NCF Nation: Tim Davis

Last week, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon wrote a 1,059-word blog post affirming his support for head coach Brady Hoke.

[+] Enlarge Brady Hoke, Al Borges
AP Photo/Tony DingAfter a down 2013, Al Borges (left) and Brady Hoke might not have the luxury of another season for their offense to grow.
Hoke's job status at Michigan, at least for a fourth season, never seemed to be in doubt. If Jabrill Peppers, Michigan's top 2014 recruit, hadn't expressed concern about Hoke's future, Brandon could have saved himself some time at the keyboard.

Brandon urged patience with the program, mentioned coaches like Jim Harbaugh and Nick Saban in his post and praised defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, whose job, at least to the outside, always appeared safe. Noticeably absent from the post was offensive coordinator Al Borges, who, along with offensive line coach Darrell Funk, has been the subject of increasing criticism as Michigan's offense sunk to historic lows in early November before reviving itself last Saturday against archrival Ohio State.

Hoke doesn't have a blog (am I the only one who wished he did) and isn't nearly as verbose as his boss, but he also expressed some public support for his staff Monday during an appearance at Detroit's Ford Field.

From The Detroit News:
Hoke was asked if he's happy with the staff and anticipates having this staff in 2014.

"Yeah, I anticipate the staff [returning]," he said.

When pressed and asked if he does not expect any changes, he responded simply.

"Correct," Hoke said.

He was asked again if this is a "we'll-see situation."

"No," he said.

Like every coach, Hoke will conduct evaluations with his staff following the season. Not surprisingly, Brandon will be a part of those. So it's possible changes could come following Michigan's bowl appearance, but don't hold your breath.

There's no doubt Hoke is loyal, and loyalty is a fleeting quality in today's pressurized world of college coaching. Florida on Monday fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis, and other programs either have made or will make significant staff changes.

Michigan's offensive woes and season record aren't nearly as bad as Florida's, but both programs are supposedly big time and face pressure to win championships. Brandon's counterpart at Florida, Jeremy Foley, also had to give his head coach a vote of confidence in recent days. What do the two approaches say about the culture of the programs, the leagues they play in and the standards they set for performance?

Hoke and Borges were united in their offensive vision at San Diego State, and nothing has changed at Michigan. They want to restore a pro-style offense built around the power run. But for various reasons -- personnel types, youth, lack of development -- it hasn't happened yet. Michigan's offense had negative net rushing totals in its first two November games, couldn't score a touchdown in regulation at Northwestern and racked up just 158 yards at Iowa before exploding for 41 points, 31 first downs and 603 yards against Ohio State.

The Wolverines seem to be at their best with quarterback Devin Gardner moving around and ball-carriers attacking the perimeter, rather than between the tackles. That hasn't been the long-term vision, but the plan could come into focus next season as young linemen and young running backs mature.

Borges is a smart coach, but he's also a journeyman coordinator. He had different jobs each season from 2000-04 and hasn't been at one stop for longer than five years since a seven-year stint at Portland State from 1986-92.

Like many coaches, Hoke believes in staff continuity, which is often a top indicator of success. We've seen plenty of examples in the Big Ten, including the long-tenured staffs at Michigan State and Minnesota picking up the slack when head coaches Mark Dantonio and Jerry Kill stepped away because of health reasons.

Northwestern attributes much of its recent success, at least until this year, to the staff remaining fully intact. Coach Pat Fitzgerald plans to keep it that way despite a highly disappointing 5-7 record. But Fitzgerald isn't at Michigan. He doesn't have the same external and historic demands as Hoke does, or should.

Does the patience/loyalty shown by Brandon and Hoke show that Michigan is different (in a good way), avoids knee-jerk reactions and wisely plans for long-term success? Or does it show Michigan talks like a big-time program but struggles to make the hard choices needed to compete at the highest level?

I'll admit it's a tough one. We'll probably get our answer in 2014.

Muschamp says he can change

December, 2, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Now that offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis have been sacrificed as a way to wash away the sins of Florida's 2013 offense, the spotlight shifts to head coach Will Muschamp.

For such a strong-willed leader, for such a defensive-minded coach, the obvious question in regards to his offensive philosophy is, "Can Muschamp change?"

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesThe Gators' inability to score points became a weekly post-game complaint from Will Muschamp.
After his team was drubbed one last time last Saturday in a 37-7 loss to Florida State that saw his Gators generate just one score, eight first downs and 193 yards, Muschamp was quick to answer that question.

"Perception is not always reality," he said and then repeated himself for emphasis. "Perception is not always reality. So, I'm willing to do what we need to do to score points and win games."

It's doubtful that portends a complete shift to another style of offense, however. Since Muschamp arrived in December 2010, he has recruited for the pro-style offense. He installed it on the heels of Urban Meyer's spread-option, and it has taken years to usher in the personnel required for such a drastic change. It's extremely unlikely a head coach on a hot seat would scrap the base offense and start over.

What is more likely to change is the heavy emphasis on a downhill running game that was designed to shorten games by hogging time of possession.

That approach worked to perfection with Florida's stout defense and strong special teams in 2012. Even with one of the nation's worst passing games that averaged 146.31 yards and ranked 114th out of 123 FBS schools, the Gators won 11 games and defeated four top-1o teams on their way to a BCS bowl.

This year, injuries on defense and new faces on special teams conspired to spotlight the shortcomings of Muschamp's offensive philosophy. The Gators' margin of error had always been small, but without a reliable defense and kicking game, it shrunk to a level of absurdity.

By the end of the dismal 2013 season, one interception, one sack-fumble, one drive that ended in a missed field goal was enough to torpedo the entire team's fragile psyche. Muschamp started calling out his "inept" offense, saying it had "infected" the rest of the team.

The need to change was obvious to Muschamp, the players, the fans and most importantly to Muschamp's boss, athletic director Jeremy Foley.

"Will is going to figure those things out," Foley said to reporters in giving his embattled coach one more vote of confidence before the FSU game. "I do think in this league playing good defense is important, and that's why I hired Will. I think he's done that. But we do have to fix that side of the ball.

"No disrespect to anybody. That's just reality. You look at the stats and some of the scores that have caused us problems. We'll get that fixed. We're going to have to get that fixed, and I think we can."

An offense that was built to do more than run could have pivoted this season, taken on more of the burden to win games and help salvage a passable season instead of the 4-8 quagmire that resulted.

The final outcome -- 112th in the nation and last in the SEC in total offense, 107th in the nation in passing offense, last in the SEC in scoring -- forced Muschamp's hand.

"We need to take a look at ourselves schematically with what we’re doing," Muschamp said. "There have been some things that have happened that are very difficult to overcome, but schematically, there’s no question we need to take a look at ourselves."

Yes, the injuries were difficult to overcome. Any team that loses its top two quarterbacks, top running back and top three offensive tackles is in for a turbulent season. But this is Florida, where quality depth is more than just expected -- it's practically a birthright at a school surrounded by such fertile recruiting turf.

The offensive line was unable to pass-block in 2012 or before it suffered all those injuries this season. And when those injuries struck, there were no sophomores or redshirt freshmen ready to compete for starting jobs. It's no surprise Davis was fired.

The offense's inability to generate points became a weekly complaint from Muschamp in his recent post-game assessments. So much so that it was no surprise Pease was fired.

In replacing him, Florida will need an offensive mind that can devise multiple ways of attacking a defense, employ varying tempos and do a better job of developing skill-position talent.

It starts with Muschamp, who will hire his third offensive coordinator heading into his fourth season.

"I think obviously the first person you look at is yourself," he said. "That’s what you’ve got to be able to do and see where we are. I think as a coach, you’ve got to do what your players can do. That’s something I’m looking at."

No doubt the players will welcome a change. Even Muschamp's defensive players say they want the same thing.

"Right now, whatever they do hopefully is changed for the best," sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard said once the season was over. "Give us 21 [points] a game. If they can do that, then I would put the blame on us if they score 21 points or over. Hopefully change for the better, because what we're doing right now just ain't working."

SEC Power Rankings: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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We have a new No. 1 in our Power Rankings, and there's a chance that either of the top two teams on this list could back its way into the BCS title game:

1. Auburn (11-1, 7-1 SEC; last week: 3): Call it luck, but don't forget to call the Tigers good. Auburn won the Iron Bowl 34-28 over No. 1 Alabama on a last-second field goal return for a touchdown by Chris Davis. It was another improbable win for the Cardiac Cats, but Auburn also ran for 296 yards on the SEC's best rush defense. Back-to-back thrillers have Auburn No. 3 in the BCS standings and SEC Western Division champions.

2. Missouri (11-1, 7-1 SEC; LW: 2): These Tigers will meet those Tigers in the SEC championship game on Saturday. After beating Texas A&M 28-21 at home, Mizzou completed its own improbable season in its second year in the league. Missouri now has five wins over opponents that were ranked when it played them. Like Auburn, Mizzou is very much in the national championship picture. The Tigers need help, but a win over Auburn would push a team that was left for dead last season a step closer to Pasadena, Calif.

3. Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC; LW: 1): The three-peat is likely over after Alabama was bested by its archrival. Why Nick Saban would attempt a 57-yard field goal with a second left without any speedy athletes on the field is mind-blowing. Saban rarely makes mistakes, but this one will sting for a very long time. Alabama is still very much in the hunt for a BCS bowl game, but a return to the title game is a long shot.

4. South Carolina (10-2, 6-2 SEC; LW: 4): Another year, another win over Clemson. That makes five in a row for Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks after his guys walked over the Tigers 31-17. South Carolina forced six turnovers, and quarterback Connor Shaw impressed yet again with 246 yards of offense and two touchdowns. The BCS is out of reach for the Gamecocks, but they have a shot at three straight 11-win seasons.

5. LSU (9-3, 5-3 SEC; LW: 5): This is easily the most confusing team to follow in 2013. The Tigers started hot, hit some bumps and then finished strong with an exciting 31-27 win over Arkansas. LSU was without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger (knee) late, but it didn't matter, as freshman Anthony Jennings drove the Tigers 99 yards, with a 49-yard go-ahead touchdown pass with 1:15 left. This could be another double-digit-win season for the Tigers.

6. Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4 SEC; LW: 6): Johnny Manziel went from carving up defenses to being smothered in his last two outings. In Saturday's loss to Mizzou, Manziel was held to a season-low 216 total yards and a touchdown. The defense was gutted -- again -- allowing 225 rushing yards, including a 57-yard Henry Josey touchdown run with 3:34 remaining. It's been a long November in College Station, but at least Kevin Sumlin is locked up for the long haul.

7. Vanderbilt (8-4, 4-4 SEC; LW: 8): Coach James Franklin might be near the top of USC's coaching list, but for now, he's doing a heck of a job as Vandy's coach. There's no wonder he's on the Trojans' radar. Vandy has won four straight, will make its third straight bowl game and is in line to win nine in back-to-back seasons. The Commodores didn't make it look easy against Wake Forest, but a Carey Spear field goal with 39 seconds left kept the Dores' winning streak alive.

8. Georgia (8-4, 5-3 SEC; LW: 9): Another team that didn't want things to be easy over the weekend, Georgia needed double overtime to beat rival Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs' defense was pushed around for 495 yards, but the offense was there to bring the Dawgs back from deficits of 20-0 and 27-17. When you have a guy like Todd Gurley (158 total yards and four touchdowns), it doesn't matter who you have at quarterback.

9. Mississippi State (6-6, 3-5 SEC; LW: 10): After being on the outside of the bowl picture just a couple of weeks ago, the Bulldogs rallied to win their last two, including an overtime victory against bitter rival Ole Miss on Thanksgiving. It wasn't the prettiest of games, but injured quarterback Dak Prescott came into the fourth quarter and threw for 115 yards, while running for 29, including the eventual winning 3-yard score. Dan Mullen has Mississippi State in the postseason for the fourth straight season.

10. Ole Miss (7-5, 3-5 SEC; LW: 7): Oh, what could have been for this team. Not only have the Rebels lost two straight, but they allowed their archrivals to make it to the postseason. For a season that started 3-0, some poor play in the red zone -- especially near the goal line -- against Missouri and turnovers against Mississippi State cost Ole Miss in its final two games.

11. Tennessee (5-7, 2-6 SEC; LW: 11): A long first year for Butch Jones ended with a nice 27-14 win over Kentucky. The Vols aren't going bowling, but now is the time when Jones has to ramp up the development phase and keep an already stellar recruiting class together. Remember, this team was a fake Vandy jump pass from a bowl berth.

12. Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC; LW: 12): The Gators' nightmare of a season ended with a 37-7 rout by rival Florida State inside the Swamp. Florida then fired embattled offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis. Florida lost seven straight to end the season without scoring more than 20 points. And it isn't going bowling for the first time in 22 years and has its first losing season since 1979.

13. Arkansas (3-9, 0-8 SEC; LW: 13): With that heartbreaking loss to LSU, the Razorbacks have dropped a school-record nine straight and went 0-8 in conference play for the first time. This team fought hard in its final act, but it's clear that development and recruiting need to amp up during the offseason if Bret Bielema is going to have a chance at really competing in this league.

14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats have now gone 0-8 in SEC play in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1941-42 and have lost 16 straight SEC games. Mark Stoops is building a pretty impressive recruiting class right now, but we all know it takes more than recruiting. The Wildcats need more than talent, as they took steps back on both sides of the ball late in the season.

This is where we find out how good of a coach Will Muschamp is and how much pride and heart Florida's players have.

The firing of offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis means that the Gators will move in a different direction with their offense in order to attempt to rebound from a disappointing 4-8 (3-5 SEC) season.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsFlorida coach Will Muschamp won't be fired after going 4-8 this season. But he needs to have a great season in 2014 to stick around.
“I think we need to take a look at ourselves schematically,’’ Muschamp said after Saturday's 37-7 home loss to in-state rival Florida State. “There have been some things that have happened that are very difficult to overcome. But schematically there’s no question we need to take a look at ourselves."

It's not like this should come as a surprise. Florida lost its last seven games of the season without scoring more than 20 points in any of those contests and finished the regular season with the SEC's worst offense, averaging just 316.7 yards per game and a league-low 4.8 yards per play. Florida also ranks 112th nationally in total offense.

The Gators suffered their first losing season since 1979 and will miss a bowl game for the first time since 1990.

Injuries on both sides of the football ravaged this team, especially on offense, but with Muschamp stating loud and clear that many things on offense have to change, this is where we will find out just how good he is, because there are no more excuses going forward.

While many in Gator Nation will say that Muschamp should have been a casualty as well today, athletic director Jeremy Foley made the right decision to stick with Muschamp. This season was a disaster, but Florida came off an 11-win season and a BCS appearance. Last season, Muschamp was the SEC Coach of the Year, and you'd be hard-pressed to find another staff that coached better in the second half of games. Also, most of 2013 was taken out of the hands of this staff at times because of devastating injuries.

Florida's injury count went into double digits, and lost four key offensive starters in Jeff Driskel, Matt Jones, Chaz Green and Andre Debose. Eventually, No. 2 quarterback Tyler Murphy, who never quite showed the potential and upside that Driskel possessed, was lost for the season with a shoulder injury, meaning Florida was down to third-stringer Skyler Mornhinweg, who was on the practice squad last year.

The offense certainly went through the wringer, but if Muschamp is going to right the ship in Gainesville, he had to make changes. He had to make changes to an offense that regressed each week and was even near the bottom of the SEC barrel last season (334 yards per game). He had to make changes to an offensive line that gave up 27 sacks on the season, injuries aside. He had to make changes to a staff that didn't develop players well enough.

But by making these moves, Muschamp now has to win big in 2014. Year 3 was unacceptable in Gainesville, so Year 4 likely means that it truly is Atlanta or bust for Muschamp. Foley stood by Muschamp this time, but another fall or stagnation in 2014 will force Foley to have to look in another direction.

It's time for Florida to get over the fact that Urban Meyer left this team with a nearly empty cupboard of talent. It's time to get a more functional offense on the field that can move the ball through the air and on the ground and can actually score points. And it's time to develop the guys on both sides of the ball.

The good thing about Florida's injuries is that they will heal. Driskel, Jones, Green and Debose will be back, but they have to be better, as well. Florida needs legitimate competition at every position, and that's where coaching and recruiting comes in.

There's no question that Florida had some offensive misses in its last couple of recruiting classes. That can't happen in the 2014 class, which also has to keep its ESPN 300 prospects, running back Dalvin Cook, quarterback Will Grier and receiver Ermon Lane, who could all make immediate impacts next season. Finding replacement coaches is the crucial first step; keeping this 2014 class together is the second.

The honeymoon with Muschamp faded this year, but there's still time to turn things around, even if it's going to be a toxic time in Gainesville until Florida wins again. At the first sign of failure, this fan base is going to spit fire at its fervent coach, and players could lose trust.

Muschamp has to guard himself and his team against that. He has to instill some pride back into this program and has to make sure that his players don't lose faith, even if the fans have.

It's not going to be easy for a team that will likely take another hit to its defense with the upcoming NFL draft and now has a trip to Alabama on next season's schedule. It won't be easy for a team that went all "woe is me" late in the year. It won't be easy with Florida State, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina and Tennessee still on the schedule, but improvements have to be made.

This team has to compete, and we're about to find out if Muschamp really is the right man for the job.
DESTIN, Fla. -- The joking and chances to take shots at opposing coaches is alive and well on the coaching caravan circuit.

Off-the-cuff remarks to get crowds going at booster club meetings bring cheers and applause inside those well-catered rooms, but they can bring controversy once they're made public.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesApparently Alabama's Nick Saban has had it with fellow football coaches taking shots at him.
The SEC isn't a stranger to such incidents, but a recent devil-related comment from Florida offensive line coach Tim Davis directed at Alabama's Nick Saban has created a little more awkwardness than expected.

Here's the rundown: Davis, who coached under Saban while with the NFL's Miami Dolphins, called Saban "the devil himself" while trying to compare his old boss to his new boss, Will Muschamp, at a booster club meeting in mid-May.

"I've always wanted to work with Will [Muschamp]," Davis said. "Will's got a plan. Will coached under the devil himself for seven years. I only did three. He did seven. And his DNA is not any different than Nick."

At the time, it didn't seem that much would come from a comment made to excite a crowd of Gators fans. It was all in fun, and the tongue-in-cheek association of Saban and Satan is nothing new. Vanderbilt coach James Franklin even called Saban "Nicky Satan" during a high school banquet earlier this year.

But even the conference's most focused man is a little fed up with the whole thing. Shortly after Davis' comments hit the Internet, Saban responded by saying he was "disappointed" with his former assistant's comment.

Tuesday, Saban expanded on his disappointment during the first day of the SEC spring meetings:
"I'm disappointed because when guys work for you you have feelings for them and you're hopeful that they don't feel that way, but if somebody did feel that way I just wish they would tell me because I'm not trying to make anybody feel bad.

"When you're in a position of leadership, sometimes you have to make people do things they don't want to do for the betterment of the program and to get them to do their job the way they need to. I'm not directing that to anybody in particular, but somebody may not like that."

Saban added that Muschamp and Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley both called to apologize for Davis' comment. Saban isn't mad at Muschamp or Florida, but it's clear that he isn't totally over what Davis said. If he was, he'd make it pretty clear by not discussing the issue. Saban has way more important things to worry about.

That's what makes this all very interesting. Saban usually doesn't care what anyone thinks about him or his program. He goes about his business -- and very well, I might add -- and gets his players and coaches focused on the pigskin. Outside comments rarely make much of an impact on Saban.

But the mudslinging is getting to him:
"If we're in a position of leadership, we should set an example that somebody should want to emulate. … So why do we need to say things like that that's detrimental to somebody else if you're in a position of leadership? Because you don't need to do that. You don't need to tear down somebody else to make yourself look better, or whatever. You need to be focused on what you need to do in your program so that you can be the best that you can be. And that doesn't have anything to do what anybody else is doing."

Saban has a point, but jokes are going to be made at booster clubs. You take shots to generate excitement. This is nothing new, and I don't think Saban cares about jokes being made, but he's not pleased with a former assistant comparing him to the Prince of Darkness.

I get it, and I think most people would be irked by that. It's way more personal when a former employee takes a shot like that, but when you're on top, people will come after you. It's human nature.

Saban has more to worry about than Davis popping off, but I'm sure he won't forget this if the Gators find a way to play Alabama in the near future.

Nick Saban is getting picked on again.

Alabama's head coach just can't seem to catch a break this spring when it comes to name-calling. First, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin called him "Nicky Satan" during a high school banquet. Now, Florida offensive line coach Tim Davis, who coached under Saban while with the NFL's Miami Dolphins, called Saban "the devil himself" at a booster club meeting Tuesday.

Here's what Davis said about Saban:
"I've always wanted to work with Will [Muschamp]," Davis said. "Will's got a plan. Will coached under the devil himself for seven years. I only did three. He did seven. And his DNA is not any different than Nick."

So, really, he was trying to compliment Muschamp by comparing him to the top coach in college football. Maybe referring to Saban as the Prince of Darkness is a little extreme, but we all know that coaches will say just about anything to get the home crowd going at booster club meetings. It's part of the act. It's all in fun.

Franklin apologized for his remark -- which I really don't think he needed to -- and made it clear that he was joking. When you're on top, everyone is going to take shots. Picking at Saban is harmless because he has no reason to be upset about what's said about him.

He's on top. He's looking down at everyone, and he's too busy preparing his team for a third straight national title run. I'm sure he laughs these kinds of comments off. He may even enjoy them a little bit.

Davis also went after Saban's personality, which is always a topic of conversation:
"[Muschamp]'s like the other guy, but he's got a personality," Davis said. "He'll smile at you. He'll talk to you. You understand? That's what he's all about. That's Will. I'm proud to work for him."

It's all sticks and stones with Saban, and I'm sure he couldn't care less about what any coach playfully says about him.
Jeff DriskelDerick E. Hingle-USA TODAY SportsImproving protection for quarterback Jeff Driskel was one of Florida's top priorities this spring.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Before Florida’s offensive line strapped on those shiny orange-and-black knee braces and trotted onto the Gators’ practice fields this spring, Tim Davis put them through visual torture.

The Gators’ offensive line had a very schizophrenic identity last season, so Florida’s second-year offensive line coach decided to show them all the horrors of the up-and-down play in pass protection.

Davis showed his linemen every one of the 39 sacks Florida’s line surrendered in 2012. The ugly sack reel was meticulously studied over and over for two or three days, but the torment didn’t stop there.

Once the Gators got on the field, Davis had Florida’s film crew capture video of each lineman’s one-on-one sessions with defenders.

Needless to say, things weren’t pretty for Florida’s big boys.

“Oh man, it was ugly,” left guard Max Garcia said with a laugh. “It was ugly in the beginning.

“We understood that we needed to improve in that area.”

And if this offense, which had a mediocre passing game, was going to improve this spring, the line had to turn things around.

Now, there were factors working against Florida’s line. Seasoned starters Xavier Nixon and James Wilson were gone and the line was so banged up that the Gators finished spring with six healthy linemen.

But that didn’t stop players from learning and evolving. The education started with the sack reel, where blame wasn't the goal but improvement was. Davis showed all of the mistakes, but instead of singling out players, he discussed what to fix and how to fix it.

The biggest thing linemen took from the film sessions was the lack of communication in pass protection last season. Florida ran the ball so well, averaging 188 rushing yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry, but were last in the SEC in passing (146.3 yards per game).

Talking just wasn’t there.

When blocking for the run, communication combinations usually take place with a lineman and another player for a certain defender. In pass block, that communication might have to go through four or more players.

To improve communication, linemen simply talked more in and out of the film room, center Jonotthan Harrison said. They also became more vocal with the running backs, tight ends and quarterback Jeff Driskel during practice. Having another spring to digest Brent Pease’s offense also helped.

“Now that we’ve developed this communication,” Harrison said, “our pass protection is going to be much more successful.”

Injuries hurt, but coach Will Muschamp should have 15 scholarship offensive linemen this fall -- eight or nine of which that will be game-ready. And those game-ready bodies have a lot of experience, including new transfer players, like Garcia and tackle Tyler Moore, who started for the injured Chaz Green at right tackle this spring.

Garcia (Maryland) and Moore (Nebraska) have 16 combined starts. Other potential starters -- Green, Harrison, Jon Halapio and D.J. Humphries -- have 81 combined starts.

“We’re much better up front right now,” Muschamp said.

“There are a lot of guys that have had a lot of at-bats. “I really feel comfortable about our depth and talent at the position.”

But it isn’t just the numbers and physical improvement from the line that have people in Gainesville more excited about this front. This crew is fueled by media criticism hurled their way last year.

“It always eats at us because O-Line is one of those positions that’s all work no credit,” Harrison said. “So as we do badly, it’s pointed out, but when we do the good things they really just underplay the efforts that the offensive line gives.

“We’re looking forward to proving everybody wrong, come season time, and prove that we can pass protect and we have worked on it.”

Despite low spring numbers, the coaches and teammates were happy with the line’s play. Obviously, real improvement won’t be made until the games begin, but people seemed convinced that a stronger line will take the field for the Gators this fall.

“They just want to be known as a nasty offensive line that can be able to run and power down your throat and can pass block,” Buck defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said. “They want to be an offensive line that when a defensive line has to play against team they’re going to be like, ‘Well, we’re going to have a tough day today.’

“They take pride in that.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Four members of the media were chosen to be guest coaches and allowed to go behind the scenes of Florida's Orange and Blue Debut on Saturday. Brady Ackerman of Sun Sports, Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun, Andy Staples of SI.com and yours truly were granted access to join the Gators as they prepared for their spring game. We experienced the sights and sounds of the closest thing to a game day for a major college football program; this is what I saw ...

8:00 a.m.: I arrive at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with a Starbucks Doubleshot and a Snickers Marathon energy bar to start the day. The sun is up and there's a breeze in the air. It's almost the perfect setting to start a long day of running around Florida's football facility.

8:30: We meet with coach Will Muschamp in his spacious office inside the stadium for a casual 15 minutes to talk shop. There are some laughs and some talk about the team, and he warns us that a poor performance by one of the two teams -- Orange or Blue -- will be followed by having the blame placed on the two media members coaching that side. Ackerman and I are placed on the Blue Team, while Dooley and Staples are assigned to the Orange Team.

9:05: A true breakfast of champions. We walk over to one of the dinning halls across from the stadium. The first thing you notice is that the dining area couldn't be big enough to house all these football players, but somehow, it is. The Gators pile in and begin the feast. The basics are there: pancakes, bacon, eggs and grits. And at the end of the buffet line, steaks and grilled chicken breasts sat there ready to be devoured ... and they were. After sipping on some fine, freshly squeezed orange juice, we media members tried to blend in and snag some grub before the carnivores went back for seconds. Linebacker Jelani Jenkins stacked steaks on chicken, while fullback Hunter Joyer went with pretty much everything he could lay eyes on and added some pasta. The fruit was barely touched. I tried to mimic the players, throwing protein and starch together for a yummy, relatively healthy cornucopia of deliciousness. Grilled chicken and pancakes really do work.

[+] EnlargeJeff Dillman, Will Muschamp
AP Photo/Phil SandlinStrength coach Jeff Dillman gives head coach Will Muschamp, right, a thumbs-up during Florida's spring game in April.
9:35: After stuffing our faces, we head back over to the stadium and toward the locker room. We stand around as players, coaches, recruits and staff members wandered the halls. TV screens that surround a massive gator head in the middle of the room show highlights from the 2011 season, mixed with music videos featuring LMFAO, Will.i.am and Drake. Every player touches the gator before he runs out onto the field before games.

9:37: Running backs coach Brian White, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and offensive line coach Tim Davis gig us about coaching. We're asked what our game plan is, and we basically say not getting in the way. Dooley tells Quinn to blitz every down and I tell Davis that he should be glad I'm on his team because my PlayStation skills are unmatched. He laughs, realizing I'd be in over my head if this were real.

10:05: After walking back and forth for a good 10 minutes, rising senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter embraces Quinn and yells "Last time, baby," signaling that his Gators career is coming to an end.

10:20: We leave the locker room to go on the Gator Walk. Last year, the team bussed. This year, it walked, so we walked. The team is dressed in orange shirts and blue shorts -- nothing too flashy. Wide receiver Quinton Dunbar awkwardly raps the words to some song, while the freshmen converse about doing this for the first time.

10:26: I finally hit the official start of the Gator Walk. It's spring break for Alachua County school districts, so the crowd is a little thin, but it's lively. Still, with the smaller crowd there to greet the Gators, kicker Caleb Sturgis utters this gem: "This is what happens when you go 7-6." Defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd looks at me and says that the Gator Walk never gets old, then counts the number of hugs he gave with the exact number of "a lot."

10:40: As the team piles into the locker room, the offense stays on the field for a mini walk-through. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease goes over Xs and Os and formations ... lots of formations. He's pulling, pushing and quizzing guys along the way and even puts on player on the spot with a heap of questions about a certain play and formation. Luckily for the player, he passed Pease's test.

10:49: The offense huddles up, with rising sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel pushing to the middle, before breaking and heading to the locker room.

11:55: After a lot of waiting and people watching, we finally head into the locker room with the players an hour before kickoff. Led by new strength coach Jeff Dillman, the players are going through dynamic stretching, with Dillman leading like a drill instructor with short, loud commands. Players isolate their cores, thoroughly stretch their legs and their backs; Dillman is very technical and very loud. "We're gonna have a great day today!" he yells. "Build that rage! One minute till we prime that engine!"

Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

February, 23, 2012
2/23/12
10:00
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Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

Spring practice is almost here. Here's a snapshot at what to expect from the Pac-12 South in the coming weeks.

ARIZONA

Spring practice starts: March 4

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Hello, my name is ... Like the other two teams in the South Division with new head coaches (Arizona State and UCLA) much of Arizona's first few weeks will be Rich Rodriguez evaluating his personnel and getting to know what he has to work with. Likewise, the players are going to have to figure out what this new coaching staff is about. Everything from how they do pre-practice stretches to how they call the cadence is going to change.
  • New scheme and a new scheme: A spread option on offense and a 3-3-5 on defense. That's a lot of new material to digest on both sides of the ball. Until Rodriguez can recruit the players he likes into his scheme, he's going to have to make it work with the players he has. Fortunately on the defensive side of the ball, Arizona has good depth in the secondary with Cortez Johnson, Marquis Flowers, Shaquille Richardson, Jourdon Grandon and Tra'Mayne Bondurant. The Wildcats should also get a boost with the return of injured players Jake Fischer (LB), Jonathan McKnight (CB) and Adam Hall (S).
  • Perfect fit? Former starter Matt Scott, who was beaten out by Nick Folesin 2009, is expected to reprise his starting role under Rodriguez. He redshirted the 2011 season and -- magically -- Foles never got hurt last year despite taking 23 sacks and countless hits. Scott is considered the more versatile quarterback and should fit nicely into the new run-based spread attack.
ARIZONA STATE

Spring practice starts: March 13

Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • QB competition: We know what kind of offense new coach Todd Graham is going to run; now it's a matter of figuring out who is going to run it. Graham has his choice of three players -- Mike Bercovici, Taylor Kelly or Michael Eubank -- to replace NFL-bound Brock Osweiler. Graham said earlier this month that there are no favorites heading into the competition and each one brings his own skill set to the table. Eubank has the size (6-foot-5, 235 pounds), Bercovici (6-1, 205) is a mechanic and Kelly (6-1, 202) is a little bit of everything.
  • Get the locker room: By the end of the 2011 season, ASU's locker room wasn't just divided, it was completely splintered. Graham's task -- and that of his new coaching staff -- is to pick up the pieces, mend internal fences and find some chemistry on both sides of the ball. Linebacker Brandon Magee, long considered a great locker room leader, should help get the Sun Devils back on track as he returns from a season-ending Achilles injury.
  • Hands competition: The Sun Devils lose three of their top four wide receivers from last season -- Gerell Robinson, Aaron Pflugrad and Mike Willie. Jamal Miles returns after finishing second on the team last season with 60 catches and six touchdowns. Rashad Ross figures to be the No. 2 guy, but establishing depth in that corps -- especially if Graham wants to be up-tempo -- is key.
COLORADO

Spring practice starts: March 10

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Momentum, maybe? For as rough as 2011 was for the Buffs, they ended the year on a high note, winning two-of-three down the stretch -- including a 17-14 win over Utah in the season finale. But there is also the possibility that things might get worse before they get better. With just four returning starters on offense, spring in Boulder will likely be more about teaching and less about refining.
  • Where to start (offense)? Well, quarterback might be a good place. In the court of public opinion, Connor Wood, a transfer from Texas, seems to be the favorite. Nick Hirschman appeared in five games last season, mostly in mop-up time when the game was already out of hand. It's also possible a starter could be named by the end of spring ball. Finding offensive weapons to surround the new quarterback will also be a challenge. Wide receiver Paul Richardson caught 39 balls last season, and running back Tony Jones showed a flare for catching the ball out of the backfield. He'll likely step in as the new workhorse back for the departed Rodney Stewart.
  • Where to start (defense)? Last in this. Last in that. Last in almost every team statistic the Pac-12 has to offer. But there are some intriguing youngsters on the roster. Cornerback Greg Henderson was all-conference honorable mention as a freshman with a team-high nine passes broken up. Jered Bell also returns from injury after blowing out a knee last preseason. If healthy, he's expected to be a big contributor in the secondary. Linebacker Jon Majorreturns as the team's leading tackler, and if Doug Rippy is fully recovered from his knee injury, he'll look to build on what was a pretty good season last year before getting hurt.
UCLA

Spring practice starts: April 3

Spring game: May 5

What to watch:
  • QB up for grabs: Like the majority of the conference, UCLA enters spring with a quarterback competition. New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said he doesn't care how much experience (or lack thereof) a player has -- if he can play, he wins the job. So don't be surprised if Brett Hundley passes Kevin Prince and Richard Brehautas the new man leading the Bruins. Fans have been clamoring for a change. Hundley might be it.
  • Attitude adjustment: One of the first things new head coach Jim Mora did was slam the team for its tradition of going "over the wall," a time-honored senior ditch day, saying if they want to jump the wall, they should just keep on going. How's that for sending a message? UCLA has earned a reputation for being soft and underachieving despite good talent. Attitude and toughness is needed -- and so far, Mora appears to be hammering that point home.
  • Speaking of toughness ... The defense has to get tougher. No two ways about it. It was weak against the run last season, allowing more than 190 yards per game on the ground; couldn't get to the quarterback; and couldn't get off the field almost 50 percent of the time on third down. It's time for potential all-conference players such as defensive end Datone Jones to start living up to the hype and the defense as a whole to stop getting pushed up and down the field. At 6-5, 275 pounds, Jones has the physical makeup to be a major force in the conference and catapult himself into the elite class of collegiate defensive players.
USC

Spring practice starts: March 6

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Ignore the hype: Few teams ended last season hotter than USC and returning quarterback Matt Barkley. The Heisman talk has already started, the way-too-early rankings already have the Trojans as national championship contenders, and the public perception is that the offense is unstoppable. Nice to hear, but hype is a double-edged sword. Head coach Lane Kiffin has a knack for deflecting hype. This season will be his toughest test to date.
  • Insurance? The Trojans are loaded on both sides of the ball with returning players. But after the starting 22, things start to get dicey. Developing depth and keeping the starters healthy is a top priority -- particularly on the offensive and defensive lines and at running back, where experience is thin outside of the starters. The entire back seven returns on defense -- headlined by hard-hitting safety T.J. McDonald. Stopping the pass has been a major priority for Kiffin, and if this group stays healthy it should see the pass-efficiency numbers improve even more.
  • Other options: Along those same lines, wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee make up the most feared receiving duo in the conference -- maybe the country. But who are the Nos. 3 and 4 receivers behind them? George Farmer? Victor Blackwell? De'Von Flournoy? Don't overlook the tight end duo of Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, which should rival Stanford's Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo as the best tight end tandem in the conference.
UTAH

Spring practice starts: March 20

Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Youthful approach: Head coach Kyle Whittingham turned some heads by naming former Utah quarterback Brian Johnson as his offensive coordinator. Johnson, who recently turned 25, said he's not looking to make wholesale changes to the offense, though he wants to put his stamp on it and continue to build around running back John White IV, who had a breakout season in his first year of major college football. Having quarterback Jordan Wynn back healthy should also help as the team transitions to Johnson running the offense.
  • Fixing the line: Who is going to protect Wynn (if he does indeed win back the starting job) and make holes for White? That's a major concern heading into spring as the Utes have to replace a pair of all-conference linemen in Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen. The Utes should be set at the interior but have to adjust to a new position coach, with Tim Davis leaving for Florida after just one season and Dan Finn -- a former Utah graduate assistant who was brought on to help Davis -- taking over the whole line following a one-year stint at San Diego State.
  • Work the experience: The defensive line should be one of the best in the conference, especially with the return of Star Lotulelei, who won the Morris Trophy last season as the conference's best defensive lineman. With the Kruger brothers returning to the line -- Joe at defensive end and Dave at tackle -- Derrick Shelby is the lone starter who has to be replaced. There's also some pretty good depth in the secondary that was tops in the conference last season in pass-efficiency defense.

Q&A: Utah OC Brian Johnson

February, 8, 2012
2/08/12
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Utah coach Kyle Whittingham put a lot of faith in his former quarterback-turned-quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson by naming the 24-year-old Utah's next offensive coordinator last week. One conversation with Johnson and it's clear he's energized and excited about the opportunity that many assistants wait decades for.

You're now the youngest coordinator in major college football. Is there some pressure that goes with that?

Brian Johnson: I think with any job there is pressure with how competitive everything is. But I think we're just more excited to put together an offense that can help win a conference championship.

[+] EnlargeBrian Johnson
Boyd Ivey/Icon SMIFormer Utah quarterback Brian Johnson now takes over as the Utes' offensive coordinator.
Being so close in age to many of the players, is it tough sometimes to make the distinction between buddy and coach?

BJ: Absolutely not. There are about four or five guys on the team I played with who are still here. I think, for the most part, this is my third year and I haven't had to deal with it my first two years. That distinction is there. We have a great group of kids so that hasn't been an issue.

On the flip side, you're going to be overseeing coaches 10, 15, 20 years your senior who have been at it a lot longer than you. Is that going to be awkward?

BJ: Not at all. In this building, we have consummate professionals. Guys understand the task at hand and we understand what it takes to be successful offensively. We will work together and get this thing going in the right direction.

Any wholesale changes to the offensive philosophy or approach?

BJ: Not wholesale. I think the baseline of what we've done here the last seven years, that's remained intact. We'll continue to tweak stuff here and there. Dan Finn is on board to coach the offensive line along with Tim Davis. Those guys have coached a lot of ball. I'm excited to be getting their ideas on paper and getting their input on the scheme.

What are the immediate holes, fixes that need to be addressed on the offensive side of the ball?

BJ: I think the biggest concern is losing two all-conference tackles in Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen. Those guys have played a lot of football and were really good leaders for us. But that's the nature of the business in college football. There is a lot of turnover and you have to be able to replace those guys. Finding two tackles who can come in and provide immediate help for us will be important.

If Jordan Wynn is healthy, is he your quarterback? Or is there an open competition?

BJ: I think the experience that Jordan provides will help us tremendously in our offensive production. Everything we do here, it's always competition. That will never change as long as Coach Whittingham is the coach here.

So ... is Jordan your quarterback?

BJ: I think he goes in taking the reps with the ones and he's started a lot of football games and won a lot of football games. So yeah, he is.

How is his health?

BJ: He's back to throwing. He'll be full-go for spring ball. He's had some bad luck with injuries, but hopefully we won't ever have to go through that again.

A nice breakout season for John White IV. What are you expecting from him next season?

BJ: We expect him to continue what he started this season. He's obviously very explosive and dynamic with the ball in his hands. I think we have to build the offense around him. He's extremely talented. We have to find ways to get him the ball in space and get the ball in his hands as much as possible.

So you're approach is run first?

BJ: I think in football you have to be. You have to establish the run in order to be balanced. From there, you build it all. We have to establish that physical presence at the line of scrimmage and you have to be creative and find ways to get our playmakers the ball and let them give us the best chance to win.

At this pace, you'll probably be up for an NFL head-coaching job in the next two years. Any aspirations of being a coach in the pro game?

BJ: I think that's why you get in this profession. I've learned from some great coaches. I've been fortunate to be in this program for eight years and I've seen some great coaches come through here. Coach Whittingham has been almost a father-like figure to me for the last eight years and I strive to be like him as a coach. That's my ultimate goal. If I can do that, that would be OK with me.

Finish this sentence. If I can accomplish -- blank -- I will be happy with Utah's offense.

BJ: A conference championship. That's why we play this game, to win the Pac-12 South and get a chance to play in the championship game and play for the Rose Bowl. That's the starting point. That's why we're all in this profession. That's why we're all in this business is to be the best at it. That's what we're working towards.
SALT LAKE CITY -- Circle the date in red: UCLA at Utah on Nov. 12. The Norm Chow-Rick Neuheisel showdown. Emotions will be high as two coaches seek vindication after their failed marriage in Westwood. These guys, clearly, don't like each other.

At least that would be the fun, grudge-match angle.

"Rick's a good guy," Chow said. "There's no bad feelings." And Neuheisel has repeatedly said the same about Chow.

Now, we're not going to smooth over this. Chow, by any measure one of the best offensive minds in the history of college football, didn't succeed at UCLA. The Bruins offense mostly stunk during his three-year tenure. Not all the blame belongs to Chow. Not all the blame belongs to Neuheisel, an offensive-minded head coach who isn't the hands-off sort. Not all the blame falls on the middling talent. What is clear is that Neuheisel cleaned house at UCLA this offseason, and Chow ended up at Utah. And the Chow-Neuheisel separation was a laborious process that required weeks to finalize.

[+] EnlargeNorm Chow
Dustin Snipes/Icon SMINorm Chow has gone from Rick Neuheisel and UCLA to Pac-12 newcomer Utah.
But the endgame is this: Chow ended up at Utah, his alma mater, and with a head coach, Kyle Whittingham, whom he knows well. His marching orders are to remake the Utes offense in his preferred image: pro-style, West Coast (you know: the scheme he developed during his quarter century coaching at BYU).

Whittingham and Chow both say they connected over Tim Davis, whom Whittingham was considering -- and eventually hired -- as his new offensive line coach. Davis had coached with Chow at USC. So Whittingham made inquiries and that conversation led to a, "So, Norm, how are things in Westwood?"

Not so good, said Chow. Whittingham sensed an opportunity.

"Was I looking to make a change?" Whittingham said. "No, not necessarily. But never would I pass up an opportunity to make ourselves better."

Said Chow, "He knew he wanted to change to a more power, down-hill running game."

It took more than a month to cross the Ts and dot the Is, but here is Chow, weaning the Utes away from their spread offense a year after he was charged -- with some discomfort -- with teaching the Bruins the Nevada pistol.

Chow, seven practices into his new job, seems to like what he sees, even though his starting quarterback, Jordan Wynn, can't throw due to shoulder surgery. Wynn, apparently, has shown Chow plenty without throwing a pass.

"Just sitting in meetings with him, it's extremely obvious he's very bright," Chow said. "To me the key element for a quarterback is you've got to be smart. He gets it all."

Chow likes his receivers, believes his offensive line is solid and thinks new additions, Harvey Langi and John White, will be able to get the job done at running back. He likes the Utes intangibles, too.

"Kyle has done a terrific job of preparing them to practice," Chow said.

As for Chow's players, they still seem a little in awe of him. Said Wynn "I honestly didn't expect him to come here. I was like, 'I'll believe it when I actually see him here in Utah gear.' But it happened. It's a great honor to play for him."

Added offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom, "I was waiting for them to say, 'We're bringing back Paul "Bear" Bryant, getting the coaching dream team together.'"

Of course, the adulation won't last if the Utes don't score points. It seemed like Neuheisel enlisted a "dream team" when he had Chow and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker on his 2008 staff. No dreams came of that, unless you're talking about some nightmarish games.

By the time, the UCLA heads to Salt Lake City for a Pac-12 South Division clash, it's likely the newness of Chow will have worn off and the point-production will be what matters.

Chow seems amused knowing that reporters will be eager to play up the perceived emotions of the matchup. Recall that he went through the same routine when the Bruins played USC, where he made beautiful music with Pete Carroll until those two went all Lennon and McCartney and fell out.

This is not, as Chow said, his "first rodeo."

"The minute the game starts, those become just guys in a different jersey," Chow said. "You guys can worry about that."
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is a details guy. Most football coaches are. But some details are new and take some getting used to.

"There are a lot of good football teams in the Pac-10," he said before catching himself. "I guess we'll call it the Pac-12 now."

Yep. Welcome.

Whittingham -- wisely, if you think about how redundant the questions would have been -- didn't talk about his Utes move into the Pac-12 this past season. But he admits it was impossible to completely block out. He called it "human nature" that he, perhaps, paid just a bit more attention to Pac-10 highlights, or checked out Pac-10 box scores with more than a casual interest.

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
AP Photo/Jim UrquhartUtah coach Kyle Whittingham is looking forward to the challenges of playing in the Pac-12.
Further, it was an issue in recruiting. When he reached out to a prospect, he could promise more than he could in the past, starting with an affiliation with an automatic-qualifying conference. That's the bright lights, big city of college football. "Son," Whittingham can now ask a young, West Coast hot shot, "would you like to one day play in the Rose Bowl?"

A recruit in Southern California who thinks Salt Lake City is somewhere near Narnia? No problem: "Son, Utah is in the Pac-12 South Division with USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado. You'll get plenty of sunshine during the season and you'll come home for a game every year and get to see your mommy."

You cannot underestimate what a game-changer that can be in recruiting. Said Whittingham, "Without a doubt we were able to get in on several players that we would have had no chance of getting in on without the affiliation with the Pac-12."

Exhibit No. 1: Receiver Quinton Pedroza, the Utes' top-rated signee. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder from Chino, Calif., switched his allegiance from Arizona State on signing day.

Of course, competing for better players in recruiting also means a higher level of competition. Utah lost a pair of committed players to other Pac-12 schools: quarterback Derrick Brown to Washington and cornerback Ryan Henderson to USC.

As Whittingham said, "Now that you're in on them, you're in on them with several other high-profile schools and the competition is just as intense."

Speaking of competition, the nine-game Pac-12 schedule figures to present an uptick in degree of difficulty for the Utes, even though the Mountain West Conference has fared well when matched with the Pac-10 in recent years. Whittingham is 4-3 against Pac-10 teams since taking over for Urban Meyer in 2005, beating California, Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona.

"The week-in and week-out level of competition is ratcheted up," Whittingham said. "There are some excellent football teams in the Mountain West Conference. ... Not to downplay or disrespect anything that's going on in the Mountain West, but we're convinced the weekly challenges will be much more difficult than they have been in years' past for us."

There is also an atypical challenge for both Utah and Colorado (and Nebraska as it heads into the Big Ten): Little to no "local knowledge."

Just about every FBS team will be familiar with the vast majority of its schedule next year. It will have first-hand knowledge about personnel, schemes, tendencies, etc., of most of its opponents because it plays a regular conference schedule annually. Utah and Colorado will not. The Utes didn't play a Pac-10 team last year, and Colorado only got blasted at California. Essentially, they will play a slate of what feels like 12 nonconference foes. So they are playing catch-up with scouting and preparation compared to the rest of the reconfigured conference.

"That does present a challenge having very little knowledge about the vast majority of the teams in the conference you're moving into," Whittingham said.

But Whittingham pointed to the hiring of offensive coordinator Norm Chow and offensive line coach Tim Davis as providing a helpful crutch. Chow, you may have heard, was UCLA's coordinator the previous three seasons, while Davis coached at USC from 2002-2004.

So Whittingham will have some help looking forward. As for looking back at the Mountain West, that's really not Whittingham's thing.

"I'm not a sentimental guy, so there's really no emotional ties or anything of that nature," he said. "I can say the Mountain West was very good for us. It was a good run."

And now it's all about the Pac-10. Er, Pac-12.

Utah reshuffles staff

February, 4, 2011
2/04/11
10:42
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Norm Chow: Utah tight ends coach.

Sorry. Just wanted to type that.

Here's how Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has reshuffled his staff after hiring Chow away from UCLA, per a press release:

[O]ffensive coordinator Norm Chow will also coach the tight ends, while Dave Schramm takes over at running back -- a position he managed during his first four years at Utah (2005-08). Aaron Alford, a Ute assistant since 2007 and the running backs coach for the last two seasons, moves into an administrative role as the director of high school relations. The rest of Utah’s offensive staff has Aaron Roderick beginning his seventh year with the receivers, Brian Johnson coaching the quarterbacks for the second year, and Tim Davis taking over the offensive line.

[+] EnlargeNorm Chow
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport - US PresswireNew Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow will bring a lot of experience to the staff.
Utah also announced that Chad Kauha’aha’a will take over as defensive line coach. He replaces John Pease, who retired after the season. Kauha’aha’a was Utah State's defensive line coach for the past two seasons. He's a former second-team all WAC player for the Utes in 1996. Whittingham was the defensive coordinator during Kauha’aha’a’s last three years at Utah.

But back to the offensive shakeup. Here's how Whittingham explained it:

“We took our time re-positioning the offensive staff and made sure that we got everybody into the roles we felt were best for the program. Aaron Alford did a nice job with our running backs, and the cornerbacks before that, but as the director of high school relations, he will fill a critical role for us in our move to the Pac-12.”


It seems like Whittingham tried to limit the shock to his staff's system as best he could, seeing that Schramm and Roderick shared the coordinating duties last year and are functionally getting a demotion because of the arrival of Chow.

Most interesting: Chow is not coaching quarterbacks. That's been his specialty since his BYU days in the 1970s. That decision feels like tip of the cap to Brian Johnson, as well as a way to allow Chow to serve in a more supervisory role. A graduate assistant can put tight ends through drills. Coaching quarterbacks is far more involved.

Further, Chow turns 65 in May. It seems unlikely he'll be Utah's offensive coordinator for the next decade, though you never know. You'd think the rest of the offensive staff, even if they are grumpy at present about the changes, could absorb plenty of knowledge from Chow over the next few years that will benefit them down the road.

While Chow's tenure at UCLA wasn't successful, he's still on a short list of the best offensive minds in college football history. You'd also think he'll be plenty motivated to wash the bad taste out of his mouth over how things went in Westwood.

And who isn't excited about UCLA's visit on Nov. 12?

Lunchtime Links

January, 14, 2011
1/14/11
12:30
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Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee has withrawn his name from consideration for the Tulsa job. Tulsa assistant Bill Blankenship will reportedly be named head coach.

Tulsa's job is much more attractive than it was in 1999.

Utah hires Tim Davis, and Norm Chow is still at UCLA. For now.

Chow is the right fit for Utah if ...

San Diego State fans shouldn't turn on Brady Hoke for taking his dream job.

Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill could promote from within to fill his two coordinator vacancies.

Southern Miss only has two scholarship offers remaining to give out.

Rice has lost two assistants: offensive coordinator Beaty to Kansas and defensive line/special teams coordinator David Naivar to Texas State.

Who's next at quarterback for Wyoming?

Opening camp: Minnesota

August, 5, 2010
8/05/10
2:32
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Schedule: The Gophers hit the field Friday for their first practice.

What's new: Another offensive coordinator, the Gophers' third in as many seasons. Jeff Horton isn't bringing dramatic changes like his predecessor Jedd Fish, and he'll try to simplify things for senior quarterback Adam Weber, who retained his starting job after spring ball. There are also a ton of new faces on defense as Minnesota loses nine starters, including productive linebackers Lee Campbell, Nate Triplett and Simoni Lawrence. The Gophers also have a new wide receivers coach in former NFL player Steve Watson, who must identify some playmakers after the loss of standout Eric Decker.

Sidelined: We thought Kim Royston would be in this category, but the senior safety has healed extremely well from a broken leg this spring. Royston won't be 100 percent for the start of camp, but barring any setbacks, he should be ready for the start of the season. As one of only two returning starters on defense, Royston provides a strong presence in the secondary. Linebacker Sam Maresh, a possible starter, isn't with the team as he improves his grades at a junior college.

Key battle: Name a spot on defense and there's probably some competition there, as Minnesota must find answers at linebacker, defensive end and cornerback. The linebacker group should be particularly interesting. Mike Rallis locked up a starting job this spring, but the other spots are open as Keanon Cooper, Gary Tinsley and others are in the mix. Cornerback also is a spot to watch as Michael Carter and Christyn Lewis try to lock up starting spots.

New on the scene: Head coach Tim Brewster and his staff have recruited well, and it's time they start to see the rewards. Lewis and tight end Tiree Eure both are junior-college transfers who should contribute right away. Minnesota really likes redshirt freshmen offensive linemen Ed Olson and Brooks Michel, and incoming freshman tackle Jimmy Gjere is a name to watch. It also will be interesting to see if freshmen running backs Lamonte Edwards and Donnell Kirkwood can work their way into the mix.

Breaking out: Brewster sings the praises of defensive end Ra'Shede Hageman, and Minnesota could really use a boost in the pass rush from the redshirt freshman. MarQueis Gray didn't win the starting quarterback spot, but he's a guy who needs the ball in his hands one way or another. Replacing Decker will be tough, but Minnesota has high hopes for Da'Jon McKnight, who averaged 18.3 yards on 17 receptions last year.

Time to step up: Without a doubt, Minnesota's offensive line is the group that needs to elevate its play in camp. The line boasts both experience and some exciting young talent, and the players are used to coach Tim Davis and his demands. Minnesota simply can't rank last in the league in rushing year after year. It's time for the line to get tougher, come together and build off of a strong spring.

Quotable: "We're bigger. We're stronger. We're faster. We're more athletic than we've been. And rightfully so. We need to be. We know that we're going to play one of the most challenging schedules in America this season. And our players are going to have to be prepared." -- head coach Tim Brewster

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