NCF Nation: Paul Haynes
Oh, how things change in a matter of a month.
Now that September has come and gone, it's time to take a look back at some of the SEC's best and worst moments from the first month of the college football season. We'll also take a look at three storylines to keep an eye on in October:
1. Alabama's dominant run to No. 1 in the polls: In September, it appeared the Crimson Tide were just reloading after their national championship season. Alabama destroyed Michigan in its season opener at Cowboys Stadium and has mangled its past four opponents by a combined score of 160-21, including a 52-0 romp over Arkansas in Fayetteville. Questions surrounded Alabama's defense, but it's been utterly dominant, leading the nation in scoring defense and ranking in the top four in total, rushing and passing defense. There's no question that this is the best, most complete team in the country.
2. Florida's emergence in the East: We didn't know what we were going to get from the Gators in Year 2 of Will Muschamp's coaching career. The defense hasn't really surprised us with how it's played, but the offense has made tremendous strides since last season, thanks to Jeff Driskel and Mike Gillislee. Driskel has been splendid for the Gators, running that offense like a vet with his ability to own the second half of games. Gillislee has given this offense the downhill running threat it's missed since Tim Tebow was around. The Gators have dominated in the second half of games and haven't allowed any fourth-quarter points.
3. Georgia's sensational freshman duo: The Bulldogs had to find some success in their running game after Isaiah Crowell's dismissal, and with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall tearing it up, Crowell is a distant memory. The fabulous freshmen have combined for 964 yards and 14 touchdowns. Gurley currently leads the SEC with 536 yards and nine touchdowns. He's also averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Marshall, who has displayed some of the best open-field speed in the SEC, is averaging 8.2 yards per carry and cranked out touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards against Tennessee over the weekend. It's hard to stop a train, let alone two.
1. Arkansas' total meltdown: Heading into the season, I had a feeling that this team would struggle with adversity without Bobby Petrino around. This team hasn't just struggled, it has totally collapsed. John L. Smith has lost this team, as the Razorbacks are 1-4 and have been outscored 203-116. Against Alabama and Texas A&M, the Hogs were outscored by 100 points. This all started with Petrino's now-infamous motorcycle ride back in April, but trouble on the field was magnified by Arkansas' overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe. Since then, there hasn't been a lot of fight out of this team and quarterback Tyler Wilson went as far as to say his team "quit" against Alabama. The same should have been said about the 58-10 loss to Texas A&M.
2. Defensive woes: It was a rough month for some of the SEC's defenses that were supposed to be better in 2012. Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee are all giving up more than 400 yards a game, after all hired new defensive coordinators. The Hogs own the SEC's worst defense, allowing 510.2 yards per game and 40.6 points per game under Paul Haynes. Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has been through the SEC before, but the Tigers are allowing 419.3 yards per game. As Tennessee continues to transition to Sal Sunseri's 3-4 defense, it's clear the Vols aren't ready for it, as they are allowing 425.8 yards and nearly 30 points a game.
3. Missouri's SEC start: After Mizzou's first two SEC games, the Tigers are a decisive 0-2 and have been outscored by Georgia and South Carolina by a combined 72-30 margin. Mizzou put up a good fight through the first three quarters against Georgia, but had no steam in the fourth. This team barely looked alive against South Carolina, as the Gamecocks just pushed the Tigers around all day. The Tigers said they could handle the size and speed of the SEC, but haven't through two games.
1. Will the real LSU stand up? Entering the season, LSU was one of the country's best teams on paper. Now, we're all wondering what this team will do going forward after it ended the month with less than flattering outings against Auburn and Towson. LSU's offense struggled to get much of anything going against an overmatched Auburn defense, and the Tigers' defense then allowed 188 rushing yards and 22 points to Towson. It isn't panic time in Baton Rouge, but what's this team's true identity? A lot has to be cleaned up in a month that features trips to Florida and Texas A&M and a home game against South Carolina.
2. Can Manziel continue his red-hot run? Georgia's frosh duo at running back has stolen the freshman headlines, but Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has been spectacular this year. Through four games, the redshirt freshman has passed for 1,094 yards and 10 touchdowns (no interceptions) and has rushed for a team-high 366 yards and six more scores. He's been the league's best dual-threat quarterback, and while his feet have made him and A&M's offense that much more dangerous, he's turning into a better passer with each game. Against Arkansas, his 557 yards of total offense (453 passing yards and 104 rushing yards) set an SEC record.
3. East race could settle itself: This month, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina all play each other. That means that come Nov. 1, we might know who really has the upper hand in the East race. Florida has a chance to really make a statement by playing LSU on Saturday, while either Georgia or South Carolina will drop a game back this weekend, as they play each other in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina then goes to LSU. Florida ends the month playing South Carolina and Georgia back-to-back, but both games are in the state of Florida.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The wet, gloomy scene preceding Arkansas’ game with No. 1 Alabama was a classic case of foreshadowing for the Razorbacks.
Rain washed away any really furious tailgating plans, while last week’s overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe expunged most of the excitement and enthusiasm revolving around a program once thought of as a national championship contender.
Adding on to the grim setting in and around the stadium was the fact that starting quarterback Tyler Wilson wasn’t playing, even though he tossed out minute hope that he’d play by warming up in full pads.
That was about the high point, as Alabama routed Arkansas 52-0, handing Arkansas its first shutout in Fayetteville since losing to Baylor 7-0 on Oct. 8, 1966.
It left a fan base despondent and a coach speechless.
“It’s kind of hard to say anything at this point,” John L. Smith said. “That’s about as bad as I can every remember as a football team goes.”
Even with the Crimson Tide not playing close to its best game, Alabama dominated every phase.
And I mean dominated.
With 11:32 remaining in the game, AJ McCarron had long since departed, Bama had 45 points and the Hogs had just 93 yards of offense and four turnovers. By that time, Alabama’s backups’ backups were in -- and scoring -- against Arkansas’ horrendous defense.
A team that had so much promise and real championship aspirations limped out of its own stadium as a squad that has been outscored 79-10 in its past seven quarters -- and one with hardly any confidence.
Smith blamed himself for the loss, but Arkansas’ players didn’t do much to help him.
Calling an impromptu news conference after the game, Wilson spoke from the heart and expressed those exact feelings.
Players who don’t play rarely speak to the media, but Wilson approached members of Arkansas’ staff late in the game and told them he wanted to.
Boy, did he.
“First of all, it wasn’t very pretty to watch,” said Wilson, who spoke for almost a minute and a half.
“Do I feel that we, at times, gave up out there? Yeah, absolutely. As a leader it sucks to see people not do their jobs and things go wrong. There have been a lot of people jump off of the bandwagon and it is my responsibility as a leader to keep everyone in this organization, in this team in that locker room together.”
Defensive coordinator Paul Haynes, who has seen his defense surrender 1,310 yards through three games, agreed with Wilson’s assessment.
“When you give up big plays at the end and nobody’s around him at all, then you sit there and you may question that,” Haynes said.
Wilson’s words resembled Tim Tebow’s famous speech after Florida's 2008 loss to Ole Miss. The Gators went on to win 10 straight and a national championship, and Wilson hopes he sparks a similar run.
Arkansas likely won’t match Florida, but an SEC title still isn’t out of sight. Still, this team has to band together and fight for something.
When asked if he worried about players hanging their heads or pointing fingers, defensive tackle Alfred Davis was emphatic in his response.
“No, because I know I’m not going to stop working and I’m not going to let the man beside me stop working, regardless of what the outcome of this football game was,” he said.
“We have to get into a place where we’re not quitting in football games, win, lose or draw.”
Getting over Saturday’s beatdown won’t be easy, but it’s all Arkansas can do. The loss of Petrino started this collapse, and the past two weeks have just piled on. If this team is going to rally, it has to grow up and it has to really stand by its coach.
It better do it now, because it didn’t Saturday.
“They’re going to hang together,” Smith said. “They’re going to come in ready to work. They know how to work. I have total confidence in these guys and the seniors are going to pull us together and the rest of the team is going to pull together.”
1. Quarterback health: The statuses of Arkansas' Tyler Wilson and South Carolina's Connor Shaw are still unknown. Wilson suffered a head injury against Louisiana-Monroe, while Shaw is still nursing a bruised shoulder from Week 1. For the Gamecocks, losing Shaw for the second straight week won't really hurt South Carolina's offense. It was just fine without him against East Carolina. However, Arkansas isn't in the same position. Brandon Allen completed just 6 of 20 passes against Louisiana-Monroe in place of Wilson. Not having Wilson will make Saturday's game against No. 1 Alabama that much tougher for the Razorbacks.
3. Tennessee’s passing game vs. Florida’s secondary: This game always comes down to the running game, but the difference this time will be Tennessee's passing game against Florida’s secondary. The Gators are loaded with talent back there and made tremendous strides during the second half of the Texas A&M game, while Tennessee might have the best passing game in the SEC, led by quarterback Tyler Bray. The matchups between Justin Hunter and Marcus Roberson and Cordarrelle Patterson and Loucheiz Purifoy should be great. Zach Rogers is another deep threat the Gators have to be careful about, but Matt Elam has the ability to take the deep ball away for Florida. Should be fun.
4. Must-wins: Both Auburn and Vanderbilt are 0-2 and are coming off tough losses. The Commodores blew a halftime lead at Northwestern, while Auburn was overmatched across the board at Mississippi State. The Tigers are struggling with or without the ball this season, and that's a major concern. Quarterback Kiehl Frazier has to get going, and he's facing the team that just knocked off Arkansas. Vandy just can't get anything going on offense. The explosion we expected to see has been mostly absent through two games and the Commodores have to generate some sort of offensive momentum this weekend against Presbyterian.
5. Mississippi State keeping its edge: Now that Dan Mullen and his Bulldogs have gotten over the hump of beating a West opponent not named Ole Miss, the Bulldogs can’t get complacent. That was just one win, and this team has far bigger goals than just beating Auburn. With the schedule Mississippi State has, it’s very possible the Bulldogs could be 6-1 or 7-0 heading into the Alabama game at the end of October. But this team has to focus on Troy and come out strong against a team that won’t be a pushover.
6. Showdown in the Grove: It’s been a long time since a game in Oxford got attention like Saturday’s showdown with Texas has been receiving. It’s eerily similar to the 2003 game with Eli Manning and LSU, although there isn’t hatred in the air. The Grove is gonna be poppin’ and Oxford is expected to double in size. There’s more confidence around that town because Ole Miss is 2-0 for the first time since 2009. The talent difference between Ole Miss and Texas is obvious, but the Rebels have some momentum and some conviction. Can the Rebels stop that burnt orange wave coming to town?
7. The newbie's returns: Missouri and Texas A&M got a nice taste of what life will be like in the SEC last weekend. Now, it's time for both teams to regroup. Both teams lost a lot of steam in the second half, which was expected. Missouri has the challenge of playing Arizona State and its high-flying offense. The Sun Devils have averaged 54 points through two games, averaging 532 offensive yards in the process. The Tigers got into a shootout with Arizona State last year, but can they handle another one after that physical loss to Georgia? The Aggies are taking on SMU in Dallas, and are also recovering from a tough loss to Florida. This is a game where Texas A&M should try to get more out of its running game, which has to generate more production up the middle.
8. Mettenberger’s arm: Through the first two games of the season, we’ve been anxiously waiting to see what Zach Mettenberger could really do in LSU’s offense. So far, he’s yet to eclipse the 200-yard passing mark in a game and has just two touchdowns -- pedestrian numbers compared to what everyone expected. But the Tigers have utilized their running game flawlessly and haven’t needed to send the ball downfield much. Saturday, that should change. It’s time to unleash Mettenberger and get him going more in the offense before LSU gets into conference play.
9. Lattimore’s workload: If Steve Spurrier wanted to push Marcus Lattimore anymore last week, he would have. But the Head Ball Coach gave his workhorse a bit of a rest against East Carolina, running him just 13 times. Maybe Spurrier just wanted to get his new quarterback, Dylan Thompson, a chance to show his stuff in place of Shaw. But as Lattimore continues to return from his knee injury, he’ll need to get more reps and get more comfortable on the field before league play revs up. UAB should provide him the opportunity to do that.
10. Florida’s winning streak: The Gators have had Tennessee’s number for seven straight years now. Not since Dallas Baker’s infamous slap in Knoxville have the Vols bested Florida. This might be Tennessee’s best shot since. There’s no question that this is the best and most complete Vols team Derek Dooley has had. The Vols have cruised through the first two weeks, while Florida’s offense stumbles in with a lot of uncertainty concerning the passing game. Florida might have the edge on defense, but Tennessee’s offense knows how to put up points. Is this the year Tennessee finally gets the Gator off its back?
The move started as a joke, but felt very natural once he moved. After making his linebacking debut with the Hogs against Jacksonville State, Wright took some time to talk with ESPN.com about his move and what he thinks about Arkansas' defense this season.
What was that move from defensive end to middle linebacker like for you?
Tenarius Wright: Once Highsmith went down in the weight room with his shoulder injury, the coaches came to me and said, "We're going to move you to middle linebacker and see how it folds out." Before that, I was playing with the coaches, joking with them to just look at me [at middle linebacker]. It started off as a joke, but turned into a reality. I was joking, but I was actually serious, and once I moved to middle linebacker I said I'd step my game up. It demanded me to be a bigger leader for our team. Moving to middle linebacker wasn't hard at all. It was something I did in high school, too.
TW: At defensive end, when the play goes away, you have to check for the reverse, boot, cut back, but at middle linebacker, if the defense allows you to, you can go get it. I like to hunt the ball. Playing middle linebacker allows me to go left-to-right, sideline-to-sideline.
So, how did it feel to get out there and play your new position at linebacker? I know you were happy about it during the offseason, but how did it feel to move around in your new spot and get a game under your belt?
TW: I feel great after the game. I feel like I made some mistakes, but at the same time I made some great plays. I have to keep going forward and keep getting better each week and improve myself every week.
Were there any moments on the field last Saturday when you got caught up thinking like an end and you tried revert to some of your old ways?
TW: Yeah, I found myself reverting and going back to old habits, like taking off and going full speed on plays when I should have been sitting back and being patient. It's really something that I had to get on and since I missed some parts of camp toward the end I lost a couple of my fundamentals. I'm focusing on those now and regaining my steps and regaining the linebacker mentality.
How important is patience playing linebacker compared to defensive end, especially with all the moving around you're doing now?
TW: Linebacker is really different from defensive end. I was used to coming off the ball and taking contact and being ready to just blow things up and get after it. At linebacker, the patience is the key because some plays develop and take longer than others. Not every play is downhill and headed right at you. And with the coverages that we run, all my help could be to the boundaries, so I have to play the role of being a cut-back guy. That's really the most important thing about playing linebacker -- knowing where your help is.
With one game under your belt at linebacker, what do you like more: defensive end or linebacker?
TW: Well, both positions I can go line up at and play at during a game. I really don't have a preference, I just want to get out there and get after the ball carrier and play defense. Really, my mentality is that I'm a defensive-minded guy, so both positions work out well for me.
With this team, there has been a lot of talk about how you guys have no problem scoring points or putting up yards, but there are still questions about the defense. After the first game, what did you see coming from the defense?
TW: We finally got a chance to get our legs and our feet wet on the field and in a game atmosphere. They got some good plays and some certain plays down the field. They were nick-knacking us and getting quite the yardage from just the small plays there were doing. That's something that we have to keep working forward on to stop those plays. We did try to limit the big plays, but we gave up the small plays that just pounded on and got first down after first down. After that performance, it let us know that the small areas that we've worked on need to be worked on and they can be fixed. They can be altered and turned into the right direction.
You've had two games with defensive coordinator Paul Haynes. What's the main difference you see in this style compared to Coach [Willy] Robinson's style?
TW: We've had two different philosophies. I know for a fact that this year we are trying to step up our game and keep it as simple as possible and just go out and play our game in order to have a sound football game without thinking ahead of things and playing slow. That's really helping us out this year.
For this team to really make a run at an SEC title this year, how important is the defense going to be?
TW: Oh, the defense is very important. We all know that it's a proven fact that defense does win championships and without a defense you can't beat nobody and you don't have the chance to win a championship. We know that the defense is going to play a big role in that big step to trying to win a national championship. The defense is going to have a great deal to do with winning us a national championship.
Do you guys like that there is pressure on this defense and that people are questioning and criticizing you all this season?
TW: We take criticism daily, and we like to respond to criticism. I believe the adversity really gives us the edge and gives us the motivation to keep striving to get better every day. We just like to think of the criticism and think of the pressure as something that's needed, something that we should want. When you're having fun and playing defense and doing what you're supposed to do, there's no real pressure, especially when you're doing something you've done all your life.
ESPN colleague Travis Haney has jumped right into the mix, listing a few teams in the Top 25 that he considers overrated and underrated .
The only SEC team to make his list is Arkansas. The Razorbacks are actually mentioned twice. He listed them as "underrated" in 2011, after they began the season ranked 14th, but finished fifth. Arkansas rose as high as third in the BCS standings last season and were a win over LSU away from playing in the SEC title game.
But he also has Arkansas in the overrated category for 2012, as the Hogs will enter the fall ranked 10th.
Haney talks about Arkansas being equipped with the talent to make a run this fall, but he also mentions the fact that we still don't know how this team will react at the first sign of adversity with interim coach John L. Smith taking over for the fired Bobby Petrino. And I totally agree with that point. I've been saying it since he was hired that while the players adore Smith and basically pleaded with athletic director Jeff Long to hire a very familiar face, we don't know how much control he'll have or how much respect he'll demand/get if things go wrong.
So far, he's done a good job of running the team, but how much he'll do this fall is yet to be seen.
Outside of Petrino's absence, I still have questions about the defense. This unit wasn't great last year, ranking eighth or worse in four major defensive categories (scoring defense, passing defense, rushing defense and total defense), but new defensive coordinator Paul Haynes does bring a more aggressive style to Fayetteville, which I think will help this unit out tremendously. Like Smith's leadership qualities, we'll have to wait and see with Haynes' style and the impact it has on Arkansas' defense.
With that said, I can't say that I think that Arkansas is overrated heading into the season. Tenth seems about right to me, considering the talent coming back and the fact that Alabama and LSU are both at home. At least getting a split between those two wouldn't be a surprise at all.
There is a lot of firepower on offense, starting with quarterback Tyler Wilson, running back Knile Davis, wide receiver Cobi Hamilton and tight end Chris Gragg. All four could be All-SEC performers. The offensive line is older and wiser and there are some solid young receivers lurking. This offense will put up points.
The defense returns six starters and should be strong within the front seven, even with Jake Bequette gone. Alonzo Highsmith and Tenarius Wright could be a deadly combo at linebacker, while there is solid depth at defensive tackle, led by Byran Jones, Robert Thomas and D.D. Jones. There will be some growing pains for this unit under Haynes, but I expect to see more production overall on this side of the ball.
I'm not saying this team will win the SEC West, but it has the talent to compete for the title to the very end. The defense might need some help from the offense, but something tells me that won't be a problem most of the time.
8. West Virginia
10. South Carolina
11. Michigan State
17. Ohio State
18. Kansas State
22. Oklahoma State
23. Virginia Tech
25. Georgia Tech
- LSU and Alabama are ranked where I'd have them. Both look like they'll once again be two of the most talented teams in the country this fall. It seems hard to believe that LSU's offensive won't be better and more balanced with juco transfer Zach Mettenberger taking over at quarterback. LSU's defense has a couple of holes to fill, but it doesn't look like that will be too hard for the Tigers. Alabama should also see an offensive boost in the passing game with an older AJ McCarron and coach Nick Saban is making sure this year's defense doesn't go the way of the 2010 group.
- Georgia has the schedule to make it back to Atlanta and that team that Mark Richt has isn't too bad either. But suspensions to four defensive starters to begin the season is a concern, especially with a trip to Missouri coming in Week 2. Quarterback Aaron Murray said this spring that despite the distractions that have come with the suspensions, this team is still very focused on its goals, but the pressure will surely be on the Dawgs in 2012.
- South Carolina should probably be a little higher, but with Marcus Lattimore coming off of that knee injury, it's tough to know what this team will do this fall. The defense returns a handful of talent, while quarterback Connor Shaw picked up where he left off last season, which is a good thing for the Gamecocks' offense. South Carolina does face LSU and Arkansas this season, meaning the Gamecocks will have to at least split those to challenge Georgia for the East title.
- The loss of Bobby Petrino has Arkansas trending down a bit, but if players rally the way they said they would under interim coach John L. Smith, the Razorbacks will be dangerous this fall. The offense is still loaded, led by quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis, and new defensive coordinator Paul Haynes should help Arkansas have a more aggressive defense. There will still be questions surrounding this team with Petrino out and Smith in, but the Razorbacks are still very confident and don't anticipate taking steps back. Having Alabama and LSU at home this year will play in the Hogs' favor as well.
- The Gators saw improvements on and off the field this spring and coach Will Muschamp is much happier now than he was a year ago. I think Florida is a little high on this list, but an improved offensive line and more confidence in Gainesville could go a long way for the Gators. While Muschamp was happy with the strides made on the field, he was even more pleased with the chemistry of his team. Players are stepping up as leaders and buying into the program more. Muschamp is in charge of a tougher team this fall, but will play his first two SEC games on the road this year.
We're putting spring behind us and looking toward the fall with our post-spring power rankings:
1. LSU: The Tigers had one of the best springs around. Things were quiet off the field, and the offense rallied behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Coach Les Miles was very impressed with Mettenberger's play and maturity, and expects LSU's offense to be more balanced with him under center. LSU can still use four or five running backs, as well. Defensively, the Tigers are stacked once again, especially up front with two potential first-rounders in ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Questions surround the inexperienced linebackers, but Kevin Minter had a tremendous spring in the middle. On paper, LSU is equipped with the talent to make another title run, and gets Alabama at home this year.
2. Alabama: While the defending national champs saw a lot of "new" faces on defense this spring, coach Nick Saban left happy with where his players were -- but not satisfied. There is still work to be done, especially in the secondary, where the Tide must replace three starters. Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are gone at linebacker, but the coaches were impressed with how Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard played this spring. Some think Hubbard, a redshirt sophomore, could be Bama's top pass-rusher. Offensively, quarterback AJ McCarron is back, more mature and surrounded by a very veteran line. He has a group of younger receivers to throw to, but has at least four quality running backs. Alabama's road to repeating is tougher, with games at Arkansas and LSU.
3. South Carolina: A healthy Marcus Lattimore (knee) at RB makes South Carolina an even better contender for the SEC East crown. His status is uncertain, but the pieces around him are pretty impressive. Quarterback Connor Shaw had an impressive spring, and looks ready to be the passer coach Steve Spurrier wants him to be. The defense is once again stacked, especially up front with ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. There are questions in the secondary, with two new, young starters in Victor Hampton (cornerback) and Brison Williams (safety), while senior Akeem Auguste returns after missing last season with a foot injury. Still, Spurrier is chirping about his SEC counterparts, so you know he thinks he's got a good team this year.
4. Georgia: The Bulldogs should be higher on this list, but when you take into account the suspensions of four defensive starters at the beginning of the season, they slide a little. Georgia returns nine defensive starters, including one of the nation's best linebackers in Jarvis Jones, and some firepower on offense, led by veteran quarterback Aaron Murray, who could get some early Heisman love. It also sounds like enigmatic running back Isaiah Crowell is slowly turning things around. Yet again, the Bulldogs have a favorable SEC schedule, with no games against Alabama, Arkansas or LSU, so their road to the SEC championship is easier than South Carolina's, but keep an eye on that inexperienced offensive line.
5. Arkansas: If not for Bobby Petrino's embarrassing dismissal, the Razorbacks might be ranked higher. Offensively, it doesn't get much better than what Arkansas has. Tyler Wilson returns as arguably the league's best quarterback, and he'll get to work with one of the most complete backs around, Knile Davis, who is returning from a devastating ankle injury. An older and more improved offensive line returns, and so does a talented receiving corps led by Cobi Hamilton. But there are questions. How effective will interim coach John L. Smith be, especially if something goes wrong? Will Marquel Wade's suspension leak into the fall after his spring arrest? And will the defense improve and be more aggressive under new coordinator Paul Haynes? The good news is that Alabama and LSU play in Fayetteville this fall.
6. Florida: The chemistry is much better in Gainesville. Florida returns 10 starters from a defense that ranked eighth nationally in 2011. Matt Elam looks like a budding star at safety, and Florida's linebacking group is solid. Buck/defensive end Ronald Powell could be out after tearing his ACL this spring, but coach Will Muschamp recently said Powell is off crutches. Stud defensive tackle Dominique Easley is also walking fine after tearing his ACL in last year's season finale. The Gators have their third offensive coordinator in three years, and unproven sophomore quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are still battling. Florida has unproven running backs and receivers, but the offensive line toughened up tremendously.
7. Auburn: The Tigers welcomed two new coordinators, Scot Loeffler and Brian VanGorder, this spring, and by all accounts players were very receptive. Coach Gene Chizik is still dealing with a lot of youth, as close to 70 percent of his roster is made up of underclassmen. One of those underclassmen is quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who made strides as a passer this spring and seems to have the edge in the quarterback race with Clint Moseley, who missed some of the spring with a sore shoulder. The defensive line will be the team's strength, with end Dee Ford exploding this spring and Corey Lemonier returning. There is a lot of depth up front on defense, which will go a long way for the Tigers.
8. Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel and his players have made it clear they aren't intimidated by the move to the SEC. These new Tigers return solid offensive firepower, but there has to be some concern about quarterback James Franklin, who missed most of the spring after having surgery on his throwing shoulder. Plus, Mizzou's backup QB could miss games this fall after his recent arrest, so the Tigers' offensive success will be riding on Franklin's health. The Tigers are replacing a few starters on both lines, but feel confident about both areas. Mizzou will face a Georgia team down a few defensive players in Week 2, but must travel to South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M.
9. Tennessee: A lot is different in Knoxville, as the Vols welcomed seven new assistant coaches. Coach Derek Dooley insists the changes were for the best, but there's still going to be some adjusting to do this fall. The good news is that Tennessee returns a lot on both sides of the ball, starting with quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. A healthy trio there makes Tennessee's passing game one of the best in the league. Questions remain on the offensive line and at running back, but improvements were made this spring. New defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri would like to run more 3-4 this fall, but players aren't totally comfortable, leaving some concerns.
10. Mississippi State: Quarterback Tyler Russell finally looks ready to take over as the guy in Starkville, and he'll have a veteran receiving corps to work with. However, that group still has a lot to prove, especially senior Chad Bumphis. The running game looks solid with LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin, and the offensive line got help from the junior college ranks. Defensively, there are a few holes to fill up front and in the secondary, but Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield are a solid cornerback tandem and linebacker is set with a few vets back, including stud Cameron Lawrence. Junior college defensive end Denico Autry has to perform early to help a line with a couple of holes.
11. Texas A&M: The Aggies have some holes to fill this year, but the offensive line will be a strength. Left tackle Luke Joeckel, a future first-rounder, leads a line that returns four starters. Star wide receiver Ryan Swope is back, and running back Christine Michael should be healthy (knee) this fall, but quarterback is an issue. Sophomore Jameill Showers has the edge right now, but like all of his competitors, he lacks experience. The defense will lean on linebackers Sean Porter, Steven Jenkins, Jonathan Stewart and converted end Damontre Moore, but the secondary has depth and experience issues, and the team will still be adjusting to a new staff led by coach Kevin Sumlin.
12. Vanderbilt: There is some solid offensive talent in Nashville, starting with running back Zac Stacy and receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, but coach James Franklin is still waiting for quarterback Jordan Rodgers to be more consistent. The offensive line is very thin and could barely get through spring. The defense must replace a handful of starters and leaders, but Franklin felt better about guys like linebacker Chase Garnham, defensive end Walker May and cornerback Trey Wilson. Vandy's schedule will be tough this fall, and if that offensive line doesn't hold up, getting back to a bowl will be tough.
13. Kentucky: Coach Joker Phillips was pleased with how spring practice ended, especially when it came to finding offensive playmakers, like receivers Demarco Robinson and Daryl Collins. Quarterback Maxwell Smith had a solid spring, but struggled during the spring game, meaning the battle with Morgan Newton and freshman Patrick Towles should go into the fall. The offensive line is still trying to get by after losing three starters, and the Wildcats must replace six starters at linebacker and in the secondary. Given the Wildcats' schedule, they will need to sweep their nonconference games to be in bowl shape.
14. Ole Miss: The arrival of coach Hugh Freeze brought a lot of positive change to Ole Miss, especially off the field, but there are still a lot of concerns. There are depth issues at just about every position, especially running back and defensive tackle. Even one of the most experienced groups, the offensive line, has struggled mightily with picking up Freeze's spread offense and is the team's biggest weakness. Academic issues are also worrying Ole Miss' staff, and top running back Jeff Scott and cornerback/receiver Nickolas Brassell are in that group. Quarterback is still up for grabs, but progress was made on defense, especially in the secondary.
Fickell isn't going to publish his memoirs about his 182-day term as Ohio State's head coach last year, when he guided his alma mater through an adversity-filled season that produced subpar results on the field. After Ohio State named Urban Meyer as its head coach on Nov. 28, Fickell's life didn't exactly slow down. He coached the Buckeyes through their bowl game, interviewing for Pitt's head-coaching vacancy during the span, before opting to remain with Ohio State as defensive coordinator. When Meyer introduced his staff at a Jan. 15 Ohio State men's basketball game, Fickell received the loudest ovation.
Since then, Fickell has spent most of his time recruiting, with some coaching sprinkled in this spring.
He might not dwell on what happened, but he hasn't forgotten, either. The unique situation provided lessons for a young coach.
"There's things you take from every experience, but especially that one," Fickell said. "Not just about being a head coach, but being in the midst of adversity. It's everything from how you react and respond to how others around you react and respond to how an 18-year-old reacts and responds, to a 22-year-old. There was an incredible amount of things learned, not just about what things would I do different, but more emotionally."
Fickell is back in the familiar role of assistant coach, a position he held at Ohio State from 2002 until Jim Tressel's resignation on Memorial Day of 2011. The 38-year-old shares coordinator duties with coaching veteran Everett Withers, and he'll also coach the linebackers, as he did from 2005-2010.
Fickell shared defensive coordinator duties with Jim Heacock before taking over the head-coaching duties, but Heacock was regarded as the unit's leader. The 2012 season marks the first where Fickell moves into the primary play-calling role, although he downplays the idea that he'll have more ownership with the defense.
"In 2002, it wasn't Mark Dantonio's defense," Fickell said. "It was Ohio State's silver bullet defense. In '05, when Jim Heacock and myself were doing our thing, it wasn't our defense. It was every bit [former assistant] Paul Haynes' defense and [former assistant] Tim Beckman's defense."
Withers has been a defensive coordinator at three FBS programs (North Carolina, Minnesota and Louisville) and boasts NFL experience with the Tennessee Titans and New Orleans Saints. He also shares a kinship with Fickell after serving as North Carolina's interim head coach last season.
While Fickell stepped into a tough situation on Memorial Day, Withers' promotion came even later, as he took over July 28 for the fired Butch Davis. Although they occasionally joke around about their experiences, Withers, like Fickell, hasn't had much time to look back.
"When Coach Withers and I had some opportunities to sit down and spend some time together, there were no egos involved," Fickell said. "That's Coach Meyer's biggest thing. He said, 'The most important thing is I want an alignment with the staff.' ... That's why we've been successful here and been good, not just at Ohio State but on defense as well."
Fickell inherits a defense that returns nine starters, including All-America defensive end John Simon, but backslid at times last season. Although Fickell spent most of his time with the defense last fall, he's no longer burdened by head-coaching duties.
"He's awesome," Simon said. "With the passion and fire he brings every day, especially with his knowledge of defense, it's great to have him back."
The scheme will remain more or less the same -- "Nothing that anybody would notice unless you were really studying us," linebacker Etienne Sabino said -- and so are the demands.
"We always talk about, 'Be on the same page,'" Sabino said. "We can both look at a play and he'll ask me, 'Is that good or not?' And if I say no, he's probably thinking the same thing. We're on the same page. He would never let you get complacent.
"He's still pushing me just as hard as when I first walked in here. That's great."
The last thing the two men could have expected at their next coaching stop was another tempest. And, in many ways, a more damaging one.
Haynes and Johnson are part of an Arkansas staff left to pick up the pieces from the Bobby Petrino scandal. Johnson, the Razorbacks' assistant head coach/linebackers coach, is in charge until a head coach is named, while Haynes serves as the Hogs' defensive coordinator after leaving Ohio State in December. Johnson had a chance to remain with Ohio State but left to join Hayes in Fayetteville.
Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, who served as the Buckeyes' head coach last season after Jim Tressel's departure, has been in touch with Haynes since the Petrino scandal broke.
"A very, very difficult situation," Fickell told ESPN.com on Thursday. "Different in a lot of ways, but similar in some ways, too. Everybody learned from last year, whether they were an administrator here, whether they were an intern, a defensive coordinator or a head coach, you learn a lot of different things, and it's going to help them in the long run."
Fickell and Haynes are close friends and remain in regular contact, as do their wives. Fickell hasn't spoken as often with Johnson, but he's confident the two men don't need his advice despite another difficult situation.
"Hell, they were here, they know what happened," Fickell said. "Now if the situation [at Arkansas] stays the way it is, before they start a season, I'm sure just like I had, they'll have an opportunity to communicate with some different people and pick some brains. Right now, they're probably just trying to keep the whole ship afloat."
Through some very choppy waters.
The overriding feeling in the Ozarks was that this would be Bobby Petrino’s best football team at Arkansas.
But now that he’s not going to be around to coach that team, where do the Hogs go from here?
As we saw with both North Carolina and Ohio State a year ago, it’s never easy to navigate a season when your coach has been sent packing in the months leading up to that season.
Granted, Butch Davis was fired at North Carolina about a month before the 2011 season began, and Jim Tressel was forced out heading into June.
So Arkansas’ coaches and players at least have a little more time to process the situation, but this is the kind of thing that can fester for even the most resilient of football teams.
One day, Petrino is there, firmly in control and feverishly building on last season’s No. 5 finish in the polls.
And then one ill-fated motorcycle ride later, he’s gone.
There’s no way to prepare for such a sudden transition, no textbook, no therapist who can all of a sudden make everything right again.
Put yourself in the place of the Arkansas players.
Those words ring hollow now, and the only thing more hollow is the feeling that everybody associated with the football program must be experiencing.
There are so many unanswered questions going forward.
Petrino had obviously done a masterful job in making the Hogs relevant again nationally, so losing his leadership is one thing.
But what about his offensive genius?
Few coaches in football have a better feel for the game when it comes to breaking down defenses and calling plays.
Petrino called all of the Hogs’ plays on offense, so losing that dynamic is a huge blow.
What this team has going for it is talent, not to mention experience in key spots.
Talent has a way of covering up even the nastiest of wounds.
Having one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC helps, too, and Tyler Wilson now has a full season as a starter under his belt.
Wilson’s leadership in 2012 will be crucial. The same goes for running back Knile Davis, who knows a little something about dealing with hardship.
Davis, who missed all of last season after injuring his ankle, was already an inspiration to his teammates with the way he has continued to fight back from injuries.
The Hogs are going to need him more than ever, both on and off the field, in 2012.
Petrino had overhauled his defensive staff in the offseason, and it just so happens that two of the guys he brought in -- defensive coordinator Paul Haynes and linebackers/interim head coach Taver Johnson -- were at Ohio State last season.
If anybody has a clue what Arkansas is about to face, it’s Haynes and Johnson. They lived it last season with the Buckeyes following Tressel’s ouster.
Ultimately, the coaches will only be able to do so much.
If the Hogs are going to keep 2012 from being a lost season and fulfill the promise everybody had for this team prior to Petrino’s dismissal, it’s going to be on the players.
They have the talent to weather the storm. We’ll find out in the fall if they have the fortitude.
Now that we’ve gone through our position rankings in the SEC for the 2011 season, the only thing left is the coaches.
The head coach is obviously a big part of these rankings, but we’re taking into account the total staff and the job all of the coaches did this season in developing players, developing the team and getting the team to play its best in the biggest moments.
1. Alabama: The only blemish for the national champions was the LSU game in the regular season, and that was an overtime loss. Offensive coordinator Jim McElwain did an excellent job bringing along quarterback AJ McCarron, and it was hard to beat the Tide’s balance on offense. What more can you say about Kirby Smart and the defense? It’s a group that rates up there among the best in Alabama history, and when Nick Saban gets to the title game, he’s money. Alabama was easily the most prepared team on Jan. 9 in the Big Easy.
2. LSU: For 13 games, Les Miles and his entire staff did as good a job as any staff in America. There were several off-the-field issues that Miles handled well, and through it all, he kept his team on point against a killer schedule. Defensive coordinator John Chavis did a masterful job all season and won the Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in the country. But in the end, the Tigers were poorly prepared offensively in the title game and never made any significant adjustments. Miles’ refusal to at least try another quarterback remains a mystery.
3. South Carolina: It’s been a while since Steve Spurrier has been this happy about a football season. The Head Ball Coach and his staff have a lot to be happy about. The Gamecocks won 11 games for the first time ever, beat rival Clemson for the third straight season and did so despite their best player, running back Marcus Lattimore, going down with a knee injury during the middle of the season. It was one of Ellis Johnson’ best defenses at South Carolina, and after he left to take the Southern Miss head job, Lorenzo Ward saw to it that the Gamecocks didn’t miss a beat defensively in their Capital Bowl win over Nebraska.
4. Arkansas: With Tyler Wilson taking over for Ryan Mallett at quarterback, the Hogs were as potent as ever offensively, and that’s a credit to both Bobby Petrino and his right-hand man, Garrick McGee, who left at season’s end to take the UAB head job. Special teams were very good all season, although the Hogs gave up punt returns for touchdowns in their two biggest games of the season against Alabama and LSU. The disappointment was on defense, where Arkansas took a step backward from 2011, which is why Petrino parted ways with Willy Robinson and brought in Paul Haynes.
6. Vanderbilt: The Commodores’ best win came in the regular-season finale when they routed Wake Forest on the road to qualify for a bowl game. And even though they lost their bowl game and wound up with a losing record, first-year coach James Franklin and his staff breathed new life into a program that had only gone to four bowl games previously in school history. The Commodores lost four of their six SEC games by a total of 19 points, and they improved dramatically on offense, especially in the offensive line. As much as anything, Franklin brought an edge to the program that it had been lacking.
7. Auburn: It’s never easy to go from a 14-0 national championship season to a ho-hum season where you lose three of your last four SEC games by a total of 101 points. The Tigers’ defense was dreadful for most of the season, and other than former tailback Michael Dyer, there wasn’t a lot to get excited about on offense, either. Nonetheless, Gene Chizik and his staff still found a way to carve out eight victories, including wins over five teams that finished the season with winning records.
8. Mississippi State: Maybe the expectations for Mississippi State at the start of the season were a tad unrealistic, but Dan Mullen helped create those expectations by winning nine games in his second season and spanking Michigan in the bowl game. Chris Wilson’s defense came around the second half of the season, but the Bulldogs didn’t take the step most thought they would on offense. They were a couple of plays away from winning nine games again, and it’s the first time Mississippi State has put together back-to-back winning seasons since Jackie Sherrill had four in a row from 1997-2000.
9. Florida: The first year was a mulligan of sorts for Will Muschamp, who inherited some issues off the field he needed to solve. He made a tough (and the right) decision by kicking off his best player, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, after multiple drug arrests. The Gators also held their ground defensively. But the Charlie Weis experiment as offensive coordinator wasn’t a good fit, and the Gators were as bad offensively as they were the year before during Urban Meyer’s last season.
10. Kentucky: Had the Wildcats played just 11 games in 2011, Joker Phillips and his staff might have been ranked even lower. But then came the finale against Tennessee and the end of the 26-game losing streak to the Vols. Not only that, but the Wildcats figured out a way to win with receiver Matt Roark playing quarterback. It was a struggle the whole way offensively during the season, but first-year defensive coordinator Rick Minter deserves credit for bringing a more aggressive approach to the defense and forcing more turnovers.
11. Tennessee: A very average season for the Vols turned into a forgettable season thanks to their lackluster 10-7 loss to Kentucky. The Vols were slowed by key injuries to Justin Hunter and Tyler Bray and were playing a lot of younger players, but Derek Dooley has been the first to say that they also need to coach better going forward. The running game was a no-show in 2011, and there was a serious problem with team chemistry as the season wore on, something Dooley must correct if he’s going to be around long-term on Rocky Top.
12. Ole Miss: It was a tough end to a 14-year SEC coaching run for Houston Nutt. Some poor recruiting classes at the start of his Ole Miss tenure caught up to him, and so did some crippling injuries. There were no answers at quarterback, and even though the numbers were ugly on defense, defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix is a much better football coach than the numbers would suggest. The reality is that when you lose 14 straight conference games over two seasons, you’re not going to be ranked very high in any rankings.
Meyer's first actions took place Sunday as the team confirmed he dismissed defensive backs Dominic Clarke and DerJuan Gambrell.
Clarke, a backup cornerback who started three games last season, has had several legal issues in recent months. He was charged with misdemeanor operating while intoxicated and two other misdemeanors following a Jan. 7 traffic stop. He was arrested Oct. 9 for allegedly discharging a BB gun at an on-campus restaurant, which resulted in a one game suspension. Clarke had been ticketed for speeding near campus.
In other words, he had plenty of chances and kept squandering them.
Gambrell, a freshman, was dismissed for an unspecified violation of team rules.
In other Ohio State news, cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson is leaving to become co-defensive coordinator at Arkansas alongside former Buckeyes colleague Paul Haynes. Johnson's departure leaves Meyer one staff vacancy to fill.
It was a unit that was supposed to be coach Bobby Petrino’s best during his Arkansas tenure, but following the preseason hype, it found itself near the bottom of the SEC in most defensive categories at the end of the regular season.
Arkansas’ senior defensive end knows there was just too much bend.
With the way Arkansas’ defense ended the season, this one could be a shootout fit for the old west, but Bequette hopes it’s the Hogs that deliver most of the ammo.
“Hopefully it’s not a shootout,” Bequette said. “Hopefully, it’s a one-sided shootout for us.”
With the offensive weapons No. 6 Arkansas has, staying alive in a shootout shouldn’t be a problem. But making sure one doesn’t ensue will probably come down to what the Hogs do when Kansas State has the ball.
The eighth-ranked Wildcats don’t put up a ton of yards each week (they average 343.7 yards per game), but they do have a dual-threat quarterback in Collin Klein, who is averaging 237 yards of total offense a game. He led the Big 12 with 26 rushing touchdowns during the regular season and also threw for another 12.
His leading receivers -- Chris Harper and Tramaine Thompson -- have yet to cross the 550-yard mark and have six touchdowns between them, so the Wildcats mostly rely on a ground game made up of Klein (1,099 yards) and running back John Hubert (933).
That could be bad news for the Hogs, considering they ranked ninth in the SEC in rushing defense, giving up 174.3 yards per game, and were second to last for allowing 20 rushing touchdowns.
Bequette said the key to making sure Arkansas’ defense doesn’t revert to its old ways is winning the battle of first-and-10 and stopping the run early. Getting the Wildcats in third-and-long situations will be very beneficial for this defense, Bequette said.
That starts, Bequette said, with stopping Klein. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean Arkansas has to get him to throw more. Klein passed for more than 200 yards just twice -- once in a loss to Oklahoma State and once in a win against Texas A&M. It’s stopping his ground movement that will be essential, as he has rushed for 90 or more yards in eight games this season.
Klein’ ability to run opens things up for Hubert, and might catch Arkansas looking in the secondary.
The Hogs also need to play within themselves. This team isn’t suffering from talent deficiencies on defense. Depth certainly is a problem, but the Hogs are equipped with defensive starters that could find plenty of playing time elsewhere around the league. The issue is playing consistently for 60 minutes at a time.
“You don’t win 10 games with bad players or without playing well,” Bequette said.
What should also help Arkansas’ defense is the fact that there is some fresh blood on board. Bequette said parting with defensive coordinator Willy Robinson was tough, but the team has more than welcomed Ohio State’s former co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach, Paul Haynes, to the bunch.
In the short time Bequette has worked with him, Bequette said he’s been thoroughly impressed. He has not only injected some new life into the unit, but he has players feeling and playing more confidently. He’s putting a lot of responsibility on Arkansas defenders, and they like it.
Friday also marks the end of the road for a handful of seniors who helped Arkansas get to where it is now. Most of them come from the defensive side of the ball, so it’s been especially hard for them to look back and see some of the unit’s shortcomings.
But this group is motivated to lead the charge for the future. A win will give Arkansas its first 11-win season since 1977, and Bequette thinks it will generate a ton of momentum heading into the offseason for next year’s team.
“As seniors, we want to win our last game, but we also want to leave a legacy,” he said.
Shortly after speaking with the media at the Chick-fil-A Bowl news conference inside the fast food chain’s headquarters, Chizik went straight into overdrive getting back to Auburn for meetings and practice.
Days before, Ted Roof left to take a similar job at Central Florida, so Chizik, who has 11 years of defensive coordinating experience, took over the position through bowl season.
“I did that for so many years,” Chizik said of coaching Auburn’s defense. “You just kind of jump back on the horse and get back at it.”
Still, with time management and time constraints being just two things changing for Chizik, you could imagine there’s a little more stress in the Chizik household these days.
Bowl anxiety is truly setting in and his double duty act will really be put to the test Saturday night against Virginia.
While Chizik might be stressing more than usual, his players aren’t. Sophomore defensive end Nosa Eguae said things are relatively the same for players. To him, the defense hasn’t changed much when it comes to preparation, and Chizik’s defensive knowledge has made the short transition easy.
“He has a great football mind,” Eguae said. “Anytime we’re in a meeting, everybody gets it and understands it.
“I love it. There are people who can balance the two of being head coach and defensive coordinator and he’s great at what he does.”
The only real difference, outside of not seeing Roof overlooking the defense, is Chizik’s demeanor. Eguae said Chizik’s defensive passion is glowing, and it can get a little intimidating.
“When he’s focusing more on the defense you can see that intensity in his eyes and hear it in his voice,” Eguae said. “I love it.”
Auburn isn’t the only team dealing with change. Arkansas has welcomed in a new offensive and defensive coordinator in Paul Petrino and Paul Haynes. Florida lost offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who is now the head coach at Kansas, and temporarily promoted running backs coach Brian White.
No one was probably more caught off guard by change than Florida’s players. Weis said weeks before taking the Kansas job that he expected to be in Gainesville for the long haul. But his abrupt exit left players shocked.
While Florida struggled tremendously on offense this season, White said he wants to keep some order by maintaining the same offensive philosophy. There will be some tweaks, but plays and formations should be relatively the same.
“It’s pretty much status quo. This is what our players know,” White said. “This is what we’ve coached all year. We can’t all of the sudden go and do something out of the box in a couple weeks. That would be foolish.”
Unlike Auburn and Florida, Arkansas’ coordinators are locked into next season.
Petrino is very familiar with the Hogs. Not only is his big brother the head coach, but he was also on staff in 2008 and 2009. Even with Garrick McGee now UAB’s head coach, Arkansas’ offense shouldn’t change much under Petrino, but he does have some big shoes to fill.
Haynes, who takes over for Willy Robinson, left Ohio State to work in a conference where defense truly is king. Arkansas’ defense took an unexpected step back in 2011, ranking no higher than eighth in the SEC in major defensive categories.
In order to keep things easier for defenders, Robinson isn’t changing much, either, and plans to show a multiple defense attack.
While it isn’t always easy to say goodbye to a coach, these replacements appear to be making life better. Limiting the thought process seems to be the recipe for smooth transitions.
“There’s not going to be a lot of thinking come Saturday,” Eguae said.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
When Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster checked into his hotel Tuesday morning in Shreveport, La., the woman working at the front desk spotted the Golden Gophers logo on his shirt and smiled.
"The coach from Michigan just left," she told him.
Both Minneapolis and Ann Arbor, Mich., are located more than 850 miles from Shreveport, making it an odd place for Brewster and one of his Michigan counterparts to cross paths. But these days, Big Ten coaches are just as likely to bump into one another in Shreveport, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Houston as they are in Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Detroit.
When Purdue head coach Danny Hope called ESPN.com on Wednesday afternoon, he was navigating a road near Bay City, Fla. An hour earlier, Wisconsin defensive line coach Charlie Partridge phoned in from the Fort Lauderdale area.
The Big Ten recruiting range is expanding far beyond the Midwest, and coaches are spending much of their time in the fertile states of the south and southeast.
If one incoming recruit symbolizes the recruiting change in the Big Ten, it's a safety expected to sign Wednesday with Wisconsin.
His name: Dezmen Southward.
His hometown: Fort Lauderdale.
"There's certainly great, great players in the Midwest, but just in terms of numbers, all you have to do is look at Division I signing day and the number of kids who play Division I out of this region here," said Partridge, who has recruited the Florida area for Wisconsin, Pitt and Iowa State, among others. "You can come down and get two to three kids who can have an impact on your program.
"People are recognizing the value of recruiting down here."