NCF Nation: J.J. McDermott

Instant analysis: SMU 28, Pitt 6

January, 7, 2012

SMU beat Pitt 28-6 in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Saturday. Here is an instant analysis.

How the game was won: Pitt looked uninspired from the outset, and was totally outplayed in every aspect of the game. After SMU jumped out to a 21-0 first-quarter lead, you had to figure the game was just about over because the Panthers' anemic offense is simply not equipped to come from behind. The Pitt offensive line struggled once again, particularly left tackle Greg Gaskins, and so did quarterback Tino Sunseri -- who had two turnovers. Though Pitt was able to get pressure on SMU quarterback J.J. McDermott, he was able to avoid major sacks and find holes in the man-to-man defense to find wide open receivers.

Turning point: First quarter. This is all you need to know about how the first quarter went. Total yards: SMU 159, Pitt minus-5; First downs: SMU 7, Pitt 0; Time of possession: SMU 10:56, Pitt 3:49.

Stat of the game: 7. Total rushing yards for Pitt in the game.

Player of the game: SMU DE Margus Hunt. Pitt has now given up over 60 sacks on the season after the Mustangs got seven in the game. Hunt had four as he simply overpowered Gaskins all game long.

Second guessing: Pitt was terrible inside the SMU 25 today. In four opportunities, the Panthers came away with two field goals, a missed field goal and an interception. The interception was a fluke, as it bounced off Isaac Bennett's hands, then off a helmet and into the arms of Stephon Sanders. On several of the other possessions, Sunseri took sacks at the worst possible time. Sums up the story of the season. Pitt also had two opportunities on special teams taken away -- one was a recovered onside kick negated by an inadvertent whistle; another was a fake punt for a first down negated because of a false start. SMU also blocked one Pitt punt.

Well wishes: SMU running back Jared Williams broke his left leg on a scary hit with Pitt safety Andrew Taglianetti. Williams was carted off the field on a stretcher with an air cast on his leg, and Taglianetti was visibly distraught over the hit.

What Pitt learned: There is plenty of work for new coach Paul Chryst to do. As has been the case in 2011, quarterback and offensive line play are two of the biggest issues that have to be fixed. Good thing Chryst and incoming offensive coordinator Bob Bostad have the experience needed to make these two areas better. Pitt is going to be a more traditional offense in the future, and to be able to do that, the offensive line has got to be better. One thing has to be said about the coaching in this game -- the Panthers only had five full-time coaches on the sideline, and interim coach Keith Patterson was put in an extremely difficult position to lead this team.

What SMU learned: When the Mustangs are able to hold onto the football and make plays in the pass game, they win. SMU went into the game with the worst turnover margin in the nation (minus-17) but was plus-2 in this game. McDermott hit Darius Johnson for a 50-yard touchdown early in the game, and was able to pick apart a Pitt defense that at times had linebackers on the Mustangs' fastest receivers. Johnson ended up with seven catches for 121 yards -- and he returns next season along with injured running back Zach Line, Hunt and many other standouts on offense and defense.

BBVA Compass Bowl: Three Keys

January, 6, 2012
You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys for Pitt and SMU in the BBVA Compass Bowl:


1. Focus. The same question has to be asked again this year heading into the BBVA Compass Bowl: What will be the motivation for the Panthers, who are playing in this game for the second straight season under an interim head coach? There is no doubt these players and this program were rocked hard by the way former coach Todd Graham left. They must put those negative emotions behind them and play for themselves and each other. This is a team that has been maddeningly inconsistent, which led to a disappointing season. Can they pull it together one final time to win their third straight bowl game?

2. Run. Pitt has experienced the most success this season when running the ball. That task got more difficult when Ray Graham was lost for the season. It will be even harder now that backup Zach Brown is questionable for the game with a bruised sternum. True freshman Isaac Bennett and Corey Davis will be relied upon to shoulder the load, so the game doesn't rest on the arm of quarterback Tino Sunseri.

3. Get after J.J. McDermott. Pitt has been terrific with its pass rush all season, tied for fourth nationally in sacks with an average of 3.25 per game. The Panthers have 39 total sacks on the season. The Mustangs have given up 27 sacks on the year, so there should be plenty of opportunity for Aaron Donald and Brandon Lindsey to get after McDermott. That obviously is a huge key if the Panthers want to disrupt their passing game -- the strength of the team.


1. Limit the mistakes. SMU ranks last in the nation in turnover margin (minus-17) and has at least one interception in 11 of its 12 games this season. Only East Carolina has thrown more interceptions than SMU’s 19 in 2011, according to ESPN Stats & Information. On the bright side, Pitt only has eight interceptions this year. On the down side, Pitt did force six turnovers the last time out against Syracuse.

2. Make Sunseri win it. SMU has some pretty talented players up front. Defensive end Taylor Thompson, who has seven sacks and six forced fumbles on the season, is going to need a big game to slow down the Pitt running attack and to take Sunseri down. Ja'Gared Davis is also an important player for the Mustangs on defense -- he has 4.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Taylor Reed is a tackling machine and will be key to slowing down the Pitt run.

3. Pass game must get going. There is no escaping this -- SMU has to pass the ball in order to win. The Mustangs went 2-4 in their last six games largely for this reason: Scoring an average of 17.7 points during the stretch, SMU averaged just 223.7 yards through the air and threw six touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Panthers have been much better on pass defense in the second half of the season but will be challenged by Cole Beasley and Darius Johnson -- each has over 900 yards receiving and the duo has combined for nine of the team's 16 touchdowns this season. If SMU can protect McDermott and connect on big pass plays early to take a quick lead, Pitt could find itself in serious trouble. The Panthers are not equipped to play from behind.

Season recap: SMU

December, 7, 2011

Record: 7-5, 5-3 C-USA

The season appeared as if it would be an improvement over 2010, when the Mustangs won the West Division and played in the Conference USA championship game. They got off to a 5-1 start, including a huge 40-33 overtime win over cross-town rival TCU, their first win over a ranked team since the 1980s. SMU also avenged a loss to UCF -- which beat the Mustangs in the C-USA title game a year ago.

But then things began to fall apart for an offense that is known for its high scoring. J.J. McDermott, who replaced Kyle Padron in the season opener, started to struggle and the Mustangs ended up losing four of their final six games. In three of those losses, SMU scored a touchdown or less, unheard of for a June Jones run 'n' shoot offense. SMU squeaked out a 27-24 win over Rice to get to seven wins in the regular season for the second straight year. But SMU was unable to beat Tulsa and Houston this year, its top competition in the West.

Still, getting to a third straight bowl game tied the school record for consecutive bowl appearances. For a program ravaged by the death penalty, that is a huge measure of how far this program has come.

Offensive MVP: Zach Line, RB. Line led Conference USA in rushing for the second straight season with 1,224 yards and scored a league-best 17 touchdowns in just 10 games before suffering a season-ending foot injury. Still, he made the C-USA first team and was dependable all season long for an offense that struggled at times.

Defensive MVP: Taylor Thompson, DE. The Mustangs got a lot of clutch performances on defense, but Thompson was a C-USA first-team selection after leading the team with seven sacks and six forced fumbles -- that tied him for No. 3 in the nation.

Turning point: A 27-3 loss to Southern Miss. SMU only had 330 yards and 14 first downs in the loss, which started the slide at the end of the season. The Mustangs had opportunities in the second half, driving into Southern Miss territory twice, but they came away with no points. They also had nine penalties and were 4-of-13 on third downs.

What’s next: SMU plays Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl, and then it is off to prepare for a new conference home, as the Mustangs are reportedly set to join the Big East for 2013. Coach June Jones has been mentioned as a candidate at several openings, but has reportedly assured his staff he is staying. For how long is always a question that has surrounded him everywhere he has gone.

BBVA Compass Bowl

December, 4, 2011
SMU Mustangs (7-5) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (6-6)

Jan. 7, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)

SMU take from college football blogger Matt Fortuna: Following a Conference USA West division title, the Mustangs opened this season with a 5-1 record, including an overtime win at TCU. In the season's second half, however, things turned south. SMU lost four of its last six games and two of its final three to finish 7-5. A lot of that falls on the offense, which averaged 33.7 points per game through the season's first half before scoring just 17.7 points per game in its final six games.

Quarterback J.J. McDermott replaced Kyle Padron in a season-opening 46-14 loss at Texas A&M and has started every game since, throwing for 3,182 yards, 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Running back Zach Line eclipsed the 100-yard mark in eight of SMU's first 10 games and led the conference in rushing, but he is out for the remainder of the season with a foot injury. Cole Beasley and Darius Johnson have emerged at receiver, with each just shy of the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Defensively, linebackers Taylor Reed (93 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, three sacks) and Ja'Gared Davis (11 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two interceptions) lead the way for a Mustangs unit that ranks 37th nationally in total defense.

Pitt take from Big East blogger Andrea Adelson: Expectations were high for the Panthers this season. First-year coach Todd Graham predicted his team would run a “high-octane” offense, a line he used over and over again to promote his program and the new regime hitting town. To be sure, it was a huge departure from the pro-style, smash-mouth football Pitt has been known to play. Graham says he has no regrets over ratcheting up hopes, even though Pitt failed to resemble anything high or octane. Simply put, he does not have the personnel to run the hurry-up, spread system that ran to perfection in his final season at Tulsa.

Quarterback Tino Sunseri never bought in or adapted to the changes, and that contributed to Pitt giving up 56 sacks this season. Injuries on the offensive line didn’t help, either, as Pitt used myriad different starting lineups to help fill in the gaps. The line wasn’t the only area that was impacted by injuries. The Panthers lost star tailback Ray Graham to a torn ACL against UConn in October and from that point on, it was an even bigger struggle for the offense to do anything with Sunseri behind center.

Pitt needed a 33-20 win over Syracuse in the final game of the season to become bowl eligible, but at least salvaged the season. What the Panthers do have is a much improved defense from Week 1. Defensive end Aaron Donald was a breakout star, with 10 sacks. The pass defense made a huge turnaround. After giving up more than 300 yards in two of the first three games of the season, the most they gave up in the final nine weeks was 271 yards to Rutgers.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

October, 17, 2011
Here are your non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each conference. The independent players of the week are picked by a national media panel.


Offense: J.J. McDermott, QB, SMU. McDermott was 20-of-31 and passed for a career-high 358 yards and two touchdowns as SMU defeated UCF, 38-17. McDermott improved to 5-0 as a starter and it marked his third straight 300-yard passing game, tying the SMU record.

Defense: Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall. Curry had nine tackles, which included four tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, to go with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in a win over Rice.

Special teams: Richard Crawford, PR, SMU. Returned a punt 92 yards in a win over UCF, the second-longest punt return in league history. He totaled 141 punt return yards for the game, the second-best single-game effort in SMU history.


Offense: Riley Nelson, QB, BYU. Nelson completed 17 of 27 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns, while adding a team-high 87 rushing yards on 12 carries to lead BYU to a 38-28 win over Oregon State.

Defense: Brandon Ogletree, LB, BYU. Forced turnovers on each of the Beavers’ first three possessions of the third quarter, intercepting a pass and causing two fumbles.

Special teams: Jon Teague, PK, Navy. Teague made two field goals against Rutgers, though his 34-yard attempt was blocked with under five minutes to play.


East Division

Offense: Bernard Pierce, RB, Temple. Pierce broke five school records in a 34-0 win over Buffalo after running for 152 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. Pierce and Matt Brown each rushed for 100 yards.

Defense: Roosevelt Nix, DT, Kent State. Forced an early fumble that led to a Kent State field goal and posted career-highs of six tackles and four solo stops in a loss to Miami (Ohio). He also had two tackles for loss, a pair of quarterback hurries and broke up a pass.

Special teams: BooBoo Gates, KR, Bowling Green. Gates had four kick returns for 152 yards, including an 88-yard touchdown return in the fourth quarter in a 28-21 loss to Toledo.

West Division

Offense: Chandler Harnish, QB, Northern Illinois. Ran for a career-high 229 yards on 14 carries and passed for 203 yards on 14-of-27 passing for a total of 432 yards of total offense in the Huskies 51-22 win over Western Michigan.

Defense: Desmond Marrow, DB, Toledo. Had a team-high 10 tackles in a 28-21 win at Bowling Green. Marrow added a career-best three passes defensed.

Special Teams: Scott Kovanda, P, Ball State. Punted seven times for 327 yards and a 46.7 average in a 23-20 win at Ohio. Kovanda pinned Ohio inside the 20-yard line four times and had a career-long 67-yard punt.

Mountain West

Co-Offense: Doug Martin, RB, Boise State. Ronnie Hillman, RB, San Diego State. Martin carried the ball 20 times for a career-high 200 yards and three touchdowns in a 63-13 win at Colorado State. His 65-yard TD run was the longest of the season for Martin. Hillman ran 27 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-27 win at Air Force. Both of his touchdowns came in the final period after the game was tied with 2:30 remaining in the third quarter.

Defense: Tyrone Crawford, DE, Boise State. Crawford recorded five tackles in a win at Colorado State, including two sacks for losses totaling 14 yards. He also recovered a fumble.

Special teams: Chris McNeill, WR/PR, Wyoming. McNeill returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown, threw a 28-yard touchdown pass and also completed a 2-point conversion pass in a 41-14 win over UNLV. The punt return for a touchdown was the Cowboys’ first since 2004 and the first in the Mountain West this season.

Sun Belt

Offense: Kolton Browning, QB, ULM. Went 23-of-31 for 275 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Troy. He also added 33 yards on nine carries on the ground to top the 300-yard mark in total offense.

Defense: Lance Kelly, LB, ULL. Had a game-high eight tackles, a tackle-for-loss, a fumble recovery, a pass break-up and an interception in a win over North Texas.

Special Teams: Mitchell Bailey, RB, ULM. After ULM took a 15-10 lead on Troy late in the third quarter, Bailey forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff that the Warhawks recovered on the 17-yard line. Two plays later, Browning threw a touchdown pass to Colby Harper to stretch the ULM lead and the Warhawks never looked back.


Offense: Chandler Jones, WR, San Jose State. Scored three touchdowns three different ways in a 28-27 win over Hawaii. He scored on a 20-yard reverse, off a fumbled kick return, and caught a 37-yard pass with 36 seconds remaining to win. Jones came into the game with just one career touchdown.

Defense: Khalid Wooten, CB, Nevada. Recorded six tackles, forced two fumbles and intercepted a pass in a 49-7 win over New Mexico.

Special teams: Travis Johnson, DE, San Jose State. Blocked two kicks in San Jose State’s win over Hawaii. One was on an extra-point attempt, which was picked up and returned by Duke Ihenacho for the Spartans’ first-ever 2-point defensive PAT. He also blocked a 42-yard field goal attempt with 3:22 remaining.

Weekend rewind: Non-AQs

October, 17, 2011
Taking a look some of the top stories among the non-AQs in Week 7.

The turnaround kids: Bravo to Louisiana-Lafayette (6-1) for becoming bowl eligible after a 30-10 win against North Texas, continuing a remarkable turnaround under first-year coach Mark Hudspeth. Not only have the Ragin’ Cajuns doubled their win total from a season ago, they are the first Sun Belt team to ever win six of its first seven games. They already have beaten preseason favorites FIU and Troy en route to a 4-0 league mark, and are hoping for their first bowl appearance since 1970.

But Louisiana-Lafayette is not the only team that has doubled its win total from a season ago.

Eastern Michigan: In 2009, the Golden Eagles finished the season 0-12. Today they are 4-3 after Alex Gillett scored on a 30-yard run with 37 seconds left in a 35-28 win against Central Michigan 35-28. Eastern Michigan racked up 350 yards rushing and all five of its touchdowns came on the ground. This is the first time it is above .500 in October since starting 3-2 in 2005. It finished that season 4-7.

[+] EnlargeMatt Faulkner
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezSan Jose State QB Matt Faulkner is mobbed by fans after the Spartans' win against Hawaii.
San Jose State: The Spartans were one of the worst teams in the country last season, finishing 1-12 after injuries decimated the team. But now they have equaled their win total from the past two seasons combined and sit at 3-4, very much in the thick of the too-hard-to-predict WAC race after a wild 28-27 win against Hawaii on Friday night. Fans stormed the field, and coaches and players danced in celebration, too. After so many dark years, San Jose State is 2-1 in WAC play.

Conference shenanigans: If you want great examples of parity, take a look at the MAC West and the WAC. Five teams are at 4-3 in the MAC West, including Eastern Michigan and Ball State, two of the worst teams in the nation last season. Toledo leads the division with a 3-0 mark in league play. Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Ball State and Northern Illinois are all at 2-1 in league play.

The WAC is having a tough time without Boise State this season. No team is above .500. Fresno State (3-4), which went winless in league play and got smoked 57-7 by Boise State, sits atop the conference at 2-0. Hawaii, the preseason favorite, has had two ugly losses to San Jose State and UNLV. Nevada, which lost one game a year ago, is 3-3. New Mexico State, one of the worst teams in the country the past several seasons, is 3-3 with one league win. Just about every team has a shot at the league, maybe save Idaho (1-6, 0-3).

Let's hear it for the Chandlers: Chandler Jones, WR, San Jose State. Jones scored three different ways in a 28-27 upset win against Hawaii on Friday night. His 20-yard run on a reverse got the Spartans on the scoreboard. Next, a 23-yard fumble return off a fumbled kickoff return gave San Jose State a 20-7 second-quarter lead. Finally, he caught the game-winning 37-yard touchdown pass with 36 seconds to go. Incredibly, his longest play going into the game was a 16-yard reception against Nevada in September.

Chandler Harnish, QB, Northern Illinois: Harnish became the 10th player in FBS history to rush for 200 yards and pass for 200 in a single game, after he accomplished the feat in a 51-22 win against Western Michigan. Harnish ran for a career-high 229 yards, including runs of 51, 29, 45, 40. He also passed for 203 yards. And oh by the way, he only played three quarters. Denard Robinson was the last to pull the 200-200 double -- doing it twice last season.

Helmet stickers

Ronnie Hillman, RB, San Diego State. Hillman ran 27 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-27 win at Air Force. It was the Aztecs' first victory in Colorado Springs since 2004, and Hillman's fifth 100-yard rushing game this season.

Cody Hoffman, WR, BYU. Hoffman had nine catches for 162 yards and a touchdown in a 38-28 win against Oregon State.

J.J. McDermott, QB, SMU. McDermott went 20-of-31 for 358 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a 38-17 win against UCF.

Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State. Moore went 26-of-30 for 388 yards and four touchdowns in a 63-13 win against Colorado State. He started the game with 18 straight completions. It is the second time this season he completed more than 80 percent of his passes. Teammates Tyler Shoemaker (180 yards receiving) and Doug Martin (200 yards rushing) deserve mention as well.

Bernard Pierce, RB, Temple. Pierce ran for 152 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-0 win against Buffalo, breaking four school records in the process. He now has 44 touchdowns (43 rush, one receiving) in his career, passing Paul Palmer (1983-86). Pierce re-wrote his own single-season record for touchdowns and now has 18 (previous record was 16 from 2009). He also re-wrote his own season record for points scored (96, which he shared with Brandon McManus in 2009) and now has 102 points this season.

Midseason report: SMU

October, 11, 2011

Record: 4-1, 2-0 CUSA

The Mustangs made it to the Conference USA championship game last season, but now coach June Jones expects to win it. His team has its hands full in the West Division, but certainly the Mustangs have shown the potential to get back into the title game again this season. They have done it with a new quarterback. J.J. McDermott replaced an ineffective Kyle Padron in the season opener and has not let go of the starting job. McDermott has played well, throwing for 1,482 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions to rank No. 2 in CUSA in passing. Darius Johnson has proven to be a go-to receiver with 39 catches for 550 yards and four touchdowns, and leads the league in receptions per game and receiving yards a game. His teammate Cole Beasley is right behind him at No. 3 in both categories. Running back Zach Line once again is dominating on the ground, with 583 yards and 11 touchdowns already this season to lead CUSA. SMU has done a nice job on defense as well, ranking No. 2 in the league in total defense, giving up an average of 296.6 yards a game. Steps are being made, and none bigger than its 40-33 overtime win over cross-town rival TCU. It was the Mustangs' first win over a ranked team since defeating No. 22 TCU 21-10 in Dallas on Sept. 10, 2005. SMU is off to a 4-1 start for the first time since going 5-1 to begin the 1986 season. But the schedule has its challenges. The Mustangs get UCF this weekend in a rematch of last year's CUSA title game. They also have to play at Southern Miss, Tulsa and Houston. But the Mustangs have proved they can play with anybody. Will that translate into an even bigger milestone for the program this season?

Offensive MVP: RB Zach Line. You are making me choose just one? It was a tough call between Line and Johnson, but I am going with the guy who leads the league in scoring with 66 points. He has been incredibly valuable and durable once again.

Defensive MVP: LB Ja'Gared Davis. Plenty of candidates for this one as well. Taylor Thompson is third in the league with five sacks, and Taylor Reed leads the team with 39 tackles. But Davis has done a little bit of everything -- he has 28 tackles, including four for loss and 1.5 sacks. He also has an interception, forced and recovered a fumble and has six passes defended.

TCU faces challenge from SMU pass game

September, 29, 2011
If there is one area of the TCU defense that has struggled more than the rest, it has been against the pass.

There were glaring problems in the season opener against Baylor, in which the Bears had five touchdown passes of 25 yards or more. A lot of those came against one-on-one coverage, as the Horned Frogs seemed helpless to stop balls that were simply being thrown over their heads.

Since then, TCU has not faced as big a test through the air. But that changes Saturday against SMU in the Battle for the Iron Skillet. The Mustangs are No. 15 in the nation in passing under June Jones, the run 'n' shoot master.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. McDermott
AP Photo/Dave EinselIn four games, J.J. McDermott has thrown for 1,133 yards and four touchdowns.
They have not really lost a beat with J.J. McDermott at quarterback, either. McDermott relieved an ineffective Kyle Padron in the season opener against Texas A&M and has thrown for 1,133 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions.

Coach Gary Patterson knows what to expect out of this offense. So does his defense. He says his players are doing better against the pass.

"We gave up one long pass against Monroe; last week didn't give one up," he said. "We just have to keep getting better."

Indeed, of the nine passing touchdowns TCU has given up this season, eight have been of 20-plus yards. Consider TCU allowed just five passing touchdowns of 20-plus yards in all of 2011. There are new faces starting in the secondary, so they have needed time to get adjusted.

Also, Patterson said last week veteran cornerback Greg McCoy was not playing to the level he played at in the Rose Bowl, having given up three touchdown passes already this season. He wanted his team to get into sync, and play with confidence.

How does does a win over FCS Portland State do that? That remains to be seen. SMU gave TCU a challenge in the first half last season, taking a 14-10 lead into halftime. Zach Line had a monster game with 139 yards and one touchdown and an average of 8.2 yards a run.

Line is back, and already has 11 touchdown runs this season -- second in the nation behind Bernard Pierce of Temple. Though the Mustangs love to throw, Line has been a huge presence in the run game the last two seasons. He ranks No. 14 in the nation in rushing.

But what could hurt SMU is the potential loss of top receiver Cole Beasley, who has an injured right knee. Jones hasn't said whether Beasley will play. If he can't go, that would be a big blow for an SMU offense that is doing a better job of getting big plays in the pass game.

Beasley leads the team with 31 receptions for 376 yards. He and Darius Johnson have been the top two targets, combining for 58 of the team's 95 receptions.

On throwing the ball deep, Jones said, "I think we’re better than we were last year at this point. We’re making more throws up top and down the field. We still missed a few in the first three games, but last week we made a couple good throws so we’ll just hope that we keep getting better each week."

Given what Baylor did to TCU, you can bet SMU will try to follow the same game plan.

Video: McDermott, SMU ready for TCU

September, 27, 2011

SMU QB J.J. McDermott on preparing for Saturday's game vs. TCU in Fort Worth.

Swope taking over for Aggies receivers

September, 4, 2011
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles (14 receptions, 158 yards, touchdown) and Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon (11 receptions, 144 yards) had big debuts for the Big 12's strongest position: receiver.

At Texas A&M, you'd expect those kinds of numbers to come from the league's No. 3 receiver, Jeff Fuller, but early on, it's been slot man Ryan Swope making big plays downfield, underneath and on bubble screens.

He's caught six passes for 88 yards and a touchdown already, but he took over on Texas A&M's last touchdown drive that has the Aggies ahead 27-14 midway through the second quarter.

He caught four passes for 53 yards and ad-libbed on a broken play for a 28-yard score to finish the drive.

Fuller has only been targeted once so far, and drew a pass interference penalty in the end zone. The Aggies haven't thrown downfield much, but are working shorter screens and bubble routes early.

New SMU quarterback J.J. McDermott led the Mustangs on touchdown drives in his first two drives, but he's been high on a good percentage of his throws so far. For now, Kyle Padron is still on the bench.

After the score, McDermott was sacked twice and the Ponies went three-and-out. We might see Padron again before too long.
SMU opened spring practice Monday with a lot of questions, especially in the offensive backfield. Many of those answers came after the first of 15 sessions was completed.

Coach June Jones raved about the play of quarterback Kyle Padron, who enters spring camp as the starter, but was supposed to get a hefty challenge from New Mexico State transfer J.J. McDermott.

Padron and McDermott are the only two scholarship quarterbacks this spring after Bo Levi Mitchell transferred and Braden Smith moved to safety.

“Already you can tell his confidence in what he’s doing,” Jones said of Padron, who started six games after Mitchell suffered an injury. “He’s worked real hard with [assistant head coach] Dan [Morrison], spending time on the films, and he’s going to get better and better. It’s so fun to have a quarterback that now gets it, and J.J. looked good today, too. He’s a very capable quarterback. So we’re going to have some guys that can throw it in the barn there.”

Padron’s confidence and experience will take some pressure off the running game, which will be young after star Shawnbrey McNeal decided to leave school early for the NFL.

Zach Line, last year’s backup, will miss spring practice as he recovers from an injury, so finding the back to replace Jones’ first-ever 1,000-yard rusher probably won’t happen until the fall. The Mustangs have signees Darryl Fields and Kevin Pope arriving in the summer.

Jones said both players will play this year instead of one of them redshirting like he originally planned.

“We’re going to miss Shawnbrey. Shawnbrey’s a good football player, but we have some young kids coming in and we’ve got some young kids on campus that are good players,” Jones said. “I think as Kyle gets to being more efficient throwing the ball, which obviously he’s going to be this year, it certainly gives the runner an opportunity to make some plays.”

Jones said the entire offense will be limited this spring with seven offensive players recovering from injuries and offseason surgery.

Spring superlatives: SMU

March, 19, 2010
After a 25-year drought, SMU finally got back on the winning path and made their first bowl game since receiving the death penalty from the NCAA. Now, the goal is consistency. SMU will once again be a young squad, but expectations are high for them to repeat the success of a year ago.

Here’s a look at the strongest and weakest positions for SMU this spring:

Strongest position: Quarterback

Key returners: Sophomore Kyle Padron (67.1 completion percentage, 1,922 yards, 10 touchdowns)

Key departures: Sophomore Bo Levi Mitchell (56 completion percentage, 1,725 yards, 12 touchdowns)

The skinny: Kyle Padron stepped in last year after Bo Levi Mitchell went down with injury. He led the Mustangs to their first bowl game since 1984 and set a school record for passing against Nevada in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. Mitchell transferred earlier this year and Padron will go into the spring as the starter. But he’ll face some tough competition from New Mexico State transfer J.J. McDermott, who is eligible after sitting out last year. Coach June Jones said he’s also looking forward to true freshman Stephen Kaiser arriving on campus in the fall.

Weakest position: Running back

Key returners: Sophomore Zach Line (49 carries, 189 yards, seven touchdowns)

Key departures: Shawnbrey McNeal (236 carries, 1,188, 12 touchdowns)

The skinny: Jones knew there was a possibility that leading rusher Shawnbrey McNeal could leave early for the NFL, but he wasn’t really prepared to see it happen. McNeal was June Jones’ first 1,000-yard rusher and was going to be an integral piece toward continuing the Mustangs success. Jones said he’d have to play incoming freshmen running backs Darryl Fields and Kevin Pope to fill out the depth behind returner Zach Line.
Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:

Central Florida Knights
Spring practice starts: March 19
Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • The Knights will need to develop offensive line talent after allowing 2.54 sacks per game and failing to block for a rushing offense that ranked 82nd in the country. The Knights return all but two offensive linemen and have one coming in the spring.
  • The quarterback battle will heat up with early enrollee Jeffrey Godfrey, who already has impressed coach George O’Leary. Godfrey will compete against Rob Calabrese for the starting role.
  • The Knights will have to find replacements for three key members of the defensive line -- DE Jarvis Geathers, RT Torrell Troup, LT Travis Timmons. The defense was the main reason the Knights finished 8-5 and won their final five games.
East Carolina Pirates
Spring practice starts: March 22
Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • With a new coach, a new system, and a crop of new starters, East Carolina will have its work cut out for it this spring. New head coach Ruffin McNeill needs to replace 15 players with starting experience, which won’t be easy with just a month to work.
  • The most underrated positions the Pirates have to fill are punter and kicker. All-American Matt Dodge is gone as is kicker Ben Hartman, who set the school record for career scoring. Finding replacements for those two is a top priority.
  • New offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley will be implement Texas Tech’s offensive system with just two scholarship quarterbacks and a team that relied on its running game. Riley is confident he can install all of his spread offense this fall, but there’s no telling how quickly the Pirates will pick it up.
Houston Cougars
Spring practice starts: March 27
Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • The one thing that really kept Houston from an undefeated season was its defense. Brian Stewart, who was named the defensive coordinator in January, inherits a young team with a lot of talent, but he has some work to do to catch the defense up to the offense by September.
  • Quarterback Case Keenum returns for his senior season, but his center, Carl Barnett, does not. Barnett started 39 games, so Keenum will have to establish a good rapport with his new center this spring. Blake Sargent, who was the backup last year, appears to be the front-runner.
  • Even though the Cougars did not lose many starters on offense, coach Kevin Sumlin will look for more athletic players to rotate into the mix. Last season, 19 players had at least one catch and 12 had double-digit catches.

(Read full post)

Non-AQ pre-spring power rankings

February, 10, 2010
It’s time for everyone’s favorite: pre-spring rankings. Now, we had some communication issues with these rankings last year, so I’m going to explain how these rankings are done. These rankings are based on if the season started tomorrow.

These are NOT my preseason rankings.

There are several teams that have a lot of returners and fewer questions to answer. There are other teams that have talent, but are still looking for some key pieces. This is a reflection of how those teams stack up. Again, these are NOT my preseason rankings.

1. Boise State: The only loss bigger than cornerback Kyle Wilson is the loss of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. The Broncos did make a quick hire from within to keep up the continuity, which should help with the transition into spring football. The offense is totally intact and this team should be working on refining the good thing it already has going.

2. TCU: The Horned Frogs proved last year that they don’t rebuild, they reload. They lost a lot of defensive players that were supposed to hamper the team this year, but actually did little to slow it down. Even though TCU loses defensive stars Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington, there are quality guys waiting and TCU should be able to pick up right where it left off.

3. Utah: The Utes had a huge signing day, especially nabbing some key junior college players who will be able to come in and help right away. Jordan Wynn is the undisputed starting quarterback, which should make this spring a lot more productive than the last one. The defense has a few question marks, but has several players that can step in seamlessly.

4. SMU: Coach June Jones likes working with young players and he’ll have a whole host of them this spring. However, unlike last year, Jones has a quality season on which to build and a lot of young experience with which to build it. The quarterback battle should be interesting with Kyle Padron, New Mexico State transfer J.J. McDermott, and incoming freshman Stephen Kaiser, and they need to find a new starting running back, but overall this team should be looking toward a nine or 10-win season.

5. Navy: Quarterback Ricky Dobbs will likely miss the spring as he recovers from knee surgery, which might not be a bad thing for the Midshipmen. Dobbs was their primary source of scoring last season, and the spring will force the Mids to find other players to become offensive weapons. This Navy teams doesn’t lose much and should continue to be a tough group.

6. Air Force: Coach Troy Calhoun flirted with Tennessee and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter is gone, but many of the players from last season's young team return. Losing DeRuyter is a huge hit since the defense was the anchor of the team, but with former co-defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt assuming fulltime coordinator duties, it should be an easy transition this spring.

7. Houston: The Cougars need to spend this spring working on the defense, which should be a transition with new defensive coordinator Brian Stewart. Luckily for Stewart, he’s got a young and talented group with which to work, it just needs some direction. Offensively, the Cougars should be roughly the same despite a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Both have been in the program, and they return almost all of their offensive players.

8. BYU: Why are the Cougars so low? It’s not because I hate BYU (though some of you will dispute that), it’s because the Cougars have a lot of key questions to answer this spring. The most pressing is at quarterback, but offensive production is also going to be a question mark. Tight end was the most productive position on the team last season, and both of the top players at that position are gone. The Cougars have to find a go-to receiver and replace all of their starters on the defensive line and in the linebacking corps. There is a lot of talent that played last season returning, though, and several missionaries coming in.

9. Middle Tennessee: Middle Tennessee returns most of its players from last season, but lost both of its coordinators. The only reason Middle Tennessee is on this list is because it broke in a new offensive coordinator in 2009 and won 10 games. The talent is still there. Quarterback Dwight Dasher returns and most of the defense remains intact. There are a couple holes to fill, but nothing that should stop this team from being as good as it was a year ago.

10. Nevada: The Wolf Pack didn’t end the season on a high note, but they return a good portion of the team that rattled off an eight game winning streak after losing their first three. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is back and the running game is deep with or without Vai Taua, who missed the bowl game because of academic issues. The defense is the weak spot on this team, but with defensive coordinator Andy Buh coming over from Stanford, the Wolf Pack should start to show some improvement.