NCF Nation: Tim DeRuyter

Mike Riley's shocking defection from Oregon State to Nebraska caught everyone -- and I mean everyone -- flat-footed Thursday, but we have some good news. While just about every coaching hire involves winners and losers, this one does not. Everyone wins. At least today. Tomorrow? We shall see.

Nebraska wins because it has hired a good coach with a good staff who should fit in with the way things are done in wholesome Lincoln. Riley can recruit Texas and California, and his ability to spot proverbial diamonds in the rough will be of great benefit to Nebraska, which has never been a recruiting superpower, even during its best years.

Riley wins because, at 61 years old, he gets a fresh start and chance to build on a strong coaching resume that's taken some hits in the past five years while Oregon State has suffered in comparison to glittering state rival Oregon. Riley will no longer be the underdog in his own state. He'll get A-list facilities, financial support and a strong tradition to recruit to that he's never had before. It will be interesting to see what he's able to make of that, coaching a team that just fired Bo Pelini because he too often won "just" nine games and finished in the bottom part of the Top 25, the equivalent of a successful season in Corvallis.

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
AP Photo/Eugene TannerOregon State seemed to stagnate under Mike Riley the past five seasons as the Beavers went 29-33.
And Oregon State? It wins because there's been a strong anti-Riley undercurrent building in the past five years as the Beavers logged losing records three times, including this season. While it's difficult to measure what percentage of Beavers fans were truly unhappy with Riley, suffice it to say it was at least a vocal minority. Beyond the struggles on the field, there were grumblings about what amounted to a lifetime contract, which included a built-in rollover every time the Beavers won at least six games.

If Oregon State had wanted to fire Riley, it would have had to pay him off through 2021, something the school probably couldn't have afforded. It also didn't want to fire Riley because he was chiefly responsible for building a longtime national laughingstock into a respectable Pac-10 and then Pac-12 contender. And Oregon State didn't want to fire Riley because he's such a good guy. Now it doesn't have to even consider that burdensome possibility.

As for timing, it's perfect. Riley isn't leaving his team in the lurch as it prepares for a bowl game. The Beavers will be losing several key players on both sides of the ball heading into 2015, including quarterback Sean Mannion, so the new coach will get a fresh start with new schemes. There's still plenty of time to save the recruiting class.

So Riley doesn't have to feel bad for leaving. Oregon State probably doesn't feel too bad for getting left. They can shake hands and wish each other well as Riley walks away. This is a breakup that smacks of both parties agreeing to just be friends. And meaning it.

Nebraska gets a hire with a proven track record of doing more with less instead of a hot coordinator who requires crossed fingers because he might not actually know what he's doing. Further, Riley will never -- ever -- embarrass the Cornhuskers with a postgame rant or infelicitous quote at a news conference.

Riley takes over a program that should be an annual Big Ten contender, particularly in the wide-open West Division. His chances to win his division, conference and reach the College Football Playoff have advanced dramatically. If there was an unsatisfied, ambitious part inside of him that wondered what he could do at an A-list program, which there undoubtedly was because he made this move, he'll get a chance to answer that in the next three to five years.

And Oregon State? Beavers fans get change, which can be exciting, particularly with no bowl game ahead. That's what many wanted and believed the program needed to take a step forward in the Pac-12's North Division. At the very least, it's something to talk about. It might prove stressful, but here's a guess that athletic director Bob De Carolis will make an interesting hire.

Interesting? What about Ed Orgeron, the ebullient former USC assistant and ace recruiter? He certainly would represent a different direction from Riley. What about a hot coordinator, such as Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell or UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone or Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Arenda? Or a second-tier head coach who's doing well, such as Memphis' Justin Fuente or Fresno State's Tim DeRuyter or Utah State's Matt Wells?

Heck, why not a guy suspected of being a Nebraska target: Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost. Or, even weirder, Bo Pelini is available!

That intrigue will give previously disgruntled Beavers fans something to debate with excitement and hope. While a significant percentage of Oregon State fans supported Riley until the end, it is fair to say that a mire of resignation to mediocrity did threaten the Beavers while many other Pac-12 programs were on the uptick.

So, today, everybody wins. Nebraska gets Riley, Riley gets a new opportunity and Oregon State gets change.

Tomorrow? Will there be enough winning on both sides of the ledger to sustain today's hope? Or either side?

We shall see.
When Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter met with his football team for the first time this year in mid-January, he didn’t have to remind his returning players who wasn’t in the locker room.

The Bulldogs could look around and see that record-setting quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Davante Adams were no longer there.

“We’re not the Fighting Derek Carrs,” DeRuyter told his team. “We’re the Fresno State Bulldogs.”

[+] EnlargeTim DeRuyter
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesFresno State has to replace Derek Carr and Devante Adams, but coach Tim DeRuyter and the Bulldogs are up for the challenge.
Carr and Adams formed one of college football’s most prolific recent passing duos, helping the Bulldogs go 20-6 over the past two seasons and ending a 13-year title drought by winning back-to-back Mountain West Conference championships. Last season, Carr threw for 5,082 yards with 50 touchdowns, while Adams caught 131 passes for 1,718 yards with 24 touchdowns.

“Derek cast a big shadow,” DeRuyter said. “Davante cast a big shadow. But those guys have moved on. When we got here, nobody knew who Devante Adams was. He was a redshirt freshman who hadn’t played much. We’re excited about what our young guys can do with opportunities.”

Fresno State isn’t the only team from outside the Big Five conferences who will be trying to replace a boatload of star power when spring practice begins later this month. Northern Illinois must replace record-setting quarterback Jordan Lynch, a 2013 Heisman Trophy finalist, and Boise State has to move on without former coach Chris Petersen, who guided the Broncos to a 92-12 record in eight seasons before leaving for Washington in early December.

“The great thing about coaching in college is the kids have short memories,” Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey said.

The Huskies probably won’t forget about Lynch anytime soon. In two seasons as a starter, Lynch led the Huskies to a 24-4 record, including an appearance in the Discover Orange Bowl after the 2012 season. He passed for 6,209 yards with 51 touchdowns and ran for 4,343 yards with 48 touchdowns during his NIU career, the bulk of it during the last two seasons alone.

“We had to go through this when we lost [former quarterback Chandler Harnish],” NIU coach Rod Carey said. “Obviously, it’s a little different this time. There’s a little recall with our older guys that we’ve been through this before. I’ve told our older guys, ‘Jordan didn’t do everything. He only almost did everything.’”

[+] EnlargeRod Carey
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesNIU loses Heisman finalist QB Jordan Lynch, but coach Rod Carey has the bulk of his offensive starters returning.
When the Huskies open spring practice on March 18, three players will battle for the unenviable task of replacing Lynch under center this season. Junior Matt McIntosh and sophomore Drew Hare combined to throw 11 passes as backups last season, and Western Michigan transfer Anthony Maddie will be eligible this fall after sitting out last season under NCAA rules.

“I’ve told them that the quarterback who can throw it the best is going be the guy,” Carey said. “If you can’t throw it, you can’t run it for very long.”

Besides losing Lynch, the Huskies will bring back most of their offensive starters from last season’s team, which started 12-0 before losing to Bowling Green 47-27 in the MAC championship game and Utah State 21-14 in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. NIU also will have to replace four starting defensive linemen, as well as star safety Jimmie Ward.

“It will be different than when we broke in Jordan,” Carey said. “We knew we had the quarterback then, but we didn’t know if we had the supporting cast. Now, we know we have the supporting cast, but we have to find the quarterback -- and we have three of them.”

Fresno State’s quarterback competition this spring also figures to be tight. Junior Brian Burrell, who attempted 12 passes as Carr’s backup in 2013, might have a slight edge over two younger competitors heading into spring practice, according to DeRuyter. A transfer from Bakersfield (Calif.) College, Burrell still has two years of eligibility remaining at Fresno State. Redshirt freshman Zack Greenlee, a former Elite 11 prospect from Stockton, Calif., and sophomore Myles Carr (no relation to the former starter) of Arcadia, Calif., also will compete for the job.

“I’m comfortable with what we have, but I also realize that Derek Carr threw for 50 touchdowns and more than 5,000 yards last year,” DeRuyter said. “I don’t know anybody in the country, let alone on our roster, who is going to be able to do that. I love the guys we have on our roster, and our coaches are excited to find out who is going to be the quarterback this fall.”

[+] EnlargeBryan Harsin
Brian Losness/USA TODAY SportsBryan Harsin, who helped the Broncos win two BCS bowl games as offensive coordinator, returns to Boise State as the head coach and hopes to improve on last year's 8-5 mark.
Spring practice will also look different at Boise State, where Petersen won’t be running the show for the first time since 2006. Former Broncos assistant Bryan Harsin, who had a 7-5 record as Arkansas State’s coach in 2013, was hired to replace his former boss. In Harsin’s five years as Boise State’s offensive coordinator from 2006 to 2010, it went 61-5 and won two BCS bowl games.

“A lot of what we do will be new,” Harsin said. “Some of our structure and philosophies have remained the same, but a lot of the language and other things are different. I think it’s going to be change in a good way. I think it’s fresh and a different perspective.”

The Broncos might be looking for a fresh start after slipping to 8-5 last season. The Broncos had won 10 games or more in each of Petersen’s first seven seasons.

“Sometimes you have success in a program, and guys just think it’s going to happen,” Harsin said. “Being a young team, I think the hunger is here. But I think understanding what it takes to be a championship team is more important. I think they’re hungry, but I don’t know if they understand what it takes yet.”

Harsin and other coaches around the country will begin to learn how far their teams have to go during the next several weeks.

Sarkisian critics get their wish

December, 2, 2013

Lane Kiffin only became USC's coach in 2010 because Steve Sarkisian didn't want to leave Washington. "It wasn't the time," he told me.

On Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, however, the time was right, as USC hired Sarkisian to replace Kiffin, two good friends who coached the Trojans' offense together under Pete Carroll.

It's an interesting and perhaps surprising hire. It will receive a mixed reaction.

More than a few Washington fans, while grateful that Sarkisian led the Huskies back from a long-term tailspin that crashed and burned with an 0-12 season in 2008, were growing impatient. The program hadn't taken the proverbial next step, hadn't yet made a move against the Oregon-Stanford hegemony in the Pac-12's North Division. The Huskies went 7-6 three years in a row and only gained a Sarkisian-high eighth win on Saturday with a victory over Washington State in the Apple Cup regular-season finale.

So more than a few Washington fans will receive the news with: "Good riddance."

That such sentiments, arguably emotional and unreasonable, exist, and Sarkisian was fully aware of them, is probably part of the reason he deemed it time to leave Washington.

So Sarkisian's Huskies critics get their wish: a new coach.

The search could be concluded quickly if athletic director Scott Woodward opts to promote defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who almost certainly will follow Sarkisian to USC if Washington doesn't hire him. Wilcox is a true up-and-comer, a young but proven coach who built quality defenses at Boise State, Tennessee and Washington.

Of course, there is a big-fish candidate the Huskies might make a run at: UCLA coach Jim Mora. He played for Don James at Washington and has long been a favorite among more than a few boosters who wanted to hire him previously, when Mora was in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian turned around Washington but had trouble reaching the next step.
Mora said a few weeks ago that he has never interviewed for the Huskies job or been approached by a representative of the school. UCLA and Mora have been a good match, and the Bruins almost certainly would do everything they could to retain him.

For one, Mora has beaten USC twice in a row, including a 35-14 blowout Saturday. Second, it would send a bad message about the pecking order in Los Angeles, no matter the recent results, if USC hired away the Washington coach, and then Washington hired away the UCLA coach. Do the transitive property on that one.

Another big-fish name that will pop up: Boise State's Chris Petersen. While his name has been attached to every major coaching vacancy since Petersen started working magic for the Broncos -- including USC, UCLA and Washington before it hired Sarkisian -- there might be some legitimacy in his candidacy for the Huskies.

Boise State slipped decidedly in the national pecking order this fall, going 8-4, which included a loss to Washington. With the advent of the four-team playoff in 2014, Boise State might find itself outside looking in among the national powers even more than it did under the BCS system. If Petersen was ever going to leave Boise State, this might be the time. While he didn't seem like a good fit for the hurly-burly of Los Angeles, laid-back Seattle might be more to his liking.

Another current coach whose name is sure to come up is Tim DeRuyter, who has done a fantastic job rebuilding Fresno State. The Bulldogs went 9-4 his first season and are 10-1 this year, and was seen as a likely BCS buster from a non-AQ conference before they lost to San Jose State on Friday.

Another intriguing possibility is Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. The former Idaho quarterback was Sarkisian's offensive coordinator from 2009 to 2011 before being lured away by Nick Saban in 2012. He was highly thought of even before he spent two years under Saban -- a pair of seasons where he's been privy to Saban's celebrated "The Process."

There is no lack of strong possibilities for the Huskies.

Many Washington fans will be disappointed about Sarkisian leaving. A vocal minority will celebrate it.

The bad news for sportswriters? USC and Washington don't play again until 2015, so the emotions won't be as raw when the programs clash for the first time, with Sarkisian adorned in cardinal and gold instead of purple.

Fresno State season preview

August, 20, 2013
Today we're looking at Fresno State, which earned a share of Mountain West Conference crown in its first year in the league.

Fresno State Bulldogs

Coach: Tim DeRuyter (10-4 overall, 9-4 at Fresno State)

2012 record: 9-4 (7-1 MWC)

Key losses: RB Robbie Rouse, LG Matt Hunt, RG/C Richard Helepiko, LB Travis Brown, LB Tristan Okpalaugo, LB Shawn Plummer, S Phillip Thomas

[+] EnlargeDerek Carr
Marco Garcia/USA TODAY SportsDerek Carr returns to head up a potent Mountain West Conference offense.
Key returnees: QB Derek Carr, WR Davante Adams, WR Isaiah Burse, LT Austin Wentworth, NG Tyeler Davison, FS Derron Smith

Newcomer to watch: QB Zack Greenlee. OK, so you might not get to see much of him this season with Carr running the show. But Greenlee is an elite pick-up at the position, as he was an ESPN300 prospect and the nation's No. 10 overall signal-caller. He threw for 1,953 yards with 22 touchdowns and two picks as a senior at Lincoln (Calif.) High, and he earned MVP honors at the Las Vegas Elite 11 Regionals. Greenlee is also an Under Armour All-American.

Biggest games in 2013: Aug. 29 versus Rutgers, Sept. 14 at Colorado, Sept. 20 versus Boise State, Oct. 26 at San Diego State, Nov. 2 versus Nevada, Nov. 29 at San Jose State

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Fresno State needs to keep Carr upright and give him time to lock in with what is an outstanding group of receivers. The Bulldogs lose two starters from their offensive line and have some work to do in the ground game to make up for losing Robbie Rouse. Still, this is an offense that returns many of its key pieces from a 2012 team that led the MWC in scoring. The defense returns even more pieces after finishing second in the league in scoring, even if it must replace all-time great Phillip Thomas.

Forecast: Tim DeRuyter was a huge success in his first year at Fresno State, going 9-4 and building plenty of belief inside the program throughout its inaugural season in the Mountain West Conference. Now he's hoping to build off that success, as the Bulldogs take aim at league powerhouse Boise State and perhaps even at a BCS bowl game.

The Bulldogs bring back 15 starters from last season, led by quarterback Carr. The younger brother of former No. 1 overall pick David Carr, he enters his redshirt senior season needing 3,048 yards to break the school record for career passing yards. The MWC's offensive player of the year in 2012 completed better than 67 percent of his passes last season for 4,104 yards with 37 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Fresno State brings back the league's best receiving corps and three starters up front, so a repeat campaign in 2013 could be in the cards for Carr.

While the defense says goodbye to All-American Thomas on defense, the unit still returns eight starters and has plenty of depth among its front-seven.

The Bulldogs didn't like the way last season ended, as they were upset by SMU fairly handily in a 43-10 Hawaii Bowl loss. The defeat should add some fuel to a team that did most everything else right in its first year under DeRuyter. And the squad will get a great early test in a Week 1 Thursday night opener against visiting Rutgers.

With Carr back for one more season with plenty of weapons at his disposal, it is no stretch to think that Boise State should continue to make some room atop the conference, so long as Fresno State continues progressing in Year 2 under DeRuyter.

Jones says 'No' to Colorado

December, 6, 2012
The Colorado coaching search continues as Cincinnati's Butch Jones has declined an offer to replace Jon Embree in Boulder.

It has been reported that Jones was offered a five-year, $13.5 million deal this week.

So what's Plan B? From the Boulder Daily Camera:
Colorado officials are likely to contact San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre or Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter, though DeRuyter has been a head coach for only one year and might not have the experience CU desires in its next head coach.

Athletic director Mike Bohn and his bosses have a list of targets that also could include former Cal coach Jeff Tedford, but its unclear if Tedford would have interest in the job. Earlier in Colorado's search process, a source who had spoken to Tedford said the coach viewed Colorado as a difficult place to win. Tedford was fired at Cal three weeks ago after the Bears finished the season 3-9.

It's never good to get publicly turned down by your first choice. And based on a false report from one newspaper that Jones had accepted the offer, this was a very public rejection.

But Buffs fans shouldn't get too worked up. Arizona State and UCLA both had bumbling coaching searches last year and things appear -- at least based on Year 1 -- to have turned out OK.

MacIntyre and DeRuyter are probably better fits anyway than Jones, who has no West Coast experience.

Fresno State begins anew

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

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

Goodbye pro-style and hello spread.

Goodbye 4-3 and hello 3-4.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Couple all these transitions with moving to a new conference home in the Mountain West, and getting used to a new head coach, and you have the makings of quite a different look at Fresno State.
The bowl season is over, and it's time to pass out a few awards.

Best offensive player: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State. Blackmon went nuts against Stanford after the Cowboys were shut out in the first quarter against Stanford. His first two catches went for touchdowns, and he finished with 186 yards on eight grabs and his third three-touchdown game of his career. That was the first time he'd done that since the Tulsa game in 2010, the third game of the season.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesThree of Justin Blackmon's eight catches against Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl were for touchdowns.
Second-best offensive player: Terrance Ganaway, RB, Baylor. Ganaway ended his career in style, taking plenty of heat off his Heisman-winning quarterback, Robert Griffin III. He scored five touchdowns and ran for 200 yards, leading the way for three Bears 100-yard rushers in the 67-56 win over Washington in the Alamo Bowl.

Best defensive player: Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma. Passing? I think not, Iowa. Matched up with NFL-bound, Skycam-attacked Marvin McNutt, Fleming made seven tackles, returned an interception 21 yards and broke up three passes. Well done.

Best team performance: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys got the Big 12's best win of the entire season, knocking off a solid Stanford team and handing Andrew Luck a loss in his final game as a Cardinal. Maybe they got lucky with a missed 35-yard field goal attempt to force overtime, but the Cowboys played well after a shaky first quarter and beat the nation's No. 4 team on a neutral field. Well done.

Best play: Robert Griffin III's post-Heisman "Heisman moment." He somehow backpedalled out of a handful of Washington tacklers, escaped outside and galloped to the pylon, diving into the end zone as he took a big hit before scoring. A big-time play from the Heisman winner for a 24-yard score.

Craziest play: North Carolina's Bryn Renner whipped a strike to Dwight Jones, but a hit jarred it loose. Somehow, it ended up on Jones' shoulder and rolled across his back, staying there long enough for Missouri LB Zaviar Gooden to sprint over and slide in to intercept the pass before it hit the ground.

Scariest play: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa. McNutt was minding his own business in the Iowa huddle. Then the Skycam at Sun Devil Stadium came crashing down and sent McNutt into a panic. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but it was memorable incident. The camera was grounded for the Fiesta Bowl later in the week.

Best out-of-nowhere performance: Colton Chelf, WR, Oklahoma State. Starter Tracy Moore was reportedly suspended, and Chelf filled the void well. He caught just 16 balls in 12 games, but hauled in five for 97 yards in the win over Stanford, including a 24-yarder in overtime that was ruled a touchdown before being reversed and giving way to a game-winning field goal.

Worst performance: Kansas State. It was shocking to see. The Wildcats made too many early mistakes that they hadn't made all year. There was a fumble to give Arkansas an easy three points, a handful of dropped passes, a wave of penalties and an ill-advised punt to Joe Adams that swung the game in favor of the Hogs. Not good, and K-State didn't give itself a chance in the 29-16 loss.

Best handling of distractions: Texas A&M had to deal with the loss of senior offensive lineman Joey Villavisencio, who died in a car crash on his way home for Christmas. It fired coach Mike Sherman earlier. Interim coach Tim DeRuyter left for Fresno State, but stayed to coach the bowl game. The team was prepping for a move to the SEC and playing its bowl game in the home of its new coach, Kevin Sumlin. The Aggies, though, played pretty well against Northwestern and controlled most of the game in the 33-22 win.

Best atmosphere: Cotton Bowl. For a second consecutive year, this bowl takes the cake. K-State and Arkansas fans absolutely packed Cowboys Stadium and cheered loudly from an hour before the game through the entire matchup. A big-time atmosphere for what should be a big-time game.

Video: Aggies are victorious

December, 31, 2011

Texas A&M interim head coach Tim DeRuyter talks about the his team's big win over Northwestern.

Car Care Bowl: Texas A&M-Northwestern

December, 30, 2011
Texas A&M and Northwestern will kick off the New Year's Eve action in Houston with a noon ET kickoff at Reliant Stadium in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

Here's a bit of what to expect:

WHO TO WATCH: Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M. The Aggies' backfield has been banged up this year, and it already lost top back Christine Michael to a torn ACL. Gray was sorely missed in a season-ending, heartbreaking loss to Texas after suffering a stress fracture in his shoulder against Kansas. Gray is expected to return, and he's at his best when his team has to use him as the lone featured back. That will likely be the case in this one, and we'll see if he's back to 100 percent after the injury.

WHAT TO WATCH: Texas A&M's second half. You have to, don't you? The Aggies haven't played since Thanksgiving night, but a promising season was ruined by five losses in which the Aggies led by double digits, including early season losses to Oklahoma State and Arkansas in which the Aggies led by 17 and 18 points, respectively, and lost. Coach Mike Sherman was fired because of those losses, and Tim DeRuyter is temporarily in charge before leaving, but we'll see if this season-ruining trend ends.

WHY TO WATCH: Who knows what's going to happen with this team? The talent gap between these two teams is enormous, but the Aggies have underachieved all year. With a month off, a coach gone, another coach leaving and their new coach, Houston's Kevin Sumlin, roaming around practice, it's anyone's guess how this unpredictable bunch responds. It should be a fun one.

PREDICTION: Texas A&M 31, Northwestern 21: The Aggies are shaken up, with one coach (Mike Sherman) fired and its interim coach (Tim DeRuyter) getting ready to take over at Fresno State. The Aggies' talent takes over in this one, and Cyrus Gray is expected to return. The Wildcats rebounded later in the season to reach a bowl game, but have only one quality win all season: Nebraska. Texas A&M's talent takes control, and this big lead is safe.

Catching up on Big 12 coaching carousel

December, 16, 2011
We're not done spinning just yet, but if you're a bit lost, here's the changes to the coaching staffs across the Big 12 thus far.

BAYLOR (9-3)
  • Out: Receivers coach Dino Babers took the head-coaching job at Eastern Illinois. No replacement named.
  • Out: Offensive coordinator Tom Herman took the offensive coordinator job under Urban Meyer at Ohio State. No replacement named.
KANSAS (2-10)
  • Out: Head coach Turner Gill fired. Other staff positions up for discussion.
  • In: Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis hired to replace Gill. Akron QB coach Ron Powlus hired to coach quarterbacks. Bishop Miege (KS) coach Tim Grunhard hired to coach offensive line. Running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Reggie Mitchell retained from Gill's staff.
  • No changes.
  • Out: Safeties coach Barry Odom left to become defensive coordinator at Memphis. No replacement named.
  • No changes.
  • No changes yet, but OC Todd Monken has drawn interest from several programs.
TEXAS (7-5)
  • No changes, though Texas was forced to proactively shoot down rumors of Mack Brown's retirement.
TEXAS A&M (6-6)
  • Out: Fired coach Mike Sherman. Defensive coordinator/interim coach Tim DeRuyter took head-coaching job at Fresno State but will remain on staff through the bowl game. Other staff positions up for review.
  • In: Hired Houston coach Kevin Sumlin. Sumlin will recruit while the other coaches prepare for the bowl game.
  • Out: Fired DBs coach Otis Mounds and offensive line coach Matt Moore. Moved defensive line coach Sam McElroy into a non-coaching role on staff.
  • In: Hired former Miami DC John Lovett to coach defensive backs and former Ole Miss defensive line coach Terry Price to coach the defensive line. No offensive line replacement named yet.

Thoughts on Sumlin's A&M introduction

December, 13, 2011

Texas A&M announced it had hired Kevin Sumlin on Saturday, but waited until Monday to introduce the new coach to the media.

He met with reporters for a little more than 40 minutes, and here's a few thoughts from his first meeting with the local media.
  • The biggest thing that jumped out: Sumlin referenced the move to the SEC three times in the first 10 minutes, a stark contrast from Mike Sherman's longtime avoidance of the issue that was the most fiery topic in College Station for most of the season. He even did so unprompted in his opening statement. "For me as a football coach to have the opportunity to lead our university into the SEC, to play in arguably the best conference and best division in college football, is an exciting thing for me. ... I can't wait to get to work."
  • Sherman shot down notions that his avoidance of the issue meant he wasn't on board with the move. I choose to be skeptical about that. Sherman, though, did have the worthy excuse of a grueling schedule from week to week that he had to deal with. The SEC was still a bit far off and his recruiting class was already stocked with 20-plus members before the season even began. Outside of quenching the thirst of fans, there wasn't a ton of reason for him to talk about it. So, take from that what you will. Either way, it's pretty clear Sumlin is on board.
  • Biggest difference from the two: Sumlin couldn't stop smiling. I'm sure getting your first major coaching job is among the happiest days of Sumlin's life, and it showed. Sherman was a good coach, but far from a jolly man. Looks like Sumlin's a bit different in that respect.
  • Sumlin's defensive coordinator hire will be huge. Ultimately, I think it's what will determine the success of his early tenure. The importance of defense in the SEC is pretty obvious. It doesn't sound like he's made up his mind on the issue. Both coaching staffs at A&M and Houston will go about their business during bowl game preparations and Sumlin will be a recruiter. He said he's still in the "evaluation process" of deciding who he'll hire. He's got a good one on his staff already, Tim DeRuyter. Keeping him would be a good decision, but who knows what the dynamic between the two is? He's got to find a good fit, whether that's DeRuyter or not.
  • Sumlin sounds more than willing to adjust his approach to fit what he needs to do at Texas A&M. He's an offensive guy, but he won at Oklahoma with more of a pro-style attack. At Houston, it was the wide-open passing game keyed by Case Keenum. "I’ve always looked at a job or offense as what do we need to do to win our division. We’re going to recruit to that philosophy. We will sit down and start with that premise. That being said, styles change based on league and based on your ability to be successful and the ability to attract the type of players that are necessary to win in that league. We’re going to be diverse in what we do." Sumlin had a 1,200-yard rusher in 2008 and had six rushers top 620 yards (two in each season) in each of the past three years.

Texas A&M headed to Houston for bowl

December, 4, 2011
Texas A&M will face Northwestern at Reliant Stadium in Houston for the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Houston, the university announced on Sunday afternoon.

The game kicks off on Dec. 31 at noon ET.

Wildcats quarterback Dan Persa, aka PersaStrong, will face the very talented, but underachieving, Aggies who are now without a head coach after firing Mike Sherman earlier this week. Tim DeRuyter will handle the interim coaching duties.

Who are you taking in this matchup?

Another Texas A&M slump busted

October, 29, 2011
Texas A&M went 22 quarters without forcing a turnover this season, which stretched from the first quarter of a season-opening win over SMU to the fourth quarter of a win over Baylor two weeks ago.

It grabbed another pick last week against Iowa State, but somehow, a fumble recovery eluded them all season.

The slump is over now. Missouri running back Henry Josey fumbled in the red zone, and the Aggies defensive back Terrence Frederick recovered, helping Texas A&M's lead stay at 28-17.

Entering today's game, Texas A&M had forced just five turnovers. Only Kansas and Minnesota (4) had forced fewer. This, despite leading the nation with 28 sacks.

That's a second huge stop for this defense, which held the Tigers to a field goal at the end of the first half, and forced a three-and-out to open the second half.

There have been plenty of frustrating moments for defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, but today's been well-stocked with bright spots, and the Aggies have benefited.
Texas A&M needs a win.

Seasons that begin in the top 10 usually don't feature three-game losing streaks. But after two second-half collapses they'd rather forget, this is where the Aggies sit.

"If you start looking at what-ifs, it becomes overwhelming and you start to fall apart," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman told reporters this week. "But you have to have the maturity and the focus to fix what you can fix at that second, and not worry about what-ifs. You can’t play with what-ifs, you have to play with what is, right now."

And what is right now? A trip to Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. The Aggies won in West Texas in 2009, but before that, hadn't won in Lubbock since 1993.

That stretch of seven games included losses by 28, 39 and 31 points, as well as a shutout loss.

The good news for A&M? Despite the second-half breakdowns, it still has a team capable of making those past struggles an afterthought.

"Both games we should have won, but for whatever reason we didn’t. We have no one to blame but ourselves. It’s nothing that any of our opponents did to us. We didn’t win," said defensive end Tony Jerod-Eddie.

Said quarterback Ryan Tannehill: "We are so close. Things haven’t worked out. We haven’t capitalized on our opportunities. We haven’t gotten the lucky bounce we need to get. The ball they fumbled into the end zone and ended up recovering, if it bounces to the left or the right, we recover it and the game is totally different. But that’s part of football, sometimes the ball bounces your way and sometimes it doesn’t."

Fixing that has to start with the defense.

A unit that ranked among the Big 12's best a season ago has slipped to the nation's worst pass defense in two weeks. With Seth Doege quarterbacking a business as usual offense at Texas Tech, rewriting Texas A&M's history in Lubbock will require a better night from the secondary. The Red Raiders rank ninth nationally in pass offense and would love for those numbers to improve.

"Their confidence is probably hit a little bit," said defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter. "As we showed them the bad plays we had from Saturday -- and there were way too many of those -- we showed them the things we did as good as any defense I’ve been a part of. Our challenge to them is, who are we guys? Are we this team that busts these coverages, or don’t read routes, and are playing soft, and we don’t get lined up? Or are we this defense that gets after a really, really good offense in Arkansas?"

Another Aggies collapse isn't on the way

September, 28, 2011
For Texas A&M, the season's start has to feel somewhat familiar.

Undefeated in nonconference play.

A big first half lead against Oklahoma State evaporates, morphing into a heartbreaking loss.

"I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like that in my entire coaching career," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said. "We didn’t handle it well. We weren’t engaged. They picked the tempo up, went right down the field on us and scored. We didn’t respond well. We didn’t play very well."

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M's Mike Sherman
Patrick Green/Icon SMI Mike Sherman's Aggies carried a 20-3 lead into halftime against Oklahoma State before losing 30-29. "We didn't handle it well. We weren't engaged," Sherman said.
That's over, and Texas A&M is headed to the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex to take on Arkansas, where it lost the second of three games last year in its 3-3 start.

This team?

It's different than last year.

At least one Aggie doesn't need me to tell them that, either.

"That was a tough loss," said senior quarterback Ryan Tannehill. "I don’t think we’ll have a 3-game losing streak again. We have a different team with a lot of veterans. This won’t affect us the same way it did last year mentally. We’ll be able to fight through it."

He's not pumping sunshine over a dark week in College Station. This team doesn't have two freshmen bookending the offensive line. It isn't coming off a six-win season. It didn't need fourth-quarter magic to erase a double-digit deficit and escape an early-season loss to Florida International. It isn't breaking in a new defense and riding the talents of one freakish athlete with a bum ankle to disrupt defenses. There's no quarterback with a bum shoulder causing awkward suggestions he be benched.

Forget senior quarterback curses. The story in College Station this week, with apologies to the SEC, is senior leadership from a group of players that have contributed for three seasons now.

"We need everybody. Something happened Saturday in the third quarter that really got to us as a whole unit," said linebacker Garrick Williams. "That’s just something that we can’t do. We’re going to be on guys this week in practice and try to get everyone very attentive to detail."

So far, it's worked. The seniors have set a tone.

"Our guys showed up today with resolve. No one was cutting up," said defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter. "We realized we had an opportunity and we let it slip. The great thing about this game when you have games left is on Saturday we have another chance to show what we really are all about as a defense."

This is a team that learned how to win over the second half of last season, when it did it six consecutive times in conference play to win a hard-earned share of the Big 12 South before eventually moving to the only division in football that's more difficult: The SEC West.

But for now, they're just in the division-less Big 12.

And they're just a team that, for one quarter, played badly. There's no maturing left to be done. Only playing. And Texas A&M will get that opportunity on Saturday.