NCF Nation: Pat Hill

Kevin Steele returns to Alabama

February, 14, 2013
Kevin Steele is back at Alabama, this time as the Crimson Tide's director of player development.

Alabama's defensive coordinator during the 2007 and 2008 seasons under Nick Saban, Steele will direct the Crimson Tide's recruiting efforts in his new role. Steele was most recently Clemson's defensive coordinator from 2009-11 and was an administrative aide and consultant to his longtime friend, John Chavis, at LSU last season.

What the Tide are getting in Steele is one of the best recruiters in the business and a guy who has a wealth of football experience. He has coached in the NFL. He was the head coach at Baylor, and he's made assistant-coaching stops at such places as Nebraska, Florida State and Tennessee.

With the new NCAA recruiting rules that are slated to go into effect Aug. 1, Steele will be a huge asset for the Tide, who had already assembled one of the most effective recruiting machines in college football.

Saban also announced Thursday that Kerry Stevenson had joined the staff as the team's director of player development. Getting a former high school coach with ties to the Mobile, Ala., area should also come in handy for the Tide, who lost Jeremy Pruitt to Florida State as defensive coordinator. Pruitt had done a bang-up job of recruiting the Mobile area for Alabama.

Saban is also in the process of trying to replace Jeff Stoutland as offensive-line coach. Former Fresno State head coach Pat Hill is somebody to keep an eye on. Hill was the Atlanta Falcons' offensive line coach this past season and coached with Saban on the Cleveland Browns' staff in the early 1990s. Also, South Carolina offensive-line coach and co-offensive coordinator Shawn Elliott was scheduled to interview with Saban on Thursday.

Fresno State begins anew

February, 29, 2012
For the first time in 15 springs, a new head man will be roaming the Fresno State sideline.

Tim DeRuyter has no Fu Manchu mustache, and he has saved the blustery talk about playing "anytime, anywhere." If you want even more proof that that these truly are new times at Fresno State, then pay attention to the revamped offense and defense DeRuyter brings with him now that spring practice is officially under way.

Goodbye pro-style and hello spread.

Goodbye 4-3 and hello 3-4.

[+] EnlargeTim DeRuyter
AP Photo/Mark CrosseTim DeRuyter is bringing is own vision this season to the Fresno State program.

None of this is to say that every single trace of former coach Pat Hill has been scrubbed from the Bulldogs. Hill recruited every player on the field this spring, instilling a toughness in each of them. He won more than 100 games in 14 seasons, bringing Fresno State to national prominence before the program slid back down. A 4-8 campaign in 2011 spelled the end for Hill, who gave everything he had to Fresno State.

But there is no doubting that folks in town got antsy for a change. The administration did, as well. So in comes DeRuyter, a proven defensive assistant getting his first opportunity as a head coach. He plans to put his own indelible stamp on the program, one he believes has the same potential Hill always spoke so passionately about during his time in the Valley.

"Coach Hill, he established a toughness, a physicality, a work ethic we're going to build on," DeRuyter said in a phone interview. "We're going to tweak some things offensively and defensively, but we're going to keep the identity of Fresno State. We're going to add a speed factor to it as far as how fast we're going to play on offense and defense."

Speed factor aside, the major question DeRuyter must answer right at the top is how he takes this program from good to great. Since the most successful non-automatic qualifying programs have gone to different conferences, there is a void that Fresno State can easily fill. The next rising non-AQ could very well be the school that was the very first rising non-AQ back in the early part of the past decade.

"You have to talk about consistency, and consistency happens in January, February, March -- all the way through the year," DeRuyter said. "That's one of the things we've talked about with our players. To win championships, you have to get after it now. If we play the exact pace, tempo and intensity, it's going to get us there. Coach Hill did tremendous things. His teams went toe-to-toe with everybody. If they did have a disappointment along the way, it was maybe losing to a team on paper they felt they should have beaten. No matter who we play, there's a standard for Fresno State football we have to live up to."

Losing seasons are unacceptable. So getting back to a bowl is a primary goal. Though the schemes will look decidedly different, the personnel on offense will not. Derek Carr returns for his second season as the starting quarterback. Though he is a pro-style quarterback, DeRuyter said Carr has fully embraced the switch to the high-tempo spread offense.

"He's an ideal guy to build around," DeRuyter said. "I go back to the game a year ago when they went to Lincoln and played Nebraska. He does not get fazed. He can spin the ball, and he also is a guy who can make plays and extend the play with his feet. His biggest attribute is his demeanor on the field. The game becomes slow for him because he gets it."

Seven other starters return, including running back Robbie Rouse and receivers Jalen Saunders and Rashad Evans and the entire starting offensive line. Offense, however, has rarely been a concern at Fresno State. The defense has been in major need of fixing for several years now, so it makes sense the Bulldogs hired somebody with DeRuyter's acumen as a defensive coach.

The transition to a 3-4 is meant to get more athletic players onto the field while also allowing the Bulldogs to better disguise their blitzes and schemes. Identifying the four best linebackers is a huge priority in the spring. The good news is that several injured players return, including safeties Phillip Thomas and Derron Smith.

Couple all these transitions with moving to a new conference home in the Mountain West, and getting used to a new head coach, and you have the makings of quite a different look at Fresno State.

Top 10 non-AQ moments of 2011

January, 12, 2012
Let's take a look back at some of the top moments from the non-AQs in 2011, both good and bad.

[+] EnlargeCasey Pachall
Otto Kitsinger III/Getty ImagesQB Casey Pachall and TCU stopped Boise State's 65-game regular-season home win streak en route to a third straight Mountain West title.
1. A missed field goal strikes again. Everybody knew the Boise State-TCU game would have major implications in the national picture. No. 5 Boise State came in undefeated, with a 65-game regular-season home winning streak and veteran Kellen Moore leading the way. But the Horned Frogs are never an easy out, as Boise State has learned through the years. Casey Pachall rallied his team from a fourth-quarter deficit with 1:05 to go when he threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Carter. Rather than go for the extra point to tie the game at 35, Gary Patterson went for 2. It was a bold move, but it was one he felt was necessary if he wanted to win in regulation. Pachall converted with a pass to Josh Boyce and TCU went up 36-35. Moore wasn't done. He guided the Broncos into position for the game-winning field goal. But for the second straight year, they missed. This time, it was Dan Goodale's 39-yard kick sailing wide right, denying Boise State a shot at a BCS game. TCU left the Mountain West with its third straight conference title.

2. Houston collapses. All Houston had to do to secure its first BCS berth was beat Southern Miss in the Conference USA title game. The Cougars were the favorite, having gone undefeated in the regular season with Case Keenum behind center. Southern Miss had lost to UAB. So yeah, most everybody expected the Cougars to romp. Instead, the Golden Eagles pulled one of the biggest upsets of the season, shutting down Keenum and winning 49-28 in a game they dominated from start to finish. Keenum threw two interceptions and was harassed all day long. The end result: Houston ended up in the TicketCity Bowl, a far cry from one of the major BCS games. Southern Miss won its first C-USA title game.

3. Records broken. The two best non-AQ players this year ended up breaking two of the most meaningful stats for quarterbacks. Moore ended his career as the NCAA all-time wins leader with 50, passing Colt McCoy of Texas; Keenum ended his career with several NCAA marks -- 19,217 passing yards; 20,114 yards of total offense; 155 passing touchdowns; and 1,546 completions. They both did all they could to lead their teams with maturity and class, and were great representatives for their respective programs.

4. No BCS. For the first time since the BCS expanded to five games, there were no non-AQ teams represented. Much was made about a one-loss No. 7 Boise State team getting passed over for an at-large selection in favor of two teams ranked lower in the BCS standings (Michigan and Virginia Tech). Though four non-AQs finished the season ranked in the AP poll (Boise State, TCU, Houston, Southern Miss), this season will be remembered as one in which there were no undefeated non-AQs for the first time since 2005.

5. Expansion. One of the biggest storylines to eclipse the entire season was expansion, and its impact on the non-AQs. The Mountain West and Conference USA announced they were forming an alliance in the hopes of gaining an automatic bid, and bolstering itself in the event they lost teams. Well, the inevitable happened and they both lost teams. Boise State and San Diego State are leaving the MWC for the Big East, along with UCF, Houston and SMU of C-USA. With TCU going to the Big 12, you can say the non-AQs have been stripped of nearly every single one of their most consistently good teams. There is no word on the future of the alliance between the MWC and C-USA.

[+] EnlargePat Hill
AP Photo/Gary KazanjianPat Hill won 112 games and made 11 bowl appearances in 15 seasons at Fresno State.
6. End of an era. Pat Hill had become an institution at Fresno, guiding the Bulldogs to some of their most important victories in the past 15 years while putting this program on the national map. But this team has slid in recent years and hit rock bottom in 2011 -- going 4-9, tying the mark for most losses in school history. The administration decided it was time for Hill to go and fired him after winning 112 games and going to 11 bowl games in his career there.

7. End of an era, Part II. Many wondered how good TCU would be this season with Andy Dalton headed to the NFL. After a few early-season struggles, the Horned Frogs proved they would be just fine. TCU ended its Mountain West reign with its third straight conference title; 11 victories; and yet another top 15 ranking. In fact, TCU is one of just four schools (Alabama, Boise State and Oregon) to finish in the top 15 of both major polls over the past four seasons. On top of that, TCU and Boise State are the only schools to win at least 11 games each of the past four years.

8. Navy streak ends. For the past eight years, we have come to expect Navy in a bowl game. But it was not meant to be this season. The Midshipmen lost one heartbreaking game after another -- five games by three points or fewer. The last one of those was a 27-24 setback to San Jose State in the second-to-last game of the season. Navy led going into the fourth quarter, but could not hold on. A victory in that game would have ensured a bowl appearance, because Navy finished the season with its 10th straight win over Army.

9. Got any D? The wildest game in college football happened in the MAC this year, between Northern Illinois and Toledo. Now this game is what MAC-tion is all about. The Huskies outlasted the Rockets 63-60 in a game that featured eight lead changes, 1,121 combined yards of offense and a MAC-record 17 touchdowns. Chandler Harnish won the game when he threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Perez Ashford with 19 seconds left. The victory gave Northern Illinois the MAC West title, and allowed the Huskies to make it to the conference title game, where they won their first title since 1983. They also ended up tying the school record with 11 victories.

10. Turn it around. This season, the Sun Belt literally turned itself upside down. Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State and Western Kentucky went a combined 9-27 in 2010. This season, they went 26-12 and each finished with a winning record. Arkansas State won the league and finished 10-3; ULL went 9-4. Both teams made bowl games. Western Kentucky, which went winless in 2009, finished 7-5 but was left out of a bowl.

3-point stance: Farewell to Pat Hill

December, 6, 2011
1. When sportswriters talk about exciting games we covered, one of my trump cards is the Fresno State-USC game in 2005. The No. 16 Bulldogs scared the No. 1 Trojans to death before losing, 50-42. Fresno State coach Pat Hill borrowed the philosophy that Bobby Bowden used to put Florida State on the map in the 1980s: play anybody, anywhere, anytime. Hill’s Bulldogs beat Colorado, Oregon State, Wisconsin, Georgia Tech, UCLA, Washington, Kansas State, etc. Fresno State let Hill go Sunday after 15 seasons with a record of 112-80. He’s one of the good guys. Hill will be missed.

2. Oregon dropped suspended junior corner Cliff Harris from its program Monday. Man, he gave up a lot for the privilege of not adhering to coach Chip Kelly’s rules. Harris may have been a 2010 consensus All-American, but this year, the Ducks got along just fine without him. Harris played in six games before being suspended for a second time. When Oregon plays in the Rose Bowl, Harris will be looking for an FCS school or trying to explain to the NFL why it should take a chance on a kid who got thrown off the team.

3. Tulane made a smart choice in hiring Saints receiver coach Curtis Johnson as its new head coach. As a college assistant, Johnson made a reputation as a top recruiter, most memorably for going into New Orleans 21 years ago and finding tailback Marshall Faulk for San Diego State. Johnson has never been a head coach, which means Tulane made a leap of faith. But with an alienated New Orleans fan base and nine straight losing seasons, the Green Wave can’t afford to play it safe.

Pat Hill speaks about firing

December, 5, 2011
Former Fresno State coach Pat Hill delivered a passionate final speech Monday, a day after he was fired after 15 seasons as head coach of the Bulldogs.

Hill declined to take questions during a news conference on the Fresno campus, and instead read prepared remarks about what he accomplished there, and what he felt was left to do. He noted the rise in the graduation rates, and made no apologies for his "anytime, anywhere" mantra, though Fresno State had a tougher time as the seasons wore on winning those big games.

"We’ve competed at a very high level," Hill said. "We brought some big-time opponents to Fresno. We’ve won some big games on the road. And that’s what people really look at, believe it or not. I feel for some schools that don’t play that kind of schedule, that lose one game and get sent to the Las Vegas Bowl or something like that. But the way to make a move if you’re a Division I football program is to play the best. We entered the ring, we gave it our best shot. Didn’t finish it, but I would have much rather had the fight than never fought about it and just talked about it, so hopefully big time football will remain. And even though everybody said there was a down trend in our wins and losses, I just want to say, not counting this year, since 2000 only 23 schools in this country have more wins than your Bulldogs."

As for his future and the future of the Fresno State program, Hill closed with this:

"I have a great passion for the game of football, I will remain in the game, I don’t know what capacity. I’m not in any rush right now. My batteries have already been recharged, it didn’t take long. I feel a lot better today than I have for a long time, so I feel very good about where I am in life. I feel that I gave it my best shot for 15 years. It wasn’t good enough and I hope that the next man who comes in can take you all where you want to go. Don’t lose sight of the expectations that this program has. The next level to me is winning championships, going to BCS games and beating top 25 ranked teams. We made our runs. We made some runs. We had two losing seasons in the last 13 years, so we made some runs, we didn’t finish the job. I’ll take complete responsibility for that. I only hope that this team next year can fulfill the dreams of all of you. So as I say goodbye, I thank you for everything. I think the Fresno State football program is in great position right now to make a run. I would have liked to have coached this group of young men, but they will get great leadership, they will do a great job and please give them all your support. Thank you for everything you gave me. It has been great."

Weekend Rewind: Non-AQs

December, 5, 2011
Let's take a look back at the week that was in the non-AQs:

And then there were none. For the first time since the BCS expanded to five games beginning in the 2006 season, there are no non-AQs represented in BCS games. The shocker of the weekend, of course, was Houston losing to Southern Miss 49-28. The Cougars were the best hope for the non-AQs to get an automatic spot into the BCS for the sixth straight season. All they had to do was win the Conference USA championship game. But Southern Miss came to play with a defense that wreaked havoc for most of the afternoon. The Golden Eagles had six tackles for loss, two interceptions, eight pass breakups and seven quarterback hurries. One of those interceptions was returned for a touchdown -- the eighth of the season to set a new FBS record. Tracey Lampley had 240 all-purpose yards as Southern Miss set championship game records for points scored and touchdowns (seven). Heading into the game, most would have guessed it would be Houston setting the records. But the Cougars were held to season lows in scoring and total offense. The loss opened the door for perhaps TCU to sneak in as an automatic qualifier. All the Horned Frogs had to do was move up two spots from No. 18 to No. 16 in the final BCS standings. But they did not move at all, ending up at 18. Boise State, the top-ranked of the non-AQs at No. 7, was disqualified from automatic selection because it failed to win its conference.

But what feels so inexcusable to Boise State and non-AQ fans is the fact that the Broncos were passed over for an-at large berth into the Sugar Bowl by both Michigan and Virginia Tech, ranked lower than them and with more losses than them. Virginia Tech is most galling, considering the Hokies got blown out in two games against Clemson, lost the ACC championship game and have not beaten anybody ranked in the Top 25 this season. So what if the Hokies travel well? That should not be the reason one team gets picked over another just as deserving. The bottom line is this: No one-loss team from the non-AQs has ever been taken as an at-large team. Boise State has now been passed over four times for BCS games as a top-10 team. That includes 2008, when the Broncos went undefeated. Now you know why they want to join the Big East. That conference's representative in the BCS, West Virginia, went 9-3.

MAC comeback. Usually it is Northern Illinois on the losing end of heartbreakers in the MAC title game. So maybe it was about time for the Huskies to feel a little bit of love. If you turned your TV set away from the game after Ohio took a 20-0 lead Friday night, you were probably not alone. Northern Illinois appeared lifeless, was mistake prone, with three first-half turnovers. Quarterback Chandler Harnish had 13 yards rushing and 35 passing yards at halftime. But it was Ohio's turn to make mistakes in the second half, with three interceptions that allowed Northern Illinois to come back and win. Ohio had just 70 total yards after halftime with 31 on the ground and 39 passing. Mathew Sims kicked a 33-yard field goal as time expired to give Northern Illinois a 23-20 win and cap its largest comeback in modern-day history. Harnish finished the game with 250 yards passing and three touchdowns, and help avenge a heartbreaking, last-minute loss to Miami (Ohio) in last year's MAC game.

Coaching carousel. Fresno State fired longtime coach Pat Hill after the Bulldogs went 4-9, tying for the most losses in school history. Hill was at the school for 15 seasons and certainly put this program on the national map. But the Bulldogs slipped in recent years, and in the end he simply did not win enough games at the end of his career. Colorado State also fired coach Steve Fairchild after a third straight 3-9 season. UAB hired Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee to replace Neil Callaway. FAU hired Carl Pelini, Nebraska defensive coordinator and brother of Huskers head coach Bo Pelini, to take over for the retired Howard Schnellenberger. Also, according to reports, Ole Miss will hire Arkansas State coach Hugh Freeze after one season on the job with the Red Wolves, and Tulane will hire Saints assistant Curtis Johnson. Hawaii coach Greg McMackin met with the school's chancellor and athletic director on Sunday, and a decision on his future could come soon. The Warriors went a disappointing 6-7 this season after being the preseason choice to win the WAC.

Pat Hill done at Fresno State

December, 4, 2011
Pat Hill won plenty of games at Fresno State. Indeed, he was once very much revered in his community as a no-nonsense underdog willing to take on all comers any time, any place. In some circles, he still is.

But the tide began to shift against him in the last several years, as it became clear the Bulldogs were no longer in position to fulfill its desire of taking the non-AQ mantle from Boise State and running with it. Really, Boise State took that mantle from Fresno State, a team that nearly became the first BCS buster in 2001.

Between back-breaking nonconference schedules and an inability to beat the top-tier WAC teams, the foundation Hill laid for the Bulldogs began crumbling. It came crashing down this season, a disastrous 4-9 campaign that tied for the most losses in school history. Included in the loss column -- games dropped to New Mexico State and San Jose State, two of the worst teams in the WAC.

Though he has two years remaining on his contract, Hill was fired Sunday after 15 seasons. The school was unapologetic for the move in a press release, in which it cited the decline of the program since 2005:
  • Fresno State has won just one of its last five bowl games.
  • The Bulldogs have a 28-19 (.596) league record over the past six seasons, with an average finish of fourth in the conference standings. Since 2006, Fresno State has posted an 11-29 (.275) record against teams with a .500 record or better while going 21-14 (.600) at home over that period.
  • The Bulldogs have struggled against the top three WAC teams each year since 2006, posting a 3-15 overall record. Against all bowl eligible teams since 2006, Fresno State is 8-22. The trend over the last six years has contributed in a 42 percent decline in season ticket sales and a 25 percent drop in ticket revenue.

The numbers are stark, and harsh. But reality says that you can no longer win on what you have done in the past. It is all about what you have done lately, and Hill has not done much to inspire the confidence of his administrators or the faith of his fans. Fresno State faithful have been criticizing Hill for several seasons now, wondering whether a change was needed to breath new life into this program.

Back in 2001, there were no such questions, not with David Carr in control. Carr ended up being the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. That year, the Bulldogs made it as high as No. 8 in the national rankings before Boise State shattered its dreams of making it to the BCS. Fresno State set a school record with 11 wins that season, then reeled off three straight seasons with nine victories.

But one big source of pain has been Boise State, a team Hill beat just once. In the last two meetings between the two teams, Boise State outscored Fresno State 108-7.

Earlier this season, a defiant Hill spoke to me for 45 minutes about the state of his program, and the critics who wanted to see him leave. He professed his love for Fresno State, his belief that he would be able to turn the season around, and did not want to make excuses for the struggles of this season.

Hill is a good man, who has poured everything into making this program great. He took a pay cut several years ago when the state university system was in dire need of saving money. You do not get 112 victories in this game, nor last 15 years in one spot, without being a good coach. But the time has come to make a change. When I asked him back in October about his critics and the possibility of this being his final season at Fresno State, he said:

"I love this community. I came with the sword in my hand and when you go out, you go out on your sword. Everybody’s day ends some time and I’ll look back and hold my head high. I’m proud of what’s gone on here. Do I want to win every game? Yeah that’s what everybody expects, and that’s what I want.”

He did win games. But at the end of his career, he simply did not win enough.
There are no excuses. There never are from Fresno State coach Pat Hill.

So what he offers when asked about his inconsistent team is an impassioned defense of his players and his program, one that is on the ropes after a 3-5 start. The Bulldogs have been one of the most schizophrenic teams in the nation -- playing exceptionally well at times, but making critical, game-changing mistakes at others.

It has added up to a growing chorus of criticism as the Bulldogs are in danger of missing a bowl game for just the third time in 15 seasons since Hill transformed the program into a consistent winner.

[+] EnlargePat Hill
AP Photo/Gary KazanjianDespite a rough start to the season, coach Pat Hill remains committed to getting Fresno State back to where it was.
“It’s not lack of effort. These kids have played hard,” Hill said in a phone interview. “We have a chance to be very good still. When we’re playing good, we’re really good. When we make simple mistakes, they burn us at critical times.

“I love this team. This team plays hard, sometimes we just don’t execute at the level we need to execute at. It’s frustrating for me because these kids try so hard, practice so hard and prepare so hard. It’s just one of those years. We’re going through some growing pains with a young team. We’ve always been able to rebound, and we still have five games to go.”

The Bulldogs certainly have shown they are capable of running the table. Every remaining game on the schedule is winnable. After they return from their bye this week, they get Louisiana Tech at home, then go to New Mexico State and Hawaii, before closing out with San Jose State and at San Diego State.

What has been particularly maddening is the way this season set up for Fresno State. The one knock against Hill is that he not won enough conference championships. A big reason is because Fresno State resided in the same conference as Boise State for 10 years. Hill won his only WAC title in 1999 -- before the Broncos joined the league.

But Boise State left this season for the Mountain West, leaving the WAC up for grabs. Fresno State started league play 2-0 but dropped a critical game at Nevada this past weekend that gave the Wolf Pack control of the conference. Fresno State is one of four teams at 2-1.

The game featured plenty of scoring and big plays for the Bulldogs, but also some costly mistakes. The always solid punt coverage team allowed a punt return for a touchdown. Devon Wylie, one of the best punt returners in the nation, muffed a punt that Nevada converted into the go-ahead score. Fresno State forced a late fumble that it could not recover.

That loss was essentially a microcosm of the season. In three of its losses, Fresno State had second-half leads it failed to hold. The Bulldogs led Nebraska 20-14 in the third quarter and played toe-toe with a top-15 team. But they allowed a critical 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to turn the tide.

They led Ole Miss 28-27 midway through the third quarter, but did not score again and lost despite outgaining the Rebels 444-430. About the only game they failed to show up for was against nemesis Boise State, which handed the Bulldogs their worst home loss 57-7. In their last two games, Boise State has beaten Fresno State by a combined 108-7.

“As a team, we wish we could win more games right now, we wish we could have pulled out some of those close ones,” said quarterback Derek Carr, who has thrown for 1,980 yards, 15 touchdowns and five interceptions this season. “It's a tough time to be a Bulldog right now. We're fighting to get to where we have to go, but I have all the confidence in the world with the guys on this team. I love them to death.”

As a result of the disappointing losses, some fans have become increasingly disenchanted with the direction of the program. Hill has given everything he has to Fresno State, and even accepted a 30 percent pay cut in order to help an athletic department and university struggling under the weight of a terrible economy.

He truly loves this program, and it pains him more than anybody to lose this way.

“I’m not fine with where we are,” Hill said. “I’ve been here 15 years. I’m pretty loyal to this group of kids and this program. It drives me nuts that we’re performing in a way that doesn’t make everybody happy. I want to make everybody happy. I want to see the kids I care about so much being happy. Right now, we’re not happy and I don’t like that.”

As for those who have questioned whether he has what it takes to keep building this program, Hill scoffs.

“There’s complaints in every town,” he said. “It’s the world we live in. I don’t get too involved in that stuff. My job is to do everything I can to put this football team in position to win. … I’m committed to this team. I enjoy what I do here. I love this community. I came with the sword in my hand and when you go out, you go out on your sword. Everybody’s day ends some time and I’ll look back and hold my head high. I’m proud of what’s gone on here. Do I want to win every game? Yeah, that’s what everybody expects, and that’s what I want.”

Big Ten predictions: Week 2

September, 8, 2011
The Big Ten is stepping up its game in Week 2, and we hope to do the same. After mediocre results the opening weekend, we're both shooting for perfection, or something like it.

The slate features some tricky games, a potential upset special or two, and a handful of gimmes.

Let's get picky.


Brian Bennett: The Cyclones have barely scratched the scoreboard recently against Iowa, and I liked the way the Hawkeyes defensive line played in the opener. Feel free to sigh, Hawks ... Iowa 24, Iowa State 9

Adam Rittenberg: He's the resident comedian, folks. Be sure and tip your waitress. Speaking of tips, here's one: Go with Marcus Coker on your fantasy team. Oh, wait, I already have him. Coker rebounds with 3 touchdowns as the Hawkeyes roll. ... Iowa 27, Iowa State 13


Adam Rittenberg: The Spartans have a cleaner start, limit silly penalties and rack up a bunch of rushing yards against Howard Schnellenberger's crew. B.J. Cunningham gets the receptions record in the first quarter. ... Michigan State 33, Florida Atlantic 10

Brian Bennett: Pipe down. Michigan State's offensive line shows some improvement, and the Spartans will roll into South Bend next week at 2-0. ... Michigan State 35, Florida Atlantic 7


Brian Bennett: The Rockets pose far more of a threat than Akron, and they might catch Ohio State peeking ahead to Miami. Still, the Buckeyes defense is too much despite some offensive struggles ... Ohio State 28, Toledo 10

Adam Rittenberg: I agree, the Buckeyes can't space out against the Rockets (I know, lame), who have a good coach (Tim Beckman) and provide a much better test for Ohio State's defense. Still, I see another big game for Carlos Hyde and the Ohio State running backs ... Ohio State 31, Toledo 13


Adam Rittenberg: The Beavers rarely fare well in early season big games, and you have to wonder about their confidence level after the Sac State debacle. Wisconsin's defense is hungry and makes a statement. ... Wisconsin 35, Oregon State 13

Brian Bennett: I could see the Badgers taking this one too lightly with that Sacramento State score fresh in their minds. But Montee Ball and James White still run wild. ... Wisconsin 42, Oregon State 20


Brian Bennett: I like South Dakota State's nickname: Jackrabbits. That's about all I like about them. Illini roll behind another big passing day from Nathan Scheelhaase ... Illinois 44, SDSU 7

Adam Rittenberg: Fear the bunnies. They nearly knocked off Minnesota in 2009. But Illinois avoids the same fate as Scheelhaase steps up more in the run game and gets help from Jason Ford. ... Illinois 40, SDSU 12


Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern's offensive line builds off of a strong opening performance and gets the run game going against overmatched Eastern Illinois, while Dan Persa sits again. ... Northwestern 38, EIU 10

Brian Bennett: No Persa, no problem -- at least for another week. ... Northwestern 31, EIU 13


Brian Bennett: The Aggies are bad. Real bad. Perfect opponent for Jerry Kill's debut, as Troy Stoudermire sets Big Ten return record ... Minnesota 35, NMSU 14

Adam Rittenberg: You worry a bit about a letdown as Minnesota has been hearing how impressive they looked in the opener at USC. The Gophers start off a little slowly before MarQueis Gray and the offense surge against the Aggies. ... Minnesota 31, NMSU 13


Adam Rittenberg: OK, time to get serious. Penn State's defense keeps the Lions in this one, but I don't have enough faith in either Nittany Lions quarterback to predict an upset. Trent Richardson has a big fourth quarter as Alabama squeaks out a win. ... Alabama 19, Penn State 13

Brian Bennett: It sure would be great for the Big Ten if Penn State could pull this one off. Alabama's quarterback situation is a little shaky, too. But the Tide's defense is just too good against a Penn State offensive line that wasn't overly impressive against Indiana State. ... Alabama 24, Penn State 12


Brian Bennett: I'm putting Purdue on upset alert for the second straight week against a team that battled Texas pretty well for three quarters. For the second straight week, the Boilers eke one out, this time on a late Ralph Bolden touchdown. ... Purdue 19, Rice 16

Adam Rittenberg: Purdue has a lot to fix on both sides of the ball, but Rice doesn't seem like a team that can capitalize, even at home. Caleb TerBush builds on his late-game heroics and the defense makes enough plays to improve to 2-0. ... Purdue 26, Rice 18


Adam Rittenberg: Thing is, Indiana didn't look that shaky on offense in the opener. But getting pushed around by Ball State at the line of scrimmage is inexcusable. IU gets a better effort, but it's still not enough. ... Virginia 27, Indiana 17

Brian Bennett: Agree with you on all counts but think there will be more points scored, especially after the Hoosiers gave up 27 to Ball State. ... Virginia 34, Indiana 23


Brian Bennett: Bo Pelini didn't sound too excited about the Cornhuskers' 40-7 opening win over Chattanooga (not that he ever sounds that excited). Nebraska has a few more hiccups on offense but shuts down the Bulldogs on defense. ... Nebraska 31, Fresno State 10

Adam Rittenberg: I agree it'll take some more time for Tim Beck's offense to click. But Fresno disappointed me in Week 1, and Pat Hill's crew isn't nearly the giant killer it once was. Rex Burkhead has a big night. ... Nebraska 33, Fresno State 14


Adam Rittenberg: Either Notre Dame implodes or the Irish come together behind Tommy Rees and a defense that actually looks better. Call me crazy, but I think the Irish bounce back. ... Notre Dame 24, Michigan 21

Brian Bennett: Notre Dame is better than it showed against South Florida and would have won if not for a slew of turnovers. Crazy things happen in this game. But Michigan just seems to have the Irish's number, and that atmosphere will help immensely as Denard Robinson pulls off more heroics. ... Michigan 31, Notre Dame 30

Season records

Bennett: 10-2 (.833)

Rittenberg: 9-3 (.750)
David Carr wanted to give his brother, Derek, some extra motivation for college. So he bought him a housewarming gift that does not belong on the Fresno State campus.

A Boise State flag.

It came with explicit instructions.

The flag cannot be taken down until Derek Carr beats the Broncos.

Ten years have not healed the hurt of what happened to David Carr his senior season at Fresno State. Carr had the Bulldogs ranked No. 8 in the nation, knocking on the BCS door. But Boise State pulled off the shocker, upsetting Fresno State 35-30.

As Derek Carr embarks on his first game as the new Fresno State starting quarterback against California on Saturday, that flag serves as a daily reminder of getting Fresno State to the one place his brother could not go.

“I came here to finish what he started,” Derek Carr said in a recent phone interview. “That’s what he wanted me to do. It’s not even pressure. He was supposed to go (to the BCS) his senior year, and unfortunately lost two games at the end to two good opponents. So now I have a Boise State flag in my house.”

To be sure, David Carr accomplished nearly everything he set out to do, becoming the No. 1 overall pick of the Houston Texans in 2002. Carr was the national offensive player of the year his senior year after leading the nation with 4,839 yards passing and 46 touchdowns.

He put Fresno State on the national map, and for that coach Pat Hill is forever grateful. Now he gets another opportunity with Derek Carr, who has embraced his opportunity and all his brother has done for the program.

Derek Carr is not shying away from any of the talk about his brother. In fact, he wondered what took Hill so long to reach out to him during the recruiting process because he wanted to be a Bulldog. When David played there, Derek used to attend every home game with his family.

“I remember every game,” Derek Carr said. “I remember sitting down and watching the players on the ramp. I told someone I would be walking down that ramp in 10 years and sure enough, I’m going to get to do that this season.”

Hill and quarterbacks coach Jeff Grady believe Carr is more than ready for his opportunity. Carr has benefited from being a backup quarterback as a true freshman and redshirting last season.

“He has soaked everything in, been a big-time student of the game, and put himself in a position to be a starter,” Grady said. “He’s got the ability to be a heck of a player.”

Carr gets to open his season against Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who coached David Carr at Fresno State. Tedford remains family friends with the Carrs. Then there is more familiarity in the middle of the schedule, when Fresno State hosts Boise State on Oct. 7 -- his first chance to knock off the Broncos for his brother. He still remembers that upset in 2001, saying “that loss hit my heart.” Derek Carr certainly has his own career to make, but he and his brother remain close and he wants nothing more than to make his brother proud.

That means getting Fresno State nationally relevant again.

“David did a great job here,” Hill said. “Derek wants to take this program further, he wants to take it to another level. I’m behind him 100 percent on that because that’s the way we all feel.”
Jeff Tedford has a special appreciation for what Fresno State has accomplished in its recent past. Tedford first played there as a record-setting quarterback in the 1980s, then served as an assistant there for six seasons, under coach Pat Hill and former coach Jim Sweeney in the 1990s.

In his final season with the Bulldogs, he got to coach a young quarterback named David Carr. Now the head coach at California, Tedford is preparing to face his former team and another Carr -- Derek Carr. California and Fresno State will open the season Sept. 3 at Candlestick Park in the first college football game at the stadium.

Tedford, Hill and several players representing the teams got together in San Francisco on Monday to begin promoting the game. Tedford recalled throwing Nerf balls to the younger Carr after Fresno State practices in 1997, when David was a true freshman. Tedford left after that season to become offensive coordinator at Oregon before becoming California's head coach in 2002.

"I know I'll probably get a lot of phone calls that week before that game from all those people, but just had great days there and have a great deal of respect," Tedford said at the news conference. "I've told everyone over the years what a great job Pat has done there, in following a legend with Coach Sweeney and doing the things that he has done, and he talked about the loyalty of staying at one place like that, I can't believe it's that long. ... I love Fresno, love the people and the associations I've had there, but obviously my first and foremost thought, and where my passion is, I bleed blue and gold now."

In another interesting tie, David Carr now plays for the 49ers and Derek got a chance to tour the locker room.

"I haven't had a chance to come see Dave play here since he's been with the 49ers, so this is pretty cool," said Derek, going into his first year as the starting quarterback. "I'm already excited for the game. I wish we could play right now."

As for what he expects to see out of Derek Carr, who will be making his first career start against the Bears, Tedford said, "I know one thing having coached David, his brother. I know the passion that Derek has for football. He's grown up in a family of football, around a guy like David Carr, who's had a great career. So I know he has a great deal of passion for the game. He's a great competitor and he has a lot of skill."

Best of spring

May, 10, 2011
With spring practice in the books, let's hand out some virtual hardware.

Best newcomer: BYU linebacker Uona Kaveinga sat out last season after transferring from USC and is now eligible. Judging by the spring he had, he should have an immediate impact. Coach Bronco Mendenhall cited him as a leader on his defense during the spring.

[+] EnlargeCasey Keenum
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireIf Case Keenum can make a full return from injury, the Cougars' offense should be back on track.
Best new quarterback: Derek Carr, younger brother of David Carr, takes over as Fresno State's starter, and already he has the complete trust and confidence of his coaches and teammates. He had a great spring, and coach Pat Hill says, "Derek is the kind of kid who can take us to this next level."

Best quarterback competition: It's hard to envy the position new Miami (Ohio) coach Don Treadwell will face this fall -- choosing between the quarterback who started the 2010 turnaround in Zac Dysert, or the quarterback who capped the turnaround in Austin Boucher. They are even. Treadwell says he would rather have two skilled choices than no choice at all.

Best transformation: TCU's Sam Carter came into school as a quarterback. But after redshirting last fall, he is now playing safety and had a good spring. Carter is just the latest to change positions at TCU. That is what Patterson does best.

Best brother tandem: The Moore brothers will once again be on the same field. Kellen the quarterback now has his brother to throw to again after Kirby redshirted in 2010. A natural chemistry exists between the two. Now we'll see how that pays off on the field.

Best spring news: Houston learning that Case Keenum would be eligible for a sixth season. Keenum got his medical hardship waiver granted and will get another chance to try to break the NCAA record for passing yards. He didn't practice this spring, but just the idea that Keenum would be back lifted the spirits of his coaches and teammates.
Fresno State has been one of the most solid programs of all the non-AQs. The Bulldogs have gone to a bowl game 11 times in the past 12 years, have been featured in the national rankings and have produced the top overall pick in the NFL draft.

But the big question has been this: Why has Fresno State been unable to go from good program to great program? Fans have watched in frustration as Boise State surpassed the Bulldogs as kings of the WAC, carrying the torch Fresno State essentially lit.

There are two easy answers to that question. Fresno State plays an incredibly difficult nonconference schedule, not only as part of its “anytime, anywhere mantra,” but to also help pay the bills with the money it gets from those guarantee games. And it also has been unable to beat Boise State, having lost every meeting but one as WAC rivals.

But going from good to great has always been the goal, and is an even bigger goal this season with Derek Carr at the helm of the offense.

[+] EnlargePat Hill
AP Photo/Gary KazanjianPat Hill is counting on quarterback Derek Carr to help lead his team in 2011.
“The program’s been good for a long time, but we’ve got to become great,” coach Pat Hill said in a recent phone interview. “Derek’s the kind of kid that can take us to this next level.”

It is something Derek’s brother, David, did in 2001. Fresno State made it as high as No. 8 in the national rankings that season, spurring talk of a possible BCS berth, before non-AQs were guaranteed a spot with a top-12 finish in the standings. But who happened to kill that dream? None other than the Broncos in their first season in the WAC -- a win that was called the biggest in school history to that point.

It was a stunning loss, no doubt, but Fresno State ended the season with 11 wins. Carr ended up going No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans in 2002. Many thought that season would be the springboard for Fresno State to become a contender year in and year out.

The Bulldogs nearly had another season like that in 2005 after starting the season 8-1. They came close to pulling off an upset of USC but closed the season with four straight losses. They have not been featured in the polls since Sept. 28, 2008, and have not had a double-digit win season since 2001.

Still, Hill has only posted two losing seasons in 14 years, has averaged eight wins a season and won 100 games since taking over in 1997.

“We’ve had some good runs,” Hill said. “Now maybe we can make a magical run.”

This could be the season Fresno State wins its first WAC title since 1999. Not only is Carr taking the helm after redshirting behind Ryan Colburn last season, Fresno State returns Robbie Rouse at running back and has depth at receiver.

Senior Devon Wylie returns from an injury, and the Bulldogs also have promising sophomores Jalen Saunders and Isaiah Burse, junior Rashad Evans, and redshirt freshmen Josh Harper and Victor Dean.

That young talent could mean big things this season and next with Carr running the offense. But as always, Fresno State begins with a tough schedule -- against California at Candlestick Park on Sept. 3 and at Nebraska on Sept. 10. The Bulldogs also have to retool their offensive line with four new starters.

“No question Derek’s very talented, with his arm strength, release -- he’s the fastest quarterback we’ve ever had on campus speed wise,” Hill said. “His biggest test will be starting the season out and not feeling like he has to do more than he needs to. If he does that, he will grow quickly. He’s able to do it all. He just needs to make sure that early, he doesn’t press the issue.”

Hill recalled David Carr’s first career start in 2000, at Ohio State, saying the quarterback tried to do too much. Fresno State lost the following week against UCLA, too, but after that, David Carr went 20-6 as a starter for the Bulldogs.

Derek has learned from his brother, and continues to get good advice from him. What remains to be seen is if he can turn Fresno State from good to great.

“Being around his brother has made Derek a lot more mature person,” Hill said. “He gets it. He knows he’s not going to please everybody. Derek wants to win. He’s going to have some tough games. He doesn’t have the fortune of getting warm-up games, that’s for sure. I feel really good about it.

“There’s nobody I’d rather be thrown into the fire with than Derek Carr right now.”

Afternoon-time links

February, 3, 2011
Since we had so much recruiting analysis, we decided to push our usual lunchtime links feature to the afternoon. So enjoy with a snack!

TCU coach Gary Patterson on his incoming class: "They all came with the understanding that they want to win a championship. Not just a conference championship, but a national championship. I think that's where the energy has changed."

Boise State fought hard to keep its recruiting class intact.

Houston has got to fix its defense.

Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship caught a ride on athletic director Bubba Cunningham's 4x4 to be at the office when his recruits started faxing in their letters of intent.

San Diego State ignores the star system.

Air Force does not announce its signees until the summer because of its appointment process, but it was clear the Falcons got a lot of in-state talent.

The best class in Marshall history? Why, yes.

North Texas addressed its quarterback situation.

Miami (Ohio) signed a speedy class.

Make no mistake -- the Northern Illinois class belongs to Dave Doeren.

FIU, Western Kentucky and Louisiana were among the top classes in the Sun Belt.

Utah State focused on building the trenches.

Fresno State focused on defense, specifically linebacker, an area that coach Pat Hill wants improved.

Lunchtime Links

December, 20, 2010
Two new coaches join the MAC today: Pete Lembo at Ball State and Darrell Hazell at Kent State.

Now on to some links:

Two Southern Miss players injured in a shooting last month joined their teammates in St. Petersburg, Fla., as they continued bowl preparations for the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl against Louisville. Martez Smith, who was paralyzed from the waist down, did not make the trip. He had a bit of a setback and needed additional surgery last week.

BYU is excited about its future after its bowl win.

Keys for Utah to beat Boise State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, courtesy of Utah State coach Gary Andersen.

Fresno State coach Pat Hill is proud of his team even though it lost in a big way to Northern Illinois in the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl.

The loss of an uncle has inspired Boise State cornerback Jeron Johnson.

Boise State has been deficient against the run of late.

San Diego State's receivers are set to face a stingy Navy secondary in the S.D. County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

Tulsa officials hope to break even on its trip to Hawaii for the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

UTEP coach Mike Price will return next season.