NCF Nation: internal affairs 4
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's time to go inside five Big Ten teams as they prepare for the start of league play on Saturday.
Illinois -- The defensive line might finally be taking shape for the Illini after some illness/injury issues. Sophomore Josh Brent is back in the fold at defensive tackle, which has allowed standout Will Davis to move back to his natural position of defensive end. Freshman Cory Liuget also has emerged at defensive tackle, a spot vacated when projected starterSirod Williams tore his ACL during training camp. "It's important that we can [rotate] guys in there and keep us fresh," head coach Ron Zook said. Zook called the defensive line the team's strength before the season, but the group will need to elevate its play Saturday night against Penn State's powerful rushing attack, which ranks eighth nationally (274.3 ypg).
Indiana -- When the NCAA cleared Florida transfer Jerimy Finch to play this season, Indiana's secondary looked like one of the deepest groups on the team. That depth will be tested Saturday against Michigan State (ESPN, noon ET). The Hoosiers will be without at least one starting safety (Nick Polk, knee) and could miss their other starter, as strong safety Austin Thomas is questionable for the game with a lower leg injury. Coach Bill Lynch announced that starting cornerback Chris Phillips will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. So the Hoosiers could be replacing three starters against the Spartans. Finch figures to see plenty of time.
Michigan -- A bye week allowed Michigan's offensive line time to heal, though a knee injury to tackle Perry Dorrestein last week in practice clouded things a bit. Mark Ortmann is expected back from a dislocated elbow and should rotate at left tackle with Dorrestein if Dorrestein can play. Left tackle is one of three offensive line spots that have an "OR" listed between potential starters on the depth chart. Converted defensive linemanJohn Ferrara could start at right guard in place of David Moosman, who is listed at both guard and center on the depth chart. Redshirt freshman Mark Huyge also should be back from an ankle injury, so the coaches have some decisions to make up front.
Minnesota -- True freshman running back DeLeon Eskridge has stepped up in the two games after Duane Bennett's knee injury, but coach Tim Brewster isn't quite ready to call Eskridge his featured back. Brewster said Eskridge, freshman Shady Salamon and junior Jay Thomas all will play Saturday at No. 14 Ohio State, and Minnesota will stick with whoever has the hot hand. The coach admitted that identifying a clear-cut starter has become less of a concern than it was after Bennett went down. Eskridge has 192 rushing yards and five touchdowns the last two games.
Ohio State -- Quarterback isn't the only offensive position where youth will be served Saturday against Minnesota. Freshman Michael Brewster remains the starter at center on this week's depth chart after playing a prominent role last week against Troy. The Buckeyes movedJim Cordle from center to left guard after Steve Rehring injured his foot against USC. Rehring will miss "another week or so," coach Jim Tressel said, so that means more time for Brewster, one of several heralded freshmen in Ohio State's recruiting class.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Let's go inside as we do every week at this time for our "Internal affairs" look at the SEC. The toughest job this week belongs to Texas coachMack Brown , who has to find a way to motivate his club against an Arkansas team that looked wretched last Saturday in a 49-14 home loss to Alabama. You've got to hand it to Brown, though. The more he talks, the more it sounds like Arkansas actually has a chance. If I'm hearing him correctly, that Alabama-Arkansas game came down to a handful of big plays that the Crimson Tide made to turn the game around. Hey Mack, Lou would be proud:
1. Alabama picking its spots: To be specific, that's picking its spots with the blitz. Nick Saban is one of the best in the business when it comes to mixing up coverages and bringing pressure at just the right time. The Crimson Tide didn't blitz as much against Clemson in the opener. For one, they didn't need to and got pressure with their front four, but they were also protecting themselves against the Tigers' screen package. Saban will go after Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford more. You know he's watched the tape from that South Carolina game where the Bulldogs had to scale back on some of the stuff they wanted to do in the passing game in the second half because they couldn't protect Stafford.
2. More of Moody: Emmanuel Moody got his most work of the season last week against Tennessee and led Florida in rushing with 55 yards on nine carries. The main thing is that he held onto the ball, a must if you're going to play running back for Urban Meyer. Look for Moody to be even more involved in the running game this week against Ole Miss as Florida returns home. He has the makeup to be the Gators' featured back, but it's obvious that Meyer is bringing him along slowly. The transfer from Southern California insists that he will remain patient and take the carries as they come.
3. Making it simple: In three games against FBS teams this season, Mississippi State has scored three touchdowns and turned the ball over 10 times. The Bulldogs will continue to try to get some of their younger playmakers like running back Robert Elliott more involved and simplify things as much as possible. Changes you won't see are to the Bulldogs' offensive staff. Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom was adamant on his weekly call-in show this week that he wasn't going down that road. "I'm the offensive coordinator. I'm the bus driver. I'm the equipment man, the lawn guy. I'm the secretary. I'm everything. Because whatever's not going right, it's me," Croom said Monday night.
4. Turning Todd loose: It's pretty clear by now that Chris Todd is Auburn's quarterback. Kodi Burns hasn't played a snap in the last two games. And if anything, the Tigers are going to give Todd more of a license to throw the ball this week against Tennessee. Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin wants to throw the ball more to set up the run. He said the Tigers should have thrown it at least 10 more times against LSU. Todd finished 17-of-32 for 250 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He looked much more comfortable throwing the ball in the second half and gave the Tigers the lead with 6:40 to play on a 15-yard scoring strike to Robert Dunn.
5. Crompton taking coaching: It's been tough sledding so far for Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who's turned the ball over and struggled to finish drives. The Vols' coaches haven't lost faith in him, but they would like to see him respond better to what they're preaching every day on the practice field. There's a sense among some on the Tennessee staff that Crompton needs to be more realistic about the way he's playing right now. He has the talent and the tools. He just has to go do it. If there's not some improvement against Auburn, the Vols will then look seriously at trying to get Nick Stephens some time in the Northern Illinois game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim GriffinHere are a few tidbits from around the conference that have people talking:
1. Even with the presence of super-sized 285-pound FB Jorvorskie Lane, it's clear that Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman has other options in short-yardage plays. Lane had a remarkable streak earlier in his career, converting 27 of 29 plays for first downs in short-yardage situations. But Sherman opted to use 201-pound junior Keondra Smith twice on third-and-1 against Miami because of his pad level and his possibility of breaking a big gain. Smith converted one of the two plays. Lane has had trouble getting into shape and his usage could be greatly curtailed after only seven carries so far this season.
2. It might have been a coming-of-age moment for Austen Arnaud, even as Iowa State coaches say they are still open to playing two quarterbacks. But Arnaud's dramatic 98-yard touchdown drive in the closing moments of regulation at UNLV appear to have given him the inside track to more playing time as the Cyclones' starting quarterback. Phillip Bates will still get some looks, but Arnaud's performance clearly puts him in the driver's seat as the team's assured leader.
3. Oklahoma coaches have been concerned with DeMarco Murray's running style so far this season. They believe he is running against the grain too much with hopes of making big plays. It's understandable why after Murray broke touchdown runs of 92 and 65 yards last season and returned kickoffs 91 and 81 yards for touchdowns. He remains one of the most explosive players in college football. But his longest run in the Sooners' first three games this season has been "only" 49 yards.
4. After strong success running the ball against West Virginia, look for Colorado to employ the I-formation as a way of boosting production from the running game, rather than the shotgun formation they have heavily relied upon in recent seasons. Running from the I will be a way of boosting production keyed with a veteran offensive line and emerging running backs like Rodney Stewart and Darrell Scott. But it will be a bigger challenge for the Buffaloes against a Florida State defense that will return four additional starters from suspension this week.
5. Baylor will use its off week with plans of trying to get more players involved offensively. After Robert Griffin accounted for 48 plays against Connecticut (23 runs, 25 passes) there was concern that his teammates were relying too much on him. Look for Jay Finley and Jacoby Jones to get more work to try to keep the Bears from relying too much on their playmaking freshman quarterback.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Getting deep into this week's games.
USC needs style points to stay No. 1: It's clear that USC coach Pete Carroll respects and genuinely likes Oregon State coach Mike Riley. But the Trojans can't afford to sleepwalk through the Pac-10 schedule, looking bored and sloppy while winning by seven to 10 points. The nation saw the Beavers get physically manhandled 45-14 at Penn State, and the Trojans need to turn in a similarly dominant performance if they want to remain atop the polls. While this is not a topic that coach Pete Carroll will engage, he's well aware that his team needs style points because he's not going to get much credit for just running the Pac-10 table, considering no other conference team is presently ranked.
California should bounce back: Cal didn't use its bye week to get healthy. It used it to get more physical with a lot of full-go hitting. Of course, considering what happened last year -- the team went into a tailspin when its high-expectations imploded -- the chief concern is making sure that the upset loss at Maryland doesn't ruin the season. While the Cal players and coaches didn't seem to care much about getting a dose of Pac-10 redemption against the Mountain West Conference, which is 5-0 vs. the Pac-10 thus far, the Bears should be pretty gritty for their return home. The Rams, though 2-1, were picked to finish at or near the bottom of the MWC. They don't run the ball well and only beat Sacramento State by three points. If the Bears are angry, this would be a good weekend to take out some aggression.
If the Huskies can't stop Stanford, they can't stop anyone: Washington's 2007 defense was widely considered the worst in program history. But the 2008 Huskies are putting up even worse numbers, despite hiring veteran NFL coach Ed Donatell. They presently rank 118th in the nation in total defense -- just ahead of SMU, which is last -- surrendering an eye-popping 521 yards per game. Stanford, however, will offer a much more manageable offense than Oregon, BYU and Oklahoma (which are ranked Nos. 7, 4 and 13, respectively, in total offense). The Cardinal ranks 109th in the nation in passing, though QB Tavita Pritchard improved enough to hold onto his job in the win against San Jose State. The key to stopping the Cardinal is simple: Keep RB Toby Gerhart in check and force the Cardinal to pass.
UCLA might be able to run against Fresno State: First, the Bruins rushed for a season-high 115 yards in the loss to Arizona, so they moved up from worst in the nation (119th) to 117th. Second, senior TB Kahlil Bell, who's missed essentially the entire season with an ankle sprain, is expected to play. Bell, when healthy, is one of the Pac-10's best running backs. Third, Fresno State's run defense is ranked 95th in the nation (185.7 yards per game). And, finally, the Bulldogs will be without their two starting DTs,Jon Monga (knee), perhaps their best defensive player, and Cornell Banks (ankle). Their replacements are two freshmen and a sophomore.
Things are getting tougher, not better at Washington State: A desperate situation got even more arduous for the Cougars when it was discovered that starting QB Kevin Lopina's shoulder injury was actually a "fracture of the L-4 transverse process of his vertebrae" and he'll be out two to six weeks (and here's a guess it's closer to six). With No. 2 Gary Rogers done for the year with a fractured vertebra, that means redshirt freshman Marshall Lobbestael is now the man. Lobbestael looked great coming off the bench against Portland State, but starting against Oregon is a different story. And things are thin behind him, with true freshman J.T. Levenseller likely the first option ahead of redshirt freshman walk-on Dan Wagner. Oh, by the way, the Cougars also announced that junior linebackerJason Stripling is done for the year due to a shoulder injury.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Clemson -- The Tigers are expecting ACC leading rusher Da'Rel Scott to play, which will force defensive coordinator Vic Koenning to load more players at the line of scrimmage. That, of course, will open up the play-action passing game. Koenning is looking for some sacks to come from his ends in this game, as South Carolina State's tackles blocked them one-on-one last weekend and the sacks came from the interior linemen and the linebackers.
Maryland -- Backup quarterback Josh Portis is doing the best he can to put the team ahead of his frustration over a lack of significant playing time. Expect some wrinkles in the Terps' offense this week, but it's unclear if Portis will play more of a role in it. "I'm still waiting to help the team out a little more with my talents, but I'm a team guy and the bottom line is you got to win," he said. "Obviously I'm a little frustrated with what's going on, but I'm here for the team. ... I'm just rolling with the punches."
Duke -- Virginia's switch at quarterback from Peter Lalich to Marc Verica has caused a small tweak in the coaching staff's preparation. Not only isn't there a lot of film of Verica, who started his first game and saw his first significant playing time in this year's loss to UConn, but he's also a different quarterback than Lalich, which means the Cavaliers could switch up their offense. So David Cutcliffe and his staff have watched more 2007 film, thinking that Verica's mobility and athleticism is more similar to former starter Jameel Sewell.
Florida State -- Playmaker Preston Parker has been working more at receiver this week and less at tailback, and that's probably how he'll be used against Colorado. That could open an opportunity for freshman running back Jermaine Thomas, who played well in the first two games, but watched the Wake Forest game from the sidelines. The running game should also get a boost from the blocking of tight end Caz Piurowski, one of the formerly suspended players.
NC State -- Defensive coordinator Mike Archer is tasked with simplifying things for freshman Dwayne Maddox, who is taking over for injured starting weakside linebacker Nate Irving, while at the same time stopping South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe. Archer is familiar with the Bulls from his time at Kentucky and said this will be the best offensive line the Wolfpack will have faced. He also said there is a misconception Grothe just throws it, and that he is a tough quarterback who gets hit, gets back up and scrambles. The good news is that after watching practice film, NC State coach Tom O'Brien told Archer that Maddox is "practicing like a starter now."
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
South Florida: The loss of senior outside linebacker Brouce Mompremier to a neck injury is a big blow, but the Bulls should be able to weather the loss. The reason is that South Florida has played primarily in its nickel defense much of the season, meaning only two linebackers are on the field most of the time. "That's what's saved us," defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said.Tyrone McKenzie and Kion Wilson will be the main linebackers in the nickel, with Chris Robinson coming in to play strongside in the base 4-3 sets. South Florida will probably have to come out of the nickel next week against run-heavy Pittsburgh, however.
Louisville: The Cardinals hope that left tackle George Bussey and left guard Mark Wetterer can return to action Friday night against UConn after missing the Kansas State game with ankle injuries. But if they can't go, Louisville has confidence in backupsJosh Byrom and Greg Tomczyk , who played extremely well against Kansas State last week. "We told them, all great players have to start their first game sometime," head coach Steve Kragthorpe said. "Why not tonight?" The Cardinals also might have found a new placekicker in Purdue transfer Tim Dougherty, who replaced the struggling Chris Philpott in the second half against the Wildcats and drilled his only attempt, from 36 yards.
Pittsburgh: Dave Wannstedt is still trying to get promising youngsters Jonathan Baldwin and Lucas Nix involved, but he says it's been hard because of how the games have played out. The Panthers have had three close games versus Bowling Green, Buffalo and Iowa. "You want to do what's fair to the kid and what's fair to the team," Wannstedt said. "That's the balancing as a head coach. They're going to be good players, but my first responsibility is to this football team." Wannstedt said Baldwin, a wide receiver, played 10 out of 60 snaps against Iowa but got bumped off his route on a play designed to go to him. Wannstedt also saidElijah Fields will get his second start at safety but will split time with Dom DeCicco.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats seem happy with running a two-man running back committee. John Goebel and Jacob Ramsey have split carries almost evenly, with Goebel getting 30 attempts and Ramsey 29. Goebel has been slightly more effective, averaging 5.1 yards per carry to Ramsey's 4.1. Promising freshmen running backs Quentin Hines and Isaiah Pead have yet to touch the ball.
Connecticut: Donald Brown has been phenomenal for the Huskies and leads the nation in rushing. But even though Brown hardly ever tires, coach Randy Edsall would like to reduce his workload. Brown is averaging more than 28 carries per game and is on pace for nearly 340 rush attempts this season. He was in on 60 snaps against Baylor last week. Edsall wants to keep him from getting hurt or worn down before the end of the season. The return of backfield mate Andre Dixon could help. Dixon, who led the Huskies in rushing last year, has been slowed by an ankle injury so far this season but was back on the field at times in the Baylor game. Edsall said he wants to start giving the ball to Dixon and freshman Jordan Todman more and give Brown a break.
Give the non-BCS some credit: Fresno State coach Pat Hill said he's proud of the way the non-BCS is represented in the polls this week, but he's worried that those votes might disappear if some of the BCS wins start to lose their luster. That's why Hill wants a non-BCS playoff. It's something he's talked about for several years, but no one wants to listen. The playoff would pit eight teams -- the winners of the conferences and three at-large teams -- in a tournament at the end of the season. The winner would play in the BCS. Home games would be given according to seed and the final would be at a neutral site in the middle of the country. Not a bad idea.
One-loss BCS buster: WAC commissioner Karl Benson isn't ruling out a scenario where a one-loss team from one of the non-BCS conferences could get a look at a BCS game.
"I don't think you have to run the table," he said. "That's the guaranteed way, but it wouldn't surprise me if a one-loss team some time made it to the top 12. And then you factor in the top 16 provision and then you look at where's the Big East or the ACC champion?"
Currently, South Florida and Wake Forest sit at No. 13 and No. 16, respectively. The top 16 provision allows for a non-BCS team in the top 16 in the BCS poll to be considered as an at-large team. The rule never has been used before.
Notre Dame: Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said he's already started devising game plans without starting tight end Will Yeatman, who was suspended from competition indefinitely following an arrest at a party on Saturday night. He faces preliminary charges of consumption of alcohol by a minor, false informing and resisting arrest.
"What you can't do," Weis said, "because of uncertainties, you can't go and say, 'I'm counting on this or counting on that.' What you have to do is you set up a plan."
Weis said Joseph Fauria, who probably wasn't going to see game time this year, would move from the scout team to practice with the ones and twos.
Boise State: After Boise State returned home from its thrilling win over Oregon, the school's first win in a true BCS road game, coach Chris Petersen didn't lock the game ball in a glass case. According to the Idaho Statesman, Petersen and quarterback Kellen Moore autographed the ball and delivered it to Garrett Schram, a 13-year-old who is battling bone and soft tissue cancer at St. Luke's Children's Hospital. Schram's illness worsened in June and he's been in the hospital the past two weeks. His family auctioned off their tickets to the Oregon game on a local radio station to raise money for a new teen recreation room in the hospital.
Florida International: Coach Mario Cristobal earlier this week said that he would decide at the end of the week whether to play Paul McCall, who has started the first three games of the season, or Wayne Younger at quarterback against Toledo.
Both players played against South Florida last week. McCall completed 8 of 13 passes for 46 yards and an interception. Younger was 3 of 8. Cristobal said there's a scenario where both could play this weekend, but he encouraging both players to try to win the job outright.
"I would like to see one take the job and run with it," Cristobal said. "If we have to use them both and play to their strength, we will."