NCF Nation: Ted Roof

ACC weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
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Well that was quite a weekend, huh? And after all of that ... the ACC still has three top-10 teams going into Week 9. But before we look ahead, let's take one last look back at the week that was in the conference.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesRashad Greene and the Seminoles, who are ranked No. 2 in the first BCS standings, dominated Clemson, 51-14.
The good: The ACC has a clear national title contender, and that is what is needed most for this conference to establish itself as a legitimate force atop college football. Looking for someone to dethrone Alabama and the mighty SEC? You might need to look no further than Saturday night's game at Clemson, when Florida State punched the Tigers in the mouth early and dominated from start to finish, deflating a much-hyped game in a way that had not been seen in this sport since the Crimson Tide did the same to Notre Dame in last season's BCS title game. The ACC has not had so much as a one-loss conference champion since the Seminoles' 12-0 national title campaign in 1999, and it is extremely difficult to see an outfit as talented as the one that owned Death Valley this weekend dropping two contests, based on its schedule. One loss will be hard enough for any other conference foe to deliver, as Florida State checked in at No. 2 in the first BCS standings and now has every reason to believe it can compete for a national title. (Its quarterback could be pretty busy come awards time, too.)

The bad: No, this was not "pulling a Clemson." The Tigers simply got beat, badly, by a better team. And you can very well make the argument that they could and would beat every other ACC team outside of Florida State. But this was their moment, complete with a second visit from "College GameDay" and another prime-time showcase for a program with national title aspirations. Instead, this game was over shortly after it started, with Tajh Boyd not performing up to expectations and the highly touted, improved defense proving to be no match for the Seminoles' skill players. This has to be, in some ways, disheartening, considering this was Clemson's shot at home with a senior quarterback against a Seminoles team that had lost 11 NFL draft picks and will only get better moving forward. Clemson, currently ranked ninth, can still have a very strong season, so long as it doesn't reel from Saturday's rude awakening.

The ugly: Syracuse went into Atlanta with a bit of momentum after registering its first ACC win, at NC State. Instead a Georgia Tech team that had lost three in a row smacked the Orange from start to finish, winning 56-0 for its second shutout of the season, marking the first time the Yellow Jackets had shut out two opponents in a season since defensive coordinator Ted Roof was a team captain in 1985. Terrel Hunt struggled in his third conference game, failing again to reach the 100-yard passing mark and this time getting pulled for Drew Allen. Defensive tackle John Raymon was lost for the season as well with a right knee injury. The Orange could use the bye to regroup before hosting Wake Forest on Nov. 2.

The walking wounded: It was bad enough that Maryland struggled throughout a 34-10 loss to Wake Forest. But the Terrapins also lost two of their top offensive weapons, with receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long suffering season-ending leg injuries. Diggs broke his fibula and Long broke his fibula and tibia. Maryland had started 4-0 before losing 63-0 at Florida State, barely beating Virginia and then getting routed by the Demon Deacons. It had already suffered a handful of defensive injuries before Saturday, and things won't get any easier this coming Saturday as it hosts No. 9 Clemson, which is coming off its first loss.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney, DeShawn Williams
AP Photo/Mike StewartCan Dabo Swinney's Clemson team bounce back from its big loss to Florida State?
The history: On the other end of that matchup in Winston-Salem, N.C., Wake Forest saw a new receiver etch his name to the top of the school record book. Michael Campanaro had 11 catches for 122 yards and a touchdown, becoming the Demon Deacons' career leader in receptions with 217, passing Desmond Clark. He is second in the ACC in both catches (55) and receiving yards (704) on the season, and he also threw a touchdown pass for good measure against the Terrapins.

The second-half charge: Duke finds itself on the cusp of bowl eligibility for the second straight year after overcoming a 22-point deficit at Virginia and pulling out a 35-22 win to improve to 5-2. The Blue Devils got a boost from both quarterbacks as Anthony Boone threw two touchdown passes and Brandon Connette ran one in for a score. Duke converted four fourth-down second-half plays as it scored the game's final 35 points and delivered the reeling Cavaliers another blow as they fell to 2-5 overall and 0-3 in conference play. Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage publicly backed coach Mike London last week, but questions will continue to mount if the Cavaliers continues to struggle.

The anomaly: Miami is No. 7 in the BCS standings after eking out a victory Thursday at one-win North Carolina. Stephen Morris struggled, throwing four interceptions, which marked the third straight game the Hurricanes had turned the ball over four times (Miami somehow won all three games). The Canes are 6-0 and host Wake Forest this weekend before traveling to Florida State on Nov. 2, but they lost Duke Johnson (head) and Phillip Dorsett (knee) to injuries in Chapel Hill. Johnson is expected to be fine, but Dorsett will miss four to six weeks with an MCL tear.

The ground boost: Pitt finally got the lift it needed from its rushing game, as Isaac Bennett carried the ball 30 times for 240 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-24 win over Old Dominion. The Panthers improved from 105th to 91st nationally in rushing yards per game (141.67). For a program that had tallied just 8 and 23 yards rushing in its previous two games, the timing could not have been better.
When Ted Roof returned to his alma mater this past January, he asked a graduate assistant to cut up 10-play highlight tapes of each returning defensive player. Georgia Tech's new defensive coordinator wanted to see the possibilities that lay ahead for the unit he was about to take over, and he figured whatever limitations they had would present themselves soon enough anyway.

"I think it's up to us as coaches to put kids in positions to be successful, and to ask them what they can do," Roof told ESPN.com. "For me, I will be able to see what they can't do, but I want to see what they can do, because we started this thing to try and put kids in the right positions with the right job descriptions and things of that nature."

What he saw was a collection of talent that has put the Yellow Jackets at No. 9 nationally in total defense and No. 8 in scoring defense. But the Ramblin' Wreck have plenty of company up there in the ACC, as evidenced by their No. 3 ranking within the conference in both of those categories.

[+] EnlargeShayon Green, Jeff Driskel
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesLB Shayon Green and Miami have made a habit of making big hits this year and the Hurricanes, like several other programs from the ACC, are ranked among the nation's top defenses.
Six ACC schools rank in the national top 25 of total defense. Six rank in the top 16 of scoring defense. Two of them square off Saturday, when Georgia Tech visits No. 14 Miami, which ranks a spot below the Yellow Jackets in the former category and a spot above them in the latter.

"We take a lot of pride," Hurricanes linebacker Denzel Perryman told ESPN.com. "Like the coaches tell us, like we say amongst ourselves, it's just the beginning of the season. It's game No. 5. We can't relax right here. So we've just got to keep doing what we're doing, which is just going out and executing and doing our job. We take a lot of pride in it though."

Miami has not played an FBS offense that currently ranks better than 70th. But the Hurricanes' one major win among their 4-0 start came when they forced five turnovers against then-No. 12 Florida. A unit that went through the growing pains of having 16 true freshmen play and six start at least one game in 2012 now finds itself in prime position to claim the early frontrunner status in the Coastal Division, as Miami has won its last four meetings with Georgia Tech.

But the roles are reversed this time around. Traditionally recognized for big playmakers at the skill positions -- and, in Georgia Tech's case, for the vaunted triple-option offense -- both schools have been modest offensively, ranking 38th (Miami) and 51st (Georgia Tech) nationally in yards per game.

The Yellow Jackets appeared to turn a corner defensively two weeks ago in their 28-20 home win over North Carolina, as they held the Tar Heels scoreless over the game's final 39-plus minutes. Despite a 17-10 home loss to intra-division rival Virginia Tech five days later, Georgia Tech held the Hokies to just a field goal over the game's final 41-plus minutes.

Roof said the UNC contest was a seeing-is-believing moment, as it allowed the new coordinator and his players to adjust to adversity on the fly and pull out a win.

"I think you gain some confidence and you gain some belief, and at the same time, correct the mistakes that got us into that position in the first place," Roof said. "But I was really proud of the effort."

Ironically enough, enhanced defensive play across the ACC may just be an unintended consequence of a conference that features seven senior starting quarterbacks from last year's 12-team version of the league.

"I just think it's the familiarity, in my opinion," Georgia Tech defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu told ESPN.com. "A lot of us have been playing against each other for a while, like Virginia Tech and their quarterback, UNC and their quarterback. The guys that are senior quarterbacks, we kind of have a book on them, and you're kind of experienced, you play them a lot. There are a lot of senior quarterbacks in the conference this year. Tajh Boyd, another senior.

"So when I go into those games you kind of have almost a feel for them: You know how to rush the passer when you're rushing them. You know how to stay in your lane. Sometimes guys that can move and get out like Tajh Boyd, you know how they adjust to that. And basically just familiarity. For me, personally, I feel the same way for a lot of our players on our defense, that familiarity and experience with a lot of the senior offensive players in this league."

Ten different ACC defensive coordinators are in their first or second years with their schools. In some of those cases, such as Clemson's, Florida State's or Georgia Tech's, head coaches and personnel were already in place, and that has been evident through their defensive play this season. Other cases, such as Boston College's or North Carolina's, were part of wholesale staff changes. That, too, has been evident so far this season, with the Eagles and Tar Heels ranking 71st and 105th, respectively, in total defense.

Mark D'Onofrio, in his third season as Miami's defensive coordinator, is a seasoned veteran by ACC standards. While stressing that he cannot speak for everyone, he does see the impact of some of the new staffs and schemes starting to come along in the conference.

"Sometimes it just takes some of these programs where they have newer head coaches or newer coordinators, it just takes a few years sometimes to get your system going and get your people in," D'Onofrio told ESPN.com.

Whether better defenses are here to stay or simply current products of early scheduling will likely be answered deeper into conference play. The clearest picture may come Saturday, when Georgia Tech and Miami collide in a matchup that has averaged 51 total points per game over the Coastal Division hopefuls' last four meetings.

Roof will reserve judgment until the season ends, though he is happy to see the Yellow Jackets gain early recognition for their work on his side of the ball.

"I want our players to take pride at being great at something," Roof said. "I want them to take pride in how they work, pride in how they prepare and pride in defense at Georiga Tech. But I know this, all of it has to go together -- offense, defense, special teams. There are going to be weeks where we have to win 49-48, and I'm good with that. There are going to be weeks where we have to win 9-2, and I'm good with that, too. Bottom line is we have to do what we have to do to win football games. But at the same time, I want our kids to have pride playing defense at Georgia Tech."

ACC predictions: Week 1

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
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The most anticipated post of Week 1 has finally arrived: Prediction time! Heather and I both got out our crystal balls and looked into the future. Here is what each of us sees for opening week in the ACC:

Thursday

North Carolina at No. 6 South Carolina, 6 p.m., ESPN. #UNCvsSC. The headliner in this game is Jadeveon Clowney, for obvious reasons. If North Carolina still had its offensive line from a year ago, I would like its chances in this game more. But with two redshirt freshmen starting on the offensive line and a new starting running back, the Tar Heels have major questions at the two strongest positions on the team in 2012. Defensively, North Carolina is thin at linebacker, so that is a concern, along with replacing Sylvester Williams up front. Bryn Renner will be able to keep North Carolina in the game, but South Carolina will ultimately win because it is stronger on the offensive and defensive lines.

AA picks: South Carolina 34, North Carolina 21

HD picks: South Carolina 24, North Carolina 21

Presbyterian at Wake Forest, 6:30 p.m., ESPN3. #PREvsWAKE. Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe goes into the season needing four victories to become the all-time winningest coach in school history. After this game, that number should shrink to three. Presbyterian won only two games last season, so I am not sure how much of a challenge a bad FCS team will present. Still, a few things to keep an eye on: the Wake Forest running game -- both Josh Harris and the offensive line. How much more will Tanner Price be used in running situations? Wake has a big game in Week 2 against BC, so Grobe is going to want to see what he can build on.

AA picks: Wake Forest 50, Presbyterian 3

HD picks: Wake Forest 45, Presbyterian 10

Friday

FAU at Miami, 8 p.m., ESPNU. #FAUvsMIA. The Hurricanes open the season without a resolution from the NCAA. Shocking, right? But that should not be a distraction. The bigger distraction could be the "look-ahead factor," with Miami playing rival Florida the following week. FAU has a long way to go if it wants to compete with Miami. Simply put, this won't be much of a test for the Hurricanes. The talent gap is too wide. Coach Al Golden just has to make sure his team remains focused on FAU.

AA picks: Miami 45, FAU 10

HD picks: Miami 42, FAU 17

Saturday

Elon at Georgia Tech, noon, ESPN3. #ELONvsGT. This is the schools' first meeting in football. It is not much of a matchup, either. Elon only won three games last year, so the Jackets should not have many problems in this game. They do have some injuries at a few spots, but with a bye the following week, Georgia Tech should be much healthier for its Sept. 14 game at Duke. It will be good to see how Vad Lee plays, what type of backs rotation Paul Johnson uses and how Ted Roof's new defense looks.

AA picks: Georgia Tech 55, Elon 3

HD picks: Georgia Tech 55, Elon 0

Villanova at Boston College, noon, ESPNews. #VILLvsBC. Coach Steve Addazio is pretty familiar with Villanova. When he was head coach at Temple in 2011 and 2012, the Owls opened the season against Villanova and won both games easily. This will be a good early test for the Eagles with Addazio in charge. First priority is to see how much better the offensive line and running game do. Second priority is to see more physicality from both sides of the ball. Both will be important, with the league opener against Wake Forest the following week.

AA picks: Boston College 35, Villanova 13

HD picks: Boston College 35, Villanova 17

FIU at Maryland (12:30 p.m., GamePlan/ESPN3. #FIUvsMD. Maryland has a very favorable nonconference schedule to open the season and kicks things off against an FIU team that took a big step back in 2012. The Panthers have a new head coach and only eight returning starters, to boot. Maryland, meanwhile, has a healthy C.J. Brown ready to open the season and the best player on the field in Stefon Diggs. Three keys to watch for the Terps: 1. How does the retooled offensive line hold up? 2. Will the running game be better? 3. How does the retooled defense with six new starters fare?

AA picks: Maryland 33, FIU 10

HD picks: Maryland 38, FIU 21

Louisiana Tech at NC State, 12:30 p.m., GamePlan/ESPN3. #LATECHvsNCST. The Dave Doeren era begins against one of the better teams from outside the power conferences a year ago. Louisiana Tech has a new coach in Skip Holtz and a first-year starting quarterback, but it also returns 1,000-yard rusher Kenneth Dixon and defensive end IK Enemkpali, a first-team WAC selection a year ago. NC State has not named a starting quarterback yet, and running back Shadrach Thornton is suspended for this one. Plus, the Wolfpack will have new offensive and defensive schemes and return only 11 starters. I expect for it to take some time to work out the kinks. Louisiana Tech upset Virginia a year ago, so this is not a team to overlook. This will be a good first test for Doeren.

AA picks: NC State 35, Louisiana Tech 24

HD picks: NC State 42, Louisiana Tech 7

Syracuse vs. Penn State, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2. #CUSEvsPSU. Neither team plans on naming a starting quarterback going into this one, so the big unknown is who will be under center when the game kicks off. What is known is that Syracuse should have a powerful running game going into the season with 1,000-yard rusher Jerome Smith returning, along with Prince-Tyson Gulley. There are definite questions for the Orange not only at quarterback, but at receiver, offensive tackle and along the defensive line. But I like what coach Scott Shafer has preached so far. His team is going to be hard-nosed and physical, and I believe it will be able to eke out a very close win.

AA picks: Syracuse 24, Penn State 21

HD picks: Penn State 31, Syracuse 21

BYU at Virginia, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #BYUvsUVA. There is no doubt the Cougars go into the game with a stout defense, led by outstanding linebacker Kyle Van Noy. But I am going with the Hoos in this game for a few reasons. First, they are at home and should have an advantage with BYU traveling from the Mountain time zone. Second, I think they will be a much more sound team on offense and defense. David Watford's mobility should help against the Cougars' D. Third, BYU has not been as good on offense in recently. If the Hoos can establish the run the way they did in 2011 and be more aggressive on D, they win. One more note: In his career as a head coach, Mike London has won all five of his openers. This will be his first as UVa coach against an FBS team.

AA picks: Virginia 21, BYU 20

HD picks: BYU 28, Virginia 21

NC Central at Duke, 4 p.m., ESPN3. #NCCUvsDUKE. The Blue Devils should have a relatively easy time against NC Central, the way they did last season. What they want to see is how Anthony Boone plays in his first game as starting quarterback and what types of strides the defense has made since last season. Both are going to be big keys for Duke if it wants to get back to a bowl game.

AA picks: Duke 48, NC Central 13

HD picks: Duke 48, NC Central 10

No. 1 Alabama vs. Virginia Tech, 5:30 p.m., ESPN. #BAMAvsVT. A few months ago, I thought the Hokies might have a fighting chance in this game. But I just don't think they have the personnel to do so now that game week has arrived. Given the uncertainty on the offensive line, at running back and in the secondary, it is going to be tough sledding for Virginia Tech to score more than two touchdowns against one of the best defenses in America. If Virginia Tech finds a way to win, it will be because it was able to establish the run, control the clock and pressure AJ McCarron into mistakes. Not out of the question. But it appears improbable at this point.

AA picks: Alabama 31, Virginia Tech 13

HD picks: Alabama 45, Virginia Tech 20

No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson, 8 p.m., ABC. #UGAvsCLEM. The game of the year, or at least the game of the week, has finally arrived after months and months of buildup. We finally get to see whether the Tigers can continue the momentum they established in the bowl win over LSU last season. Georgia has a veteran quarterback and the best rushing duo in the country. How Clemson handles Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall is the biggest key for an improving defense. But this is why Clemson wins the game: Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and a veteran offensive line have the upper hand over a defense that only returns three starters, including just one up front.

AA picks: Clemson 35, Georgia 31

HD picks: Clemson 38, Georgia 35

Monday

No. 11 Florida State at Pitt, 8 p.m., ESPN. #FSUvsPITT. A big opening week concludes with a huge game for both teams. Pitt begins its first season in the ACC with a marquee opponent at home, while Florida State begins its quest for another ACC title with a freshman starting at quarterback. Heather put Florida State on preseason upset watch last month, but it's hard for me to see the Panthers pulling the upset for two reasons: 1. They are banged-up at running back and have no depth at the position. 2. Florida State has a big-time advantage on the offensive and defensive lines. Pitt will give Florida State all it can handle, but the talent disparity is too wide for the Panthers to overcome in the opener.

AA picks: Florida State 27, Pitt 17

HD picks: Florida State 31, Pitt 21
1. For years, Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill never said he had epilepsy. Until last fall, he referred to his illness as a "seizure disorder," which sounded more ominous and mysterious than epilepsy. Kill went public with his illness during midseason last year, found better medication, and now has become a leading spokesman in the state for the foundation fighting the disease. Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune tracked Kill’s coming to grips with epilepsy in a sensitive, well-written piece.

2. In the last two years, Penn State has dropped from 10th to 19th in royalty earnings on logoed merchandise among FBS schools who work with the Collegiate Licensing Company. Most Nittany Lion fans believe the NCAA punishment of the school in the Sandusky case was too harsh. And it seemed like all Penn State fans fell in love with the fight in last year’s 8-4 football team. But the drop in royalties gives voice to the silent. A portion of Penn State fans are keeping their wallets closed.

3. On most Sundays, Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof would be doing what coaches do -- coaching practice or watching video of practice. Two days ago, Roof sat at his desk with his heart in his stomach, watching his buddy Jason Dufner gut out the PGA Championship. “Great performance under maximum pressure,” Roof said in a text. He befriended Dufner in Auburn, where Roof ran the defense from 2009-11. Two years ago, on the day after Dufner lost a five-stroke lead with four holes to play in the PGA, Roof and the Auburn staff invited Dufner to stop by. When he did, the Auburn football players gave him a standing ovation.
Florida State was not the only program to introduce new assistants during the offseason. Though the Seminoles led the way with the most changes for a program with a returning head coach, 13 of the 14 league schools had staff changes. Only Maryland returns all its assistants from a year ago.

There were some pretty big hires for some of those positions. With that in mind, whom do you think was the best assistant coaching hire in the ACC? I have narrowed the list down to five.

SportsNation

Who is the best assistant coach hired in the ACC this offseason?

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Discuss (Total votes: 5,537)

James Coley, offensive coordinator, Miami. This has to qualify as one of the assistant coaching coups in all of college football, as Miami coach Al Golden worked at warp speed to replace Jedd Fisch, stealing away one of the best recruiters in the South Florida area from arch rival Florida State. Coley has had the coordinator title with the Seminoles, but it was in name only as Jimbo Fisher still called the plays. This is a huge chance for him not only to help Miami on the field and in recruiting, but to show Florida State what it's missing.

Scot Loeffler, offensive coordinator, Virginia Tech. Loeffler did not exactly have a great season last year at Auburn, but nobody on that staff did. He was hired, in part, because of his past work in developing quarterbacks at previous stops. And we all know Logan Thomas has got to take the next step this season if the Hokies are going to get back atop the ACC. The results of the spring game weren't exactly ideal, but coaches have said Thomas has definitely made strides this spring.

Tom O'Brien, associate head coach/tight ends coach, Virginia. Coach Mike London made the decision to completely revamp his coaching staff this past offseason, and one coach he knew he wanted to hire immediately was O'Brien, recently fired at NC State. London previously worked under O'Brien; O'Brien spent 15 years working at UVa under former coach George Welsh. Adding a coach with as much experience and knowledge as O'Brien should definitely help a team looking for a turnaround in 2013.

Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator, Florida State. This is what Florida State assistant Sal Sunseri had to say about Pruitt, with whom he worked last season at Alabama. "When I got to University of Alabama, I sat in the press box with that young man through that whole year and we won a national championship, and he was as good as anybody I’ve been in the press box. He knows what’s going on out there. He knew how to make adjustments." Pretty high praise from a veteran who has worked both in the NFL and college football.

Ted Roof, defensive coordinator, Georgia Tech. Roof has wandered around a bit of late but he now returns to his alma mater intent on improving a defense that showed gains in the second half of last season. Last season at Penn State, his defense ranked second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (19.1 ppg), first in sacks (34), first in red-zone defense and third in turnover margin. Before that, he won a national championship at Auburn, which his defense held high-scoring Oregon to 19 points -- 28 below the Ducks' average.

My vote goes to Coley. What say you?

Jackets put on the pads

April, 1, 2013
4/01/13
5:00
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Georgia Tech had its first day in full pads on Saturday, and it was a chance for new defensive coordinator Ted Roof to get a better look at the defense.

"We've got a long way to go," he said.

The standards have been raised, and that's a good thing -- Georgia Tech struggled defensively in the first half of 2012, and former coordinator Al Groh was fired midseason. The Jackets showed significant improvement, though, in their Sun Bowl win over USC, and there have been positive reviews following the hire of Roof.

The challenge now is to get some positive reviews out of Roof.

"There were some good things, some mistakes, obviously," he said. "Things we've got to clean up. We’ve just got to be a lot more consistent, a lot more consistent from angles of pursuit, to finishing tackles, to finishing plays. We’ve got a lot of work to do in that area, but that's something we can correct."

A few other notes from Georgia Tech, according to the team's practice reports:
  • Injuries have created some opportunities for backups, especially at wide receiver, where Anthony Autry and Travin Henry are sitting out all spring, and returning starter Darren Waller was in red on Saturday. That leaves redshirt freshman Micheal Summers, who has impressed the staff, and junior Correy Dennis.
  • The A-back competition is heating up, as a number of players are working to take Orwin Smith’s starting job. Among those competing this spring: Deon Hill, Synjyn Days, B.J. Bostic, redshirt freshman Dennis Andrews and others. Tony Zenon will also be in the mix when he returns in August.
  • Sophomore Ryan Rodwell is the only experienced, healthy punter in camp, as senior Sean Poole is recovering from shoulder surgery. Poole initially injured his shoulder trying to make a tackle against Miami last September, but held off on surgery until the offseason. Poole and Rodwell, who had identical 39.7-yard averages in 2012, should compete deep into August for the starting job.
On paper, Penn State returns only one starter at linebacker (Glenn Carson) and loses two All-Big Ten players (Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges) at the position.

But anyone who watched the Nittany Lions' defense in 2012 knows junior Mike Hull isn't an ordinary backup. In many ways, he was Penn State's fourth starter. Hull finished the season with 58 tackles, including five for loss and four sacks, to go along with an interception, four pass breakups and two fumble recoveries. He also stood out on special teams, playing on all four units and recording a blocked punt against Ohio State that led to a Penn State touchdown.

"Last year kind of set the stage for what I expect to do in the future," Hull said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters. "It was great getting out there last year. I'm just ready for my role to increase, and I'm looing forward to being part of a great defense."

Hull appeared in every game as a redshirt freshman in 2011, mostly on special teams, and had 18 tackles and a blocked kick. He built a reputation as a weight-room monster early in his career, and he has accelerated his development under strength coach Craig Fitzgerald, who arrived with coach Bill O'Brien in January 2012. Hull added some weight in the winter and worked on increasing his hip and leg strength.

Although the 6-foot, 228-pound Hull said he and Carson didn't play together often in 2012, they both understand the defensive scheme, which isn't changing much with new coordinator John Butler, the team's secondary coach in 2012, taking over for Ted Roof.

"He's kept pretty much everything scheme-wise," Hull said. "... We're all working hard. We're way ahead of where we were last year as far as assignments go."

Like many Penn State players, Hull's future at the school seemed to be in doubt last summer after the NCAA imposed severe sanctions on the program, including a four-year postseason ban. Hull visited Pitt in late July and considered a transfer but opted to remain at Penn State.

"Best decision I've ever made," Hull said Wednesday. "There's no looking back."

Mauti played a significant role in keeping Hull in Happy Valley. Hull went on to replace Mauti in the starting lineup after Mauti suffered a knee injury late in the 2012 season.

Intensity and leadership are two qualities Hull absorbed from both Mauti and Hodges and hopes to carry over this season, when he's in a major role. Although he's virtually guaranteed a starting linebacker spot, he hopes to maintain a major role on special teams, noting that the third phase "gets us on the field at the next level."

"That's how it is at Linebacker U," Hull said. "When it's your turn to step up, it's go time, it's time to shine. I'm ready to fill that spot for our defense this year."
DUKE

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Boone is up. Duke loses three-year starter Sean Renfree, who threw for 3,113 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Anthony Boone is the next man up, and has plenty of game experience. But coming in for spot duty is vastly different from taking over the starting quarterback job. He has to get a jump on becoming the leader of this offense in the spring.

2. Receiver spots open. The Blue Devils lose the most prolific receiver in ACC history in Conner Vernon, plus the versatile and athletic Desmond Scott. Jamison Crowder is back, but Duke is going to need to find two more starters and several more to step up and help with depth.

3. Handling success. This is the first time since 1994 that Duke goes into a spring with 15 bowl practices already under its belt and a taste of success. That should presumably give the Blue Devils an advantage. But it is much harder maintaining, as many coach will tell you. How does this new success impact the mind-set in spring practice?

GEORGIA TECH

Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:

1. Ted Roof takes over. What is the Georgia Tech defense going to look like with Ted Roof in charge? He has not really given out specifics about the type of scheme he wants to use as his base, so it will be interesting to see how he fits his personnel to what he likes to do best. The Jackets do return eight starters to a unit that improved in the second half of the season.

2. Vad Lee time. We saw glimpse of what Lee could do as he began to share quarterback duties with Tevin Washington last season. Now, the show is all his, so we get to see how he develops as a full-time starter.

3. So long, Orwin. The Jackets lose one of their most dynamic playmakers in Orwin Smith, who finished his career ranked among Georgia Tech’s all-time leaders in kickoff returns (76), kickoff return yards (1,624) and career all-purpose yards (4,278). Georgia Tech has to find somebody to replace that productivity.

MIAMI

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. D in Defense? The No. 1 spring priority has got to be improving a defense that was one of the worst in the nation in every NCAA statistical category (No. 112 rushing defense, No. 102 passing defense, No. 116 total defense, No. 82 scoring defense). If Miami is going to be a favorite to win the Coastal, it needs better play out of this group.

2. New OC. James Coley takes over as offensive coordinator, replacing Jedd Fisch. Coley served as offensive coordinator at Florida State before arriving at Miami, but did not call the plays. So he has much more responsibility here, and is charged with taking Stephen Morris from great to next-level great.

3. D-Line improvement. If Miami is going to be better on defense, it has to start up front, where the Hurricanes were extremely young and mostly ineffective for 2012. The Hurricanes had to deal with their share of injuries, but they also were not great at stopping the run or putting pressure on the passer -- with only 13 sacks all year. That is the lowest total since at least 2005, the first year NCAA stats began listing team sack totals.

NORTH CAROLINA

Spring start: March 6

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Bye bye, Gio. Life begins without All-ACC running back Giovani Bernard, who left school early for the NFL draft. The cupboard is not completely bare, though, as A.J. Blue and Romar Morris both return. Blue and Morris combined for 819 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns last season.

2. Replacing Williams, Reddick. North Carolina returns nine starters on defense. That is the good news. The bad news is the Tar Heels lose their two best players in linebacker Kevin Reddick and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, two first-team All-ACC selections. We'll see if Ethan Farmer at tackle and P.J. Clyburn at linebacker emerge to win the starting jobs.

3. Replacing Coop. The Tar Heels have a major hole to fill on their offensive line as they say goodbye to unanimous All-America guard Jonathan Cooper, a stalwart who made 47 career starts. Cooper was the unheralded leader of the offense, so filling his spot is a major priority this spring.

PITTSBURGH

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. QB situation. Tino Sunseri is gone, leaving Arizona transfer Tom Savage, redshirt freshman Chad Voytik and junior Trey Anderson to compete for the starting job. Inconsistent quarterback play has been a major issue for the Panthers, so upgrading this position is an absolute must.

2. Adjusting to DC. Pitt is going into the season with its fourth new coordinator in as many years, as Dave Huxtable left for NC State after only one year on the job. Secondary coach Matt House was promoted to coordinator, so at least there will be some familiarity. But he has to get to work on improving this unit's consistency.

3. Offensive line improvements. Is this the year we finally see a vastly improved Pitt offensive line? The Panthers have to replace center Ryan Turnley and guard Chris Jacobson, two key positions to watch during spring practice.

VIRGINIA

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:

1. New coaches. How will the three most high-profile hires Mike London made mesh with the staff and returning players? How will the offense deal with a new scheme under Steve Fairchild? How will the defense deal with a new scheme under Jon Tenuta? How big will Tom O'Brien's role be with the offense? Inquiring minds want to know.

2. QB competition. Fairchild has already said he will open up the quarterback job to a "very spirited competition" this spring. The two front-runners figure to be Phillip Sims and David Watford, who both have game experience. But there will be no shortage of quarterbacks in Charlottesville this year, so there are no guarantees that either of them will win the job.

3. Replacing Greer. The Hoos have some big shoes to fill in the middle of their defense with the departure of linebacker Steve Greer, who ended his career with 376 tackles -- ranking No. 6 in school history. Kwontie Moore, one of nine true freshmen to play in 2012, backed up Greer last season. Will he win the starting job?

VIRGINIA TECH

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Logan Thomas. All eyes will be on Thomas as he heads into his senior season, especially with new offensive coordinator in Scot Loeffler in charge. How will the two work together, and what will Loeffler do to get Thomas to cut down on his mistakes and capitalize on the immense potential he has?

2. Rushing attack. Item No. 2 on the agenda for Loeffler is to figure out a way to jump start the Virginia Tech rushing game, which struggled in 2012. The offensive line was inconsistent, and so were the running backs. The Hokies could never really settle on a starter or a clear rotation in the backfield, either. Somebody has to emerge as THE guy.

3. Filling in for Exum. Virginia Tech took a serious hit to its defensive backfield last month when emerging cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in a pickup basketball game. The Hokies will look to several young players to try and fill his void, including Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes. Fans will have to wait on highly touted cornerback Kendall Fuller, who joins in the summer.

Moving Day: Pittsburgh

February, 13, 2013
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Syracuse has officially made the move into the ACC football blog. Now it's Pitt's turn. The Panthers will become full members of the ACC on July 1, joining the Coastal Division with former Big East partners Miami and Virginia Tech. As far as we're concerned, here in the blogosphere, the move has been made.

Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich are here to welcome Pittsburgh into the ACC blog. C'mon in, there's plenty of room.

Heather Dinich: Andrea, one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 season was Pitt's 35-17 win against Virginia Tech on Sept. 15. It wasn't just that Virginia Tech lost, it was how Pitt won -- convincingly, by manhandling the Hokies up front on both sides of the ball. Few, if any, saw that coming, as Virginia Tech was outworked and outmuscled by a team that had lost its first two games of the season, including to Youngstown State. How concerned should the rest of the Coastal Division be about the 2013 Panthers?

[+] EnlargePitt's Paul Chryst
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicPittsburgh needs head coach Paul Chryst to stabilize a staff that has endured turnover in recent seasons.
Andrea Adelson: Heather, that was a great shock to us all, because up to that point, Pitt had not proven to be very good up front. In fact, the Panthers struggled for much of the season to gain consistency on their offensive and defensive lines. That win was one of their most complete of the season, topped only by their 27-6 win against No. 18 Rutgers later in the year. I am on the record as saying I believe Pitt will have an opportunity to contend for the Coastal Division. First, quarterback play should be improved dramatically, with either former Freshman All-American Tom Savage or four-star recruit Chad Voytik at the helm. Second, the Panthers have a solid running back in Rushel Shell and an unheralded receiver in Devin Street. And third, the Panthers return nine starters on defense, including All-Big East tackle Aaron Donald. I also think this team will be better in Year 2 under Paul Chryst. It's actually the first time since 2009 and '10 that the Panthers have had the same head coach in back-to-back seasons.

Having said that, there are a few concerns. First and foremost is playing consistently week in and week out. Those who follow me on the Big East blog know I referred to this team as "Good Pitt/Bad Pitt" all season because of the Jekyll and Hyde performances. Pitt followed a lose two, win two pattern all season. Chryst needs to find a way to get his team to play at the same level every single week. Second, the offensive line has to be better, because it has been pretty bad the past several years. Pitt won't be able to play the way Chryst wants to play on offense if the line doesn't improve. And third, Pitt is searching for yet another defensive coordinator since Dave Huxtable has gone to NC State. So that's my take. What will Pitt find in the Coastal this year?

HD: A much-improved Virginia Tech team. A Miami team ready to play for the league title (if it's eligible, of course). An eligible North Carolina team ready to contend for the Coastal Division title in the second season under Larry Fedora. A Georgia Tech team that returns the bulk of its playmakers and should get upgrades at quarterback (Vad Lee) and defensive coordinator (Ted Roof). Duke will have something to prove, as it has had some significant staff changes, including the departure of senior quarterback Sean Renfree and record-setting senior receiver Conner Vernon. Virginia had a staff overhaul, but coach Mike London should be feeling some heat to get back to a bowl.

SportsNation

How do you think Pitt will fare in its first season in the Coastal Division?

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Discuss (Total votes: 3,360)

Overall, the Coastal Division should be much, much better than it was last year. Heck, it can't get much worse, as the Hokies had their worst season in 20 years, two teams were ineligible, and Georgia Tech needed a waiver just to play in a bowl game. The Coastal Division is more balanced than the Atlantic Division, and Pitt will fit right in, adding to that parity. I'm looking forward to seeing Pitt-Miami and Pitt-Virginia Tech on a more regular basis. Miami has yet to play for the ACC title since joining the league, while Virginia Tech has owned it. Make no mistake -- last season was an anomaly in Blacksburg. What will it take for Pitt to follow the Hokies' path in the ACC?

AA: Great question, Heather. No. 1 on the list has to be coaching stability. The Pitt program has been set back because of the missteps over the past three years with head coaches. Most everybody believes Chryst is a solid football coach, but he is going to need time to get this program where he wants it. And he has exceptional resources to get the job done, with state-of-the-art facilities and extremely fertile recruiting ground in the Pennsylvania area. Pitt does not have to go far to find some of the most talented players in the nation. They finished just outside the top 40 on signing day last week. They can sell their ties to the Steelers, playing in an NFL stadium, and their incredible history, filled with national championships and Hall of Famers. Now, you could come back and say, "Well, Miami has all that, and more, and the Canes have failed to dominate the ACC as predicted." Very true. But you also make my point for me. Miami's weakness has been at the head-coaching position, as well, with Larry Coker and Randy Shannon unable to continue the success Miami had in the Big East. Al Golden now has the Canes in position to be the favorites in the Coastal.

Virginia Tech? Well, Virginia Tech has had Frank Beamer, the picture of coaching stability. After Wisconsin lost coach Bret Bielema, many wondered whether athletic director Barry Alvarez would approach Chryst, a long-time Wisconsin assistant and Wisconsin graduate. But Chryst let it be known he did not have any intention of leaving Pitt after a year on the job. He is committed to the Panthers. Now the administration has to show its commitment by giving him time to build. If he's as good as many think he can be, Pitt will be fine.
You know the old football cliche -- if you play more than one quarterback, that means you have no quarterbacks.

What if your team has a head coach, with a former head coach added into the assistant staff mix? This season in the ACC, we get to find out whether the same cliche applies.

Two former head coaches have landed jobs in the league -- NC State head man Tom O'Brien is now at Virginia as tights ends/associate head coach; and former FIU head coach Mario Cristobal is at Miami, also as tight ends/associate head coach. Both were fired after the 2012 season ended. Georgia Tech also has hired a former head coach in Ted Roof, now in charge of the Jackets' defense.

These hires have put the ACC in a rather unique situation. Of the 14 head coaches who were fired or resigned in the 2012 season, six have landed other jobs. Five of them are now assistants -- two are in the ACC; two are in the SEC (Joker Phillips at Florida and Ellis Johnson at Auburn); and one is in the Big Ten (Bill Cubit at Illinois).

While it's certainly not unusual for fired head coaches to find assistant coaching jobs elsewhere, it seems rare to find three former head coaches taking jobs in one league within a month. There are various reasons for their decisions, but one interesting connection. Each worked previously at the school they have joined.

O'Brien worked at UVa for 15 years under former coach George Welsh. He hired London at Boston College. And he just spent six years as a head coach in the ACC. O'Brien was not ready to give up coaching just yet, and all those connections made sense. So he took London up on his offer.

Cristobal played at Miami, and was an assistant at Miami before getting his shot at FIU. Staying in the area made perfect sense.

Roof, meanwhile, is from Georgia, played at Georgia Tech and previously served as Jackets' defensive coordinator under George O'Leary. He also was the head coach at Duke from 2004-07. Of the three, he is the only one who did not take his team to a bowl game as a head coach.

Their experience is undeniable. But there is also one natural question that already has been raised. Will there be too many chefs trying to bake a souffle? Both O'Brien and Cristobal addressed how they will handle their new found roles as men taking orders as opposed to giving orders during their respective introductory press conferences.

"I should be the best assistant here because I know what (London) goes through, the day-to-day grind it takes to be a head coach," O’Brien told local reporters in Charlottesville. "If I can take some of that off of him and make us all better coaches, that’s what I want to do."

Said Cristobal: "I was the same person as an assistant coach, as a head coach. I don’t think that changes,” he said. “I think you are what you are when you wake up in the morning and when you go to bed at night. I don’t think it changes. If it does you were probably raised the wrong way.

"I’m ready to accept and excel at each and every role I’m assigned to so that we can do whatever possible to make sure we flat out win at everything we do — football, classroom, community, everything."

3-point stance: Irish move backwards

January, 11, 2013
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1. First, Alabama strips Notre Dame of any idea that the Fighting Irish had returned to dominance. Second, head coach Brian Kelly drew on the reserve of goodwill he created this season by reportedly interviewing with the Philadelphia Eagles three days after declaring “I’ve got the best job in the country.” Coaches don’t leave Notre Dame for the NFL. They leave the NFL for Notre Dame (Dan Devine in 1975; Joe Kuharich in 1959). On the road to rediscovering their historical magic, the Irish take two steps forward, one step back.

2. If you needed any reminder that Penn State defensive coordinator Ted Roof was a fish out of water, check out the pickup truck parked outside the Lasch Football Building with the Alabama license plate. Roof, who came to Penn State from Auburn, has coached at a southern school for 21 of his 26 seasons in college football. His parents and his in-laws still live down there, which is why he leapt at the opportunity to return to Georgia Tech, his alma mater, as defensive coordinator. His close friend, Nittany Lion head coach Bill O’Brien, will miss him.

3. That’s five SEC schools among the top nine in the final AP poll and seven southern schools in the top 11. We have been taught that football is a cyclical sport, that offense dominates, then defense; that rivalries go to and fro depending upon the coaches at the respective schools. But it’s difficult to imagine what will change the shift in power to the schools in the nation’s sun belt. That’s where people live now. When you add the emphasis on speed, and the ability of southern kids to play all year in warm weather, this is a cycle that will turn very slowly.
Ted Roof is back.

He’s back at his alma mater, Georgia Tech, and the former Duke coach is back in the ACC, once again as Georgia Tech’s defensive coordinator.

[+] EnlargeTed Roof
Bradley Leeb/USA TODAY SportsTed Roof returns to Georgia Tech to be its defensive coordinator.
The question is, how long will he stay?

Roof is one of the nice guys in the business, but he’s moved around as much as major-league pitcher Edwin Jackson. Journeyman Jackson played for seven teams in his first 10 seasons. This will be Roof’s fourth stop since 2008, as he spent last year at Penn State, 2010 at Auburn, and 2008 at Minnesota. Will Roof give Georgia Tech’s defense any stability? Because it’s in desperate need of some.

Paul Johnson fired Dave Wommack after the 2009 season, he fired Al Groh midway through last season, and interim coordinator Charles Kelly is expected to be hired at Florida State, according to a source. Roof’s ties to Georgia Tech would indicate The Flats would make a good permanent home -- he was a linebacker for the Jackets under Bill Curry from 1982-1985. He is in the Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame. He came back in 1998 as linebackers coach under George O’Leary and was defensive coordinator for three years.

He’s done this before.

And he’s left before.

It wasn’t since Roof’s tenure as head coach at Duke (2004-2007) that he stuck around anywhere for a while. Georgia Tech would benefit if it could find some consistency at the coordinator position.

Georgia Tech’s defense began to make significant strides in the second half of the season under Kelly, and with eight starters returning, Roof will inherit a solid, experienced group coming off an impressive win over USC in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. The Yellow Jackets closed the season by shutting out Florida State in the second half of the ACC Championship game and holding USC to just seven points.

Georgia Tech has hired one of its own to build off of that performance. The question is whether or not Roof will really call it home again.
Bill O'Brien is staying at Penn State after a brief flirtation with the NFL, but one of his top assistants and closest friends is not.

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof resigned Wednesday after spending just one season at Penn State, and took the same position with Georgia Tech, his alma mater. O'Brien acted quickly in promoting Nittany Lions secondary coach John Butler to defensive coordinator.

Few are surprised to see Roof on the move again, as Georgia Tech becomes his fifth coaching stop since the 2008 season (Minnesota, Auburn, Central Florida, Penn State). He has strong ties to the state and to the school, where he served as linebackers coach in 1998 and defensive coordinator from 1999-2001. But he's also extremely tight with O'Brien, who he worked with at his previous stop at Georgia Tech. O'Brien later joined Roof at Duke when Roof served as Blue Devils' head coach.

"It's very important to keep your staff intact, but you have to be careful there, too, because I think it's important for these guys to want to move up the ladder," O'Brien said Monday at a news conference. "So you've got some fantastic coaches on our staff that are going to have chances probably, maybe not this year but maybe in other years, of being coordinators or even head coaches. You never want to hold those guys back from being able to do that, and I never will. But obviously from a continuity standpoint, you'd love to keep them intact and do the best you can with that."

Regarding assistant coach salaries, O'Brien said, "These guys are paid well. I think that they can always be paid better, and I think there's things that we've talked about from Day 1 here, [athletic director Dave Joyner] and I, about ways that we can do that, whether it's a bowl bonus or what bowl would we have gone to if we win a certain amount of games, things like that. So those are conversations that take place, and like I said, in the inner circle, and we'll do the best we can to continue to try to make it attractive to coach here."

It's hard to blame Roof for heading home, although Penn State had a better season than Georgia Tech, and the PSU job has more national prestige. You have to wonder how concerned Roof is about Penn State's future with the NCAA sanctions, despite the team's success this season. Although Penn State held onto O'Brien for at least another year, it's critical for the school to retain assistants and maintain staff continuity.

Roof didn't immediately return a message from ESPN.com. Penn State's defense finished 16th nationally in points allowed, 23rd in rushing and 29th in total yards allowed in Roof's sole season as coordinator.

O'Brien went with Butler at defensive coordinator rather than veteran Penn State assistants Larry Johnson (defensive line) or Ron Vanderlinden (linebackers), the only holdovers from Joe Paterno's staff. It's unknown whether O'Brien offered the job to either Johnson or Vanderlinden, who might be content in their current roles.

Before joining O'Brien at Penn State, Butler served as special teams coordinator and helped coach linebackers at South Carolina. He held a similar post with Minnesota from 2007-2010. I got to know Butler a bit at Minnesota, and he struck me as an extremely bright coach. This is certainly a big step for him, although Penn State's structure of success on defense is already in place.

Big Ten stock report: Week 2

September, 5, 2012
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With a week's worth of games now in the bank, it's time to take stock of who's up and who's down in the Big Ten:

Stock Up

Iowa's defensive line: The most surprising thing about the Hawkeyes' win over Northern Illinois wasn't that Damon Bullock emerged as a solid running back or that the team struggled to win. It was that the much-questioned defensive line played better than expected. Joe Gaglione had three tackles for loss and a sack, Dominic Alvis added two TFLs and a sack and the Huskies didn't do much offensively beyond quarterback Jordan Lynch's 73-yard run. The D-line is not great yet but showed it can be competent.

[+] EnlargeMinnesota Golden Gophers defensive back Derrick Wells
Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE Minnesota displayed an improved pass defense against UNLV, including two interceptions from Derrick Wells.
Minnesota's pass defense: Let's not get carried away by a performance against UNLV. But the Gophers had major troubles defending the pass in 2011 and showed some improvement in the opener. They are tied for third nationally in interceptions with three after recording only four all of last season. Derrick Wells had a pair of those. Minnesota will face much better passing teams down the road by at least has some reason for optimism.

Allen Robinson: One bright spot for Penn State in its opening loss to Ohio was the play of Robinson, their sophomore wide receiver. He had more catches (nine) than any other Big Ten player and totaled 97 receiving yards. The Nittany Lions receiving corps was a real question mark coming into the season, especially after Justin Brown transferred. But Robinson showed he has the tools to be a star.

Frankie Williams: Purdue coach Danny Hope has said he wished he hadn't redshirted Williams last season. Williams showed why in his first collegiate game against Eastern Kentucky, notching six tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. The Boilers were looking for playmakers at safety, and Williams looks like he can be just that.

Nebraska's offensive depth: The impressive thing about the Huskers' 49-20 win over Southern Miss was how many different players contributed to the offense. Even with Rex Burkhead missing most of the game with a knee injury, Nebraska had little trouble moving the ball. Ten different players caught at least one pass and nine different players took at least one carry. I picked the Cornhuskers to lead the Big Ten in scoring back in March. They have a chance to prove that right.

Stock Down

Iowa's pass protection: The Hawkeyes couldn't get much of anything going in the passing game against Northern Illinois, mostly because James Vandenberg couldn't stay upright. He was sacked six times as the Huskies' repeated blitzing on third downs wreaked havoc. The offensive line returned only two starters and lost a pair of NFL draft picks, so some early-season confusion was to be expected. But Iowa currently ranks last in the nation in sacks allowed, which is an odd sight for a program used to strong line play.

Penn State's defense: We thought the Nittany Lions' defense would carry the team early on as it did for most of last season. But despite having one of the top front sevens in the Big Ten, on paper, Penn State served up 499 total yards to Ohio and could not get stops when it needed them the most. Injuries and an underperforming offense played a role, but new defensive coordinator Ted Roof is already hearing some criticism from fans accustomed to outstanding defensive play.

Michigan's passing game: The word all offseason was that Denard Robinson had improved his mechanics as a passer. Granted, Alabama's defense will make a lot of quarterbacks look bad. But it's also true that Robinson and his receivers looked out of sync most of the night in Texas. Robinson went just 11-for-26 with two interceptions, and the fact that he targeted converted quarterback Devin Gardner so frequently makes you wonder about the receiving corps' depth.

Michigan State's penalties: The Spartans like to play aggressively, which will lead to some penalties. But getting flagged 10 times for 90 yards, as Michigan State was in the opener against Boise State, is way too much for a team with designs on a Big Ten championship and more. Many of those infractions came at key times to either extend a Broncos drive or short-circuit one for the home team. It was just the first game, but the Spartans need to clean that up.

Northwestern's defense: Pat Fitzgerald was tired of hearing about how bad his team's defense was in 2011. Well, he isn't about to hear the end of that. The Wildcats have up 41 points and 596 yards to Syracuse, a team that ranked 84th in the country in scoring last season. What was really disheartening is how the Northwestern defense repeatedly gave up huge plays despite being blessed with a 35-13 lead. A prevent defense wasn't necessarily in order, but Fitzgerald's team needed to make the Orange work a little harder to score their four straight touchdowns.
video
Editor's note: Ivan Maisel has the latest from Penn State as the Nittany Lions prepare for their season opener versus Ohio.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Shortly after 1 p.m. Monday, defensive coordinator Ted Roof conferred with head coach Bill O'Brien to change the game plan and put the Nittany Lions in shoulder pads for practice Monday. Roof wanted his defense to get some short-yardage and goal-line work as Penn State prepares to open the season against Ohio.

It's unusual to hit on Monday. But as Roof explained, "I don't know what normal is. This is the first one."

Lost in the discussion of everything else that has surrounded Penn State over the Past nine months is the actual transition of a new staff learning to work together. Football is a notoriously who-you-know business, and O'Brien, like most head coaches, called his guys together to come work for him at Penn State. Tight ends coach John Strollo came from Ball State. He and running backs coach Charles London worked with O'Brien for Roof at Duke.

"When he went to the Patriots," Strollo said of O'Brien, "I kept calling him and bugging him. 'Don't forget about me.'"

In the offensive staff meeting, you could tell the coaches had a history. O'Brien, receivers coach Stan Hixon and offensive line coach Mac McWhorter worked together at Georgia Tech. They interjected anecdotes from their days under offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen. Though the staff sat at a long oval table, O'Brien ran the meeting from the corner of the room. He sat at a desktop computer to work the video he had assembled of the Ohio defense.

Roof had never worked with defensive line coach Larry Johnson or linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, the two assistants whom O'Brien hired from Joe Paterno's staff.

"One of the reasons that I hired Ted," O'Brien said, "is his ability to get along with people."

Roof, like quarterback coach Charlie Fisher, has an accent that you could pour over waffles (for extra thick, listen to McWhorter). He made sure that he, Johnson, Vanderlinden and secondary coach John Butler learned how to work together.

"We've had three dry runs with headsets, sidelines, to rehearse the whole thing," Roof said. "Who's going to make the call, who's responsible for signing it in, who's going to be quiet when they're making a call. They are good guys and good coaches. As long as we're on the same page, we'll be fine. It's my job to tie it all together."

As for practice in shoulder pads, O'Brien liked what he saw. He liked the focus -- perhaps because, for the first time all season, he turned off the music at practice. He liked enough of what he saw that he cut it 20 minutes short.

"I don't know much about what I'm doing," he said afterward, "but I sensed that they had given really good effort to that point. A lot of the things we cut we're going to get to later in the week. It's the first day of school. Some of them have to eat and get to study hall by 7:30."

As study hall began, the offensive staff began a meeting to watch the practice video.

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