league challenge the Cardinals this season?

3. Is that really Tommy Tuberville coaching at Cincinnati? The former Auburn coach never seemed like a good fit at Texas Tech, where he went 20-17 in three seasons. Former Cincinnati coach Butch Jones, now at Tennessee, guided the Bearcats to back-to-back 10-win seasons, so Tuberville inherits another pressure-packed situation.

4. Along with Tuberville, there will be two other new faces on the sideline: USF’s Willie Taggart (formerly of Western Kentucky), and Temple’s Matt Rhule (a former Owls assistant).

5. The American became a landing spot for plenty of high-profile transfers. Former Notre Dame defensive end Aaron Lynch is eligible after sitting out last season at USF, where he’ll be joined by former Penn State quarterback Steven Bench, who is eligible to play immediately. Former FSU linebacker Jeff Luc landed at Cincinnati, and Louisville added former Florida tight end Gerald Christian and receiver Robert Clark.

Q&A: SMU coach June Jones

March, 25, 2013
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SMU opens spring practice today with lots of holes to fill on both offense and defense. I had a chance to catch up with coach June Jones to ask him about some of the biggest questions surrounding his team.

You are losing so many starters. How do you envision the spring playing out for you, knowing you have to replace your productive guys while moving into a new conference?

JJ: There’s definitely a lot of unknowns. The competition we’re playing -- everybody’s getting better. The Big East plays a very good brand of football, the schools that are left in there are pretty good. We have some positions to replace, but we think we have on campus a lot of good, young players who have been waiting for an opportunity. We have some kids that maybe, two or three of the freshmen kids will be an upgrade from what we’ve had the last four or five years, too. I think we’ll be OK.

[+] EnlargeSMU's June Jones
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports"I think sometimes when people don't expect you to be what you are, you have your best seasons," SMU coach June Jones said.
The biggest losses offensively: Darius Johnson, a very productive player for us. A receiver has to step up and take that lead. But Der'rikk Thompson has started for three years, and he’ll take that lead as we go forward. And then we have a transfer running back, Traylon Shead, that I think is going to be a really good player that was recruited by Texas, one of the best running backs in the state after his freshman year left and went to Navarro and he is with us and this spring will help him. But I think he’s a big-time runner off what I’ve seen on his JC tape. And so that solves our two questions. Those two kids have to step up. We have some other kids on campus. Prescott Line, Zach’s brother, looks like a prototype of his brother. He’s going to be a redshirt freshman so he understands what we’re doing. I think he’ll be productive. From that standpoint, I think we’re very good for filling it but until you do it game day you just never know.

The other question on offense surrounds your quarterback, Garrett Gilbert. How are you going to work with him to improve on his accuracy?

JJ: Any time you’re in a system more than one year you get better, you just get more comfortable with it. I think that will help Garrett. I really was happy with his competitiveness as a player. He did a lot of different things for us, running the ball, competing that way when things broke down to get first downs, things like that. He showed that he’s a competitive winner. So as long as he keeps getting better in the passing game, he’s got a shot to be a step up from where he was last year. We have a kid on campus, Neal Burcham, who is very accurate passer and will compete with Garrett. Both Garrett will make Neal better and Neal will make Garrett better. Competition does that.

Along the same lines, how are you going to work on just being a more consistent offense this spring?

JJ: You have to be or you’re not going to be very good. We have to be able to throw the ball more effectively. I’m not really worried about the run part of it. We will get the runs when we have them. The thing we have to be able to do if we’re going to be able to be successful, we have to throw the ball effectively. We’re in a pass offense. If you’re not completing 68 to 72 percent of your passes, that’s probably not getting the job done. That’s what we have to be able to do.

Defensively, you have to replace guys like Margus Hunt, Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis. Who are the next guys up?

JJ: We have some kids on campus that played pretty well last year for us. We have a kid named Zach Wood and Beau Barnes that split time with Margus, they rotated in. Probably the most underrated guy we had was a guy name Torlan Pittman, and Darrian Wright will replace him. Darrian played as a true freshman and really played pretty well for us. We have some depth and we have some really good kids coming in. The best lineman we ever recruited named Zelt Minor from Lamar will compete right away for a starting job. He’s one of those kids that we’ve never had come to our school, since I’ve been here anyway, from a talent standpoint. We have some guys here, we have another kid, Elie Nabushosi that I think may be really, really great d-lineman. He redshirted last year. We couldn’t block him in practice.

We’re replacing two pretty productive linebackers in Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis but we have some kids who might be bigger and more talented than them on campus right now, in a kid named Jarvis Pruitt and Lincoln Richard being the other guy. We’re going to be OK but they’ve got to learn the defense and play on game day. They’ll make mistakes but talent wise I think we’re going to be pretty good.

It sounds like you’ve got a lot of talent there, but you're young.

JJ: Everybody’s young. We open up with Texas Tech so obviously you better play pretty good to beat them, but at the same time I think once these kids get to Game 3 and 4 where they have a little game experience -- they’ll make plays while they’re learning -- but at the same time how you minimize your mistakes is really how you win the games. Who screws it up less is who wins games early so when you’ve got young kids, you’re making mistakes. We’ll make some big plays in there, too, because they are very talented.

What do you think when people say this is a rebuilding year and they’re not quite sure what they’re going to see out of you guys this year?

JJ: I don’t really pay too much attention to that. We were told when I was in Hawaii we were the worst team in the conference and we went 12-0. I think sometimes when people don’t expect you to be what you are, you have your best seasons. That’s just me. But I don’t worry. You’re coaching the kids up. You prepare them to win and they’ll learn how to win. We just have to hang together until they do. That’s how you turn it around.

SMU adds Hal Mumme to staff

March, 20, 2013
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Talk about a meeting of the offensive minds.

Offensive guru June Jones has hired offensive guru Hal Mumme as assistant head coach/passing game coordinator at SMU, the school announced Tuesday.

Both coaches have done their share to expand and enhance passing games. Jones has been known for his Run and Shoot concepts that allowed Colt Brennan and Timmy Chang to each pass for over 35,000 yards in three seasons at Hawaii; Mumme is known as the man behind the "Air Raid" offense, versions of which Mike Leach, Dana Holgorsen and a host of others now run.

One of the biggest areas that has to be improved this spring in Dallas is consistency in the passing game. Garrett Gilbert threw for 2,932 yards, with 15 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions last year as the Mustangs posted their lowest passing total since Jones arrived in 2008.

Mumme has had offensive success at all his stops. He comes to SMU after spending the past four years as head coach at McMurry, which just completed its first season as a Division II independent. During his time there, he led McMurry to a 27-16 record and three consecutive winning seasons.

Mumme has also served as head coach at Kentucky, New Mexico State, Southeastern Louisiana, Valdosta State and Iowa Wesleyan.
Memphis

Spring Start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:
  1. Quarterback: Jacob Karam returns as the starter after throwing for 1,895 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. But coach Justin Fuente says Karam will be pushed during the spring and has to win the starting job all over again.
  2. Bump up the physicality: Fuente has said repeatedly that he wants to see his team be more physical, especially now that it is joining the Big East. The spring is the perfect chance to improve in this area. "We will play some of the same teams we played last year, but they will be the bigger, more physical teams we played last year," he said. "We have to understand that we have a lot of ground to make up. That is not ground that is made up easily."
  3. Competition at defensive back: The Tigers lose two starters from their defensive backfield -- Cannon Smith and Robert Steeples -- and Fuente is excited about the competition at this position going into the spring.
Rutgers

Spring Start: March 26

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:
  1. Quarterback: Even though coach Kyle Flood says Gary Nova is his starter, you can bet there is going to be competition at this position going into the spring, especially with a new offensive coordinator in Ron Prince. That doesn't mean there will be changes, but certainly Prince is going to want to take a look at all the players he has available to evaluate what they can or cannot do.
  2. Defensive leaders: Rutgers lost its top defensive playmakers and needs to find guys who can step in for Scott Vallone, Khaseem Greene, Steve Beauharnais and Logan Ryan, to name four. Plus, there is a new coordinator in Dave Cohen, so there might be some adjustment period.
  3. Huggins stepping up: The time is now for the highly heralded local recruit to live up to the expectations that came with him when he arrived on campus. Jawan Jamison is gone off to the NFL, so all eyes have turned to Huggins to see if he has what it takes to be the next 1,000-yard rusher.
SMU

Spring Start: March 25

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Replacing Zach Line: The Mustangs have to replace their top runner over the past several seasons in Line, who had three straight 1,000-yard seasons. Leading the charge this spring are junior college All-American Traylon Shead and reserve back Rishaad Wimbley, who switched from defense a few seasons ago.
  2. New defensive starters: The Mustangs lost the bulk of their playmakers on defense in Margus Hunt and linebackers Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis. Finding guys to step up without them is a huge priority. Watch for Zach Wood at defensive end in place of Hunt; and Kevin Pope and Robert Seals at linebacker.
  3. More consistency at QB: June Jones' offense runs best when the quarterback is at his best. Garrett Gilbert returns as the starter, but he is going to need to find much more consistency this spring and into the fall. Two numbers that have to be improved: accuracy (53 percent in 2012) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (15-to-15 in 2012).
USF

Spring Start: March 20

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. New coaches, new style: Coach Willie Taggart has promised to ratchet up the intensity and transform his team into more of a smash-mouth group. That process begins in the spring, when he has his first opportunity to really show his players what he expects out of them. You can bet he expects a lot more physicality from his offensive and defensive lines to start.
  2. Quarterback competition: Who will emerge as the starter? Will we even know after the spring? Matt Floyd and Bobby Eveld, the top two candidates, have plenty of work to do as they fight to win the starting job. But this competition could very well go into the fall, when freshman Mike White arrives on campus.
  3. Defensive back improvement: This was the worst group the Bulls had a year ago and the one in most need of immediate improvement. USF registered two interceptions in 2012, tied with Auburn for the fewest among all 120 schools in the nation. And they both came in the same game -- against UConn on Nov. 3.
Temple

Spring Start: March 22

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. New staff: Matt Rhule certainly has a familiarity with Temple, having served as an assistant there under both Al Golden and Steve Addazio. But anytime a new coach comes in, there is change, so the spring gives him his first chance to really start implementing his style and what he wants to get accomplished.
  2. Quarterbacks: You can bet this competition is going to be open this spring, with Chris Coyer, Juice Granger and Kevin Newsome all returning. Coyer and Granger both started a year ago; Newsome transferred in from Penn State a few years ago. How this shakes out is one major story to watch.
  3. Running backs: Montel Harris and Matt Brown are gone, taking with them 1,426 yards rushing and 16 of the team's 21 rushing touchdowns. Jamie Gilmore got more carries as the season went on when Brown was hurt; Kenny Harper also is back and certainly will be relied upon even more.

Another new-look spring for Big East

February, 27, 2013
2/27/13
9:00
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For the second straight spring, Extreme Makeover: Big East edition has gripped the conference.

Four teams enter practice with an eye toward their first Big East season. Two teams enter spring practice wondering if 2013 is their final Big East season.

The mix makes for quite the dysfunctional pairing, and most likely the only configuration featuring remaining members Cincinnati, UConn, USF and Temple, incoming members UCF, Houston, Memphis and SMU and departing members Louisville and Rutgers playing under the same conference umbrella.

Got all that?

What must be most especially difficult for the league this spring is marketing and promoting what should be a preseason top-10 team -- Louisville -- knowing the Cardinals are not long for the Big East world. It was the same scenario that unfolded back in 2011, when West Virginia represented the Big East as its highest-rated Top 25 team and Orange Bowl participant, with a move to the Big 12 just months away.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesThere are many question marks at QB in the Big East this spring. Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is certainly not among them.
Given all the conference realignment, this is certainly not uncharted territory. But it certainly takes the luster off what should be downright euphoria over having one of the projected marquee teams in all the nation in 2013. Along with that conundrum is the idea that the Big East cannot begin to rebrand itself while it continues to have a hodgepodge of teams with one foot in the door and one foot out.

None of this is new, but it certainly is more than a little uncomfortable. Having said that, Louisville remains the biggest story to watch this spring and into the fall because of the opportunity the Cardinals have in front of them. Not only do they return nearly all of their key starters from the Sugar Bowl-winning team of a season ago, they return soon-to-be junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, already a preseason Heisman candidate.

Last spring, he was incredible, completing 70 percent of his passes in a near-flawless performance. That translated into a super sophomore season that not only has people talking Heisman now, it also has them talking about whether this is his final spring in a Cardinals uniform. Another solid spring showing from him, and Louisville should cement its standing as the preseason favorite to win the Big East, with an outside shot as a dark horse national title contender.

Louisville, however, is only one of a handful of Big East schools with quarterback certainty. UCF returns Blake Bortles, who had a 3,000-yard season in 2012 as the Knights went 10-4 in their final year in Conference USA. He is perhaps the next-best quarterback in the league, although that is probably up for debate, as Cincinnati returns Brendon Kay.

But Kay is going to face some competition this spring, with new coach Tommy Tuberville taking charge. He is not the only incumbent who is sure to be pushed. At Rutgers, coach Kyle Flood says Gary Nova remains the starter, but new offensive coordinator Ron Prince is certainly going to want to see what all his signal-callers have to offer. At Memphis, Jacob Karam must win his starting job again. At SMU, Garrett Gilbert needs to work on his consistency. So does UConn quarterback Chandler Whitmer, who is going to see some competition for his job as well.

At Houston, David Piland is in for a fight for his spot. USF and Temple need starters, too. The Bulls lose veteran B.J. Daniels and return Matt Floyd and Bobby Eveld. The Owls rotated between Chris Coyer and Clinton Granger last season, but Penn State transfer Kevin Newsome could figure into the mix as well with new coach Matt Rhule taking charge.

The quarterback position in the Big East represents the league as a whole: plenty of uncertainty this spring.

Big 12 players to watch in 2013

January, 15, 2013
1/15/13
11:00
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As we finish wrapping up the 2012 season, it's time to look forward today. Here's a look at a few players you need to keep an eye on in 2013:

Casey Pachall, QB, TCU: If Pachall returns to form, you can bet on TCU as the Big 12 favorite in 2013, especially after Joseph Randle left Oklahoma State. He's officially back on the team after spending last fall in a treatment facility for drug and alcohol addiction, and we'll see what reports are out of spring in Fort Worth. He'll have to prove he's the same player and earn his job back, but if he is and he does, and TCU's defense does what it did in 2012 ... look out. Pachall was completing 66 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and a pick before his season ended following a DUI arrest in early October. The entire Big 12 race could very well shift on Pachall's return and subsequent development.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Michael C. Johnson/US PresswireJohnathan Gray rushed for 701 yards and three touchdowns during the 2012 season.
Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas: Gray emerged as the most consistent back for the Longhorns this past season, becoming the second consecutive true freshman to lead the Longhorns in rushing. Gray rushed for more touchdowns than any back in high school football history, and if he can build on his 700 yards on fewer than 150 carries from 2012, he'll look more and more like the player Texas hopes he can be. He also might help Texas look like a real Big 12 title contender.

Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor: No player in the Big 12 was hotter at the end of 2012, and Seastrunk already made a well-publicized statement that he's planning on winning the Heisman Trophy in 2013. We'll see about that, but Seastrunk began November with fewer than 200 yards rushing. He ended the season as one of three Big 12 backs with at least 1,000 rushing yards. Craziness.

Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia: West Virginia's defense got all kinds of heat from critics and opposing offenses last year, but Joseph was the bright spot and a piece to build around for the future. He and fellow true freshman Isaiah Bruce showed real promise, but Joseph was sixth in the Big 12 with 102 tackles, forced three fumbles and had a pair of picks and seven tackles for loss. He's a stud.

Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State: Stewart takes my title as the Big 12's most underrated player entering 2013. He doesn't have the same reputation as an elite receiver, but he has put up the numbers to support the idea that he's exactly that. He caught 101 balls for 1,210 yards and will be the Big 12's leading returning receiver in 2013 by more than 150 yards. Only three Big 12 receivers hit triple-digit receptions last season, too. No returning receiver had more than 82.

Jake Heaps, QB, Kansas: Heaps is a wild card, but if KU is truly going to get out of the Big 12 basement (or win a game in Big 12 play), it needs Heaps' transition after transferring to go better than Dayne Crist's. The BYU transfer, who signed on with the Jayhawks and Charlie Weis after Weis' hiring, threw 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in almost two seasons as the Cougars' starter. He very nearly quarterbacked BYU to a win at Texas in 2011, too.

Aaron Green, RB, TCU: Green is another high-impact transfer this year, or at least could be. The San Antonio native sat out last year after transferring in from Nebraska. He was the No. 3 running back in the 2011 recruiting class and No. 11 on the ESPN 150. We saw this year the kind of impact a super recruit like Seastrunk can have, and TCU needs a big hitter in the backfield. We'll see what Green can do after rushing for 105 yards and two scores on 24 touches at Nebraska in 2011.

Michael Brewer, QB, Texas Tech: Brewer followed in Garrett Gilbert's footsteps in high school with a huge career at Lake Travis in Austin, but here's guessing his college career will be much more impressive. Brewer earned a little time this year behind Seth Doege, but I love what I saw from him in spot duty, and he'll be responsible for what kind of a start the Kliff Kingsbury Era gets off to in Lubbock. Here's guessing it'll be a good one.

Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl keys

December, 24, 2012
12/24/12
12:30
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Three keys for tonight's Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl matchup between SMU and Fresno State:

1. SMU can't fall behind early: When the Mustangs are off, they are off. Of their six losses, four have been by at least 20 points, with two coming by 35 or more. Against Tulsa in the regular-season finale, SMU jumped out to a 21-0 lead and hung on for a 35-27 lead to become bowl-eligible. That same Golden Hurricane outfit topped Fresno State earlier in the season by one, despite the Bulldogs finishing three games better than the Mustangs.

2. Protecting the QB: SMU's Garrett Gilbert has been able to improvise with his feet all season long, but he will need his line to step up Monday night against a Fresno State pass rush that has notched 35 sacks on the season, good for 11th nationally. The Mustangs, meanwhile, have just 17 sacks on the season and will need to turn it up considerably against a quarterback as efficient as the Bulldogs' Derek Carr, who averages 311 passing yards per game.

3. Watch the running backs. For all the talk about the big-play capability of Fresno State's and SMU's offenses, both teams boast 1,000-yard rushers in Robbie Rouse (1,468 yards, 12 TDs) and Zach Line (1,207 yards, 12 TDs), respectively. The question is: Who will stop who first? SMU is 24th nationally against the run, while Fresno State is 73rd.

Pregame: Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl

December, 24, 2012
12/24/12
12:00
PM ET
SMU (6-6, 5-3 Conference USA) vs. Fresno State (9-3, 5-1 Mountain West)

Who to watch: Fresno State's Phillip Thomas was the school's first-ever unanimous All-American following a nation-best eight-pick season, which set the Mountain West Conference single-season record. Thomas returned three of those picks for scores (a school record), and he led the Bulldogs with 82 total tackles and 12 tackles for loss, while tying for the team lead with four forced fumbles, adding four sacks and one fumble recovery. The fifth-year senior from Bakersfield, Calif., has recovered from a leg injury that forced him to redshirt last season and now has more interceptions than 29 teams. Simply put, Thomas is a ball hawk whom SMU must be aware of at all times.

What to watch: Both defenses. While both offenses are capable of big chunk plays -- Fresno State boasts the nation's No. 12 scoring offense -- the other side of the ball has put each team in great scoring position throughout the season. You already know about Thomas, but his nine takeaways account for barely a quarter of the Bulldogs' 33 forced turnovers this season. SMU? The same number, though the Mustangs have lost it 21 times this season, five more than Fresno State. The Bulldogs are No. 5 in turnover margin; the Mustangs are No. 12. Whichever defense makes more big plays is the one most likely to walk away with the victory, as SMU is minus-10 in the turnover category in its six losses this season.

Why to watch: Derek Carr, brother of former NFL No. 1 draft pick David Carr, has been phenomenal under center all season for Fresno State, completing better than 68 percent of his passes for 3,742 yards with 36 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Casual fans will also recognize the man under center for SMU as Garrett Gilbert, who is best known for his relief act of Colt McCoy in the 2010 BCS National Championship, and has 21 total touchdowns while netting nearly 3,000 yards of offense.

Prediction: Fresno State 35, SMU 24. The Bulldogs enter this game riding a five-game winning streak. The Mustangs had to win their regular-season finale over Tulsa just to extend their season. Fresno State does a better job of protecting the ball and has the more productive quarterback.

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