NCF Nation: Tom Brady
Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner discusses the significance of the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry, how he has developed as a leader, what he learned from Tom Brady and learning to handle adversity.
I get it. Hindsight rocks. We'd all be rich, infinitely happy people if we could do a rewind and relive the past, knowing what we know after going through it once before.
With the benefit of hindsight, it's fair to say now that Barkley made a huge mistake. How huge? This is from Sports Illustrated's Peter King:
P.S.: Wondering what that extra year of school cost Barkley? He went 98th overall. Let's say he'd have been the eighth pick a year ago -- that's where Ryan Tannehill went. It's all speculation, of course. But the consensus was he'd have been a top 10 pick. Tannehill's deal: four years, $12.7 million. The 98th pick last year, Ravens center Gino Gradkowski, signed for four years and $2.58 million. Turns out it was a $10.1 million year of school for Matt Barkley.
You business school guys can pencil that out for us over a lifetime. Forget Barkley's second contract. You can't make up a $10.1 million hit.
So, yeah, bad call. Barkley undoubtedly will become a cautionary tale for future players who are debating whether to stay in school or enter the draft early. More than a few folks will insist that if there's a consensus first-round grade for a third-year player, returning merely to make a run at being the first overall pick or a top-10 pick is not a good idea.
Support for that notion comes from the evaluative distance between the end of the regular season and the actual draft. So much happens between December and April that a player, particularly one with great athletic measurables, can dramatically influence the affections of NFL scouts and GMs.
Still, let's look at the Barkley who stood in front of a Christmas tree in December 2011 and smoothly announced his return to USC.
- There was seemingly no question at that point he would be, at best, the third QB chosen behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Further, you'd think that some of his supposed red flags -- arm strength and foot quickness -- would have revealed themselves at the NFL combine and during workouts, so it's even questionable that he would have won out over Tannehill.
- Go back to your December 2011 self. Who was the best college QB in the nation? There was Barkley and then a whole bunch of "Who?" and "Neh." Phil Steele's ranking of QBs after Barkley in advance of the season: 2.Tyler Wilson, Arkansas; 3. Landry Jones, Oklahoma; 4. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech; 5. Tyler Bray, Tennessee.
- Ergo, his rating as the top overall QB entering 2012, based on three years as a starter, seemed absolutely secure.
- Then there were the Trojans around him: 18 starters back from a team that went 10-2 and won at Oregon. That included four starters on the offensive line to protect him and the best tandem of college receivers in recent memory: Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.
There were only two potential red flags at the time: 1. Injury; 2. The unknown. Both ended up contributing to Barkley's slip.
"The unknown" includes that old scouting adage that a guy can have "too much film." If a guy duplicates his great play from a previous season, scouts will wonder why he didn't dramatically improve. And woe unto him whose numbers drop.
But the now-marginalized reasons for Barkley's return also were sound:
- Win the Heisman Trophy.
- Win the national title.
- Enjoy another year of college as USC's QB, which is a nice thing to carry around the idyllic campus, before taking on real world stresses of playing a game for a living.
- Become the first QB taken in the 2013 draft, which is typically in the higher reaches of the top-10.
At the time Barkley made his decision to stick around, there were few naysayers about his and his team's prospects. That everything went so completely rear-end-over-tea-kettle still boggles the mind if you aren't one of those people who pretends you saw it all coming a year ago.
All this said, with a few exceptions, my long-held belief on this is a player should enter the draft as soon as possible. "Stay in school!" sounds nice, but a guy can always go back to school.
That position, however, is not all about merely jumping into the draft when your stock is seemingly high. It's also about age. It's better to start earning a (substantial) paycheck at, say, 21 than 22, if it is available to you. The career clock doesn't tick very long in the NFL, and an extra couple of million can help later in life.
Consider two Pac-12 players who had less fanfare this draft cycle but are probably nearly as disappointed as Barkley: Oregon RB Kenjon Barner and Stanford OLB Chase Thomas.
Both opted to return for their senior seasons in order to improve their NFL draft prospects. It appears neither did, with Barner going in the sixth round and Thomas going undrafted. My hunch is they would have done better last spring.
Both now have an additional year of wear-and-tear on the bodies without getting paid, which is particularly an issue for Barner because running backs see their productivity drop substantially at 30. Barner just turned 24.
Ultimately, a disappointing draft doesn't make or break an NFL career. Ask Tom Brady. I think just about every conversation I had with former Seattle Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck circled back to his annoyance at being picked in the sixth round, watching QBs he felt were inferior to him get picked before him.
Barkley, who has seemingly led a charmed life at quarterback, might get a boost from having a chip on his shoulder (a Chip Kelly one, at that). Maybe "Angry Matt" will turn out better than "Breezy Matt."
The NFL draft is often confounding. It is laden with risk and reward on both sides of the process. Barkley took on a defensible risk and things didn't go as he hoped. That's notable, but it's also an annual occurrence.
As for Barkley, you'd think that at some point in his life he will encounter a greater adversity than being picked in the fourth round of the NFL draft.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan did what it was supposed to do Saturday against UMass, flattening the first-year FBS program 63-13 with another big performance from its quarterback.
The Wolverines were able to build some defensive confidence, play a lot of their younger players and establish some sort of running game before next week's matchup against Notre Dame.
It was over when: Denard Robinson cut across the field on a scramble and ran 36 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. The touchdown run gave the Wolverines a 35-10 lead and also gave Michigan complete control after Robinson threw an interception that resulted in a UMass touchdown earlier in the quarter. From there, Michigan routed.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Denard Robinson has always been hard to define by standard notions of quarterback play. He plays with his shoelaces out, throws the ball up for grabs at times and rips off game-breaking runs.
Those things were good enough to make him one of the most exciting players in the country the past two years, and for him to lead Michigan to a Sugar Bowl victory last season. But they weren't good enough for head coach Brady Hoke, whose idea of a Wolverines quarterback is more along the lines of Tom Brady and Brian Griese, guys who carried themselves a certain way on and off the field.
So Hoke did something unusual this offseason. He asked his star player, the guy who has seemingly single handedly willed Michigan to victories in the past, to change some of personality traits as a senior.
"You look at the legacies of the guys who played that position here, and there's something about it from a maturity standpoint, from a leadership standpoint and their business-like approach," Hoke told ESPN.com. "We have an expectation of how a quarterback handles himself, a little bit more maybe than he understood."
Hoke wanted Robinson to rely not just on his talent and likable nature, but to become a forceful, vocal leader. That meant getting into the film room more, working harder on off days, shoring up his fundamentals and speaking out more in the locker room and in public. That last part might have been the toughest demand.
"I'm normally a very laid back person," he said. "Just chilling, smiling, having a good time."
While speaking to reporters won't help Michigan win games, it could change the way Robinson is perceived as a quarterback and endear him to voters for national awards, not that he cares much about individual honors. Moreover, it enhances his position as a leader when he can talk on his teammates' behalf.
So why didn't Robinson, who is entering his third year of starting at the most prominent position, take this approach before?
"I wasn't there yet," he says. "But senior year came up fast. Now, you're a leader and you've got to step it up.
"In the past, I spoke up when I needed to or when somebody needed to be talked to. Now, it's more me letting guys know what they should do and what they can do on and off the field."
Hoke likes the way his quarterback is improving in the leadership role. The next step is for Robinson to become more consistent.
He had some monster games last season, like his heroics against Notre Dame and Ohio State, and he led the Big Ten in total offense for a second straight season. But he also threw more interceptions (15) than any league quarterback while getting bailed out on some throws by receivers in the Sugar Bowl and other games. Michigan survived those turnovers last season but doesn't want to have to do it again.
"Unacceptable," Robinson says of his interceptions. "That's something I take upon myself as a quarterback to do better for the team."
Robinson said at least 10 of his picks came when he threw off his back foot. He repeatedly made that fundamental mistake even though offensive coordinator Al Borges kept telling him that every time he threw off his back foot, Borges covered his eyes and waited for something bad to happen.
A lot of that, Robinson said, was just poor technique. Not following through on his throws and "getting into the fight" as Borges likes to say. And some of it was Robinson just trying to make a huge play out of nothing -- which, to his credit, has actually worked in the Wolverines' favor a lot during his career. Borges has told his quarterback to avoid trying to make a miracle, yet miracles are a part of Robinson's game.
"That's what's hard," Borges said. "You don't want to hinder him too much. But there is a line. And I think he's getting better about understanding that line."
Robinson has focused on stepping into his throws this spring, and Borges says he has made "less indiscriminate" and "catastrophic" throws than he did last fall. While the jump-ball aspect of Michigan's offense won't disappear completely, Borges might actually be able to watch more while it's happening.
"From a physical standpoint, of how we want him to do things, he's further along than he was at end of the season," Hoke says of Robinson's fundamentals.
One thing that hasn't changed is Robinson's effervescent personality and positive energy. Teammates marvel at how he never seems to have a bad day or gets down even when things aren't going well. Receiver and close friend Roy Roundtree describes Robinson as "the cheesiest cow out there. That guy's always smiling, even if we're losing."
Robinson said that's just the way he's always been. His mom showed him pictures when he played little league, and he was out there grinning just as wide as he does now. That sometimes belies what he's really thinking, though.
"Sometimes I'd get in trouble for smiling too much in class or during games," he said. "People always think you're out to get them with that smile."
This year, he's out to talk and lead as much as he smiles. And that would make Hoke very happy.
O'Brien, the former Maryland quarterback, reportedly visited Penn State during the weekend. After a midweek stop at Ole Miss, O'Brien will head to Wisconsin, according to The Badger Nation's Benjamin Worgull. Wisconsin also is in the mix for another quarterback transfer, former Kansas signal caller Jordan Webb, who is exploring Colorado as well.
It's no secret that both Penn State and Wisconsin could really, really use another quarterback. Wisconsin must replace first-team All-Big Ten signal caller Russell Wilson and might not be able to count on the injury-plagued Jon Budmayr and Curt Phillips. Penn State's quarterback situation has been messy the past two seasons, and while Matthew McGloin, Rob Bolden and Paul Jones all remain with the team, the Lions really could use a guy like O'Brien.
Both Big Ten schools face competition for O'Brien's services, particularly from SEC suitors Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, but they also offer exciting opportunities for the former ACC rookie of the year.
Let's take a look at the sales pitches Wisconsin and Penn State might make to O'Brien.
Wisconsin's pitch: Remember this guy? He made a seamless transition from an ACC program to Wisconsin, setting team and NCAA records in leading the Badgers to a second consecutive Big Ten title and Rose Bowl appearance. He flourished in a pro-style offense that will remain in place despite a coordinator change. You can be the next Russell Wilson, Danny. And like Russell, you'll step into an offense built to succeed. You might have heard of this guy. He was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, and he chose to return for his senior year. You won't share a backfield with a better running back than Montee Ball, Danny. You also won't play behind a better offensive line. Sure, we lose some All-Americans, but we did after the 2010 season and didn't take any steps back. Our offensive lines always are among the nation's elite. You'll also be working with a proven receiver in Jared Abbrederis and an excellent tight end in Jacob Pedersen. Still not convinced? You might have heard of the "Jump Around." It's pretty sweet. So is State Street. Come to Madison, Danny, and help Wisconsin defend its Big Ten championship.
Penn State's pitch: You might have heard of this guy. Sure, he's a Michigan guy, but our new head coach, Bill O'Brien, served as his offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots this past season and helped the Patriots to some record-setting performance. O'Brien knows quarterbacks, and he can help you take your game to the next level. Bill O'Brien can revolutionize the quarterback position at Penn State. You won't find better preparation for the NFL than two years in O'Brien's offense, which will test you mentally. Doesn't O'Brien coaching O'Brien have a nice ring to it? Plus, you'll share a backfield with one of the nation's most dynamic young running backs in Silas Redd. Receiver Justin Brown returns, and the tight end position should be significantly upgraded under O'Brien, who helped make Gronk a cult hero. You also can play before 106,000 people in one of the nation's best college towns. This is a historic time at Penn State, Danny. Be a part of the next chapter.
This exercise isn't meant to further depress Nittany Lions supporters. It actually should get them excited about the team's future under new coach Bill O'Brien.
Bear with me here.
That's a stunning drought for a program considered a traditional power. In the Big Ten, only Minnesota and Nebraska have gone longer without having a quarterback selected.
Penn State has had only two other quarterbacks drafted -- Collins, a first-round pick in 1995, and Tony Sacca, a second-round pick in 1992 -- since Todd Blackledge in 1983. Sacca played only two games in his pro career. Blackledge played six seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, throwing 29 touchdowns and 38 interceptions in his career.
While Penn State has produced some solid college quarterbacks -- most recently Daryll Clark, the 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year -- the program has been lacking at the position.
O'Brien could provide a boost at quarterback and for an offense that ranked 93rd nationally this season and that has finished in the top 30 nationally just twice (2002, 2008) since the 2000 season. One of the common complaints I've heard from Penn State fans, particularly the past two seasons, is that the team's offense is stuck in the past.
O'Brien has worked with one of the best quarterbacks to ever play -- Tom Brady -- the past few years with the New England Patriots. While his track record as an offensive coordinator in college isn't overly impressive, he was part of a Maryland staff that produced the nation's No. 28 offense in 2003. Georgia Tech finished 15th nationally in total offense in 2000, while O'Brien served as the team's running backs coach and recruiting coordinator.
If nothing else, O'Brien has seen what good offense and good quarterback play looks like. The Patriots rank second in the NFL in both total offense (428 ypg) and pass offense (317.8), and third in scoring (32.1 ppg).
That doesn't mean O'Brien's arrival automatically makes Penn State one of the Big Ten's top offenses in 2012. But if he hires the right staff and can develop players effectively, things will be looking up for the Lions attack. Penn State needs much more out of the quarterback position than it received this year, as Matthew McGloin and Rob Bolden shared time and neither had much success.
Maybe O'Brien gets the most out of McGloin. Maybe O'Brien fosters the development not seen from Bolden. Maybe another quarterback emerges this fall under O'Brien's tutelage.
O'Brien clearly has more important things on his plate as he transitions into a job he's never held before.
But his presence in State College could be just what Penn State needs to upgrade the most important position on the field.
Michigan makes its first BCS bowl appearance since the 2007 Rose Bowl, and aims for its first BCS bowl victory since the 2000 Orange Bowl, when Tom Brady led the Wolverines past Alabama. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is used to the big stage, having played in three of the past four Orange Bowls.
A bit of pregame news, of the unsurprising variety. Michigan senior defensive lineman Will Heininger is out with a sprained right foot. Junior Will Campbell will start in his spot at defensive tackle, and Quinton Washington will back up Ryan Van Bergen at defensive tackle. Coach Brady Hoke has told Van Bergen and Mike Martin to be prepared to play every snap, and both seniors have done extra conditioning after practice to prepare. The Wolverines' defensive line depth will be tested tonight as Heininger and Nathan Brink both are out.
The fan breakdown should be interesting. For all the talk about Virginia Tech's bowl allotment, Hokies fans appear to be out in force here in the Big Easy. Plenty of Michigan fans are here as well, excited to see their team back on the big bowl stage.
Michigan seemed like the popular pick when the pairing was announced, but it seems like more folks are leaning toward Virginia Tech now, including ESPN colleagues David Pollack and Todd McShay. The teams are evenly matched, but I'm sticking with my pick: Michigan 27, Virginia Tech 21. Could be bad news for the Wolverines as I'm only 6-3 in bowl picks so far.
Much more to come from the dome throughout the night, so don't even think about going anywhere.
Here are several things to watch during the Big Ten's bowl season:
1. Wisconsin's quest for redemption: Anyone in the locker room after Wisconsin's 21-19 loss to TCU in the 2011 Rose Bowl could sense the unfiltered anguish and disappointment. The narrow defeat fueled the Badgers throughout the offseason. Now they're back in Pasadena with a chance to finish what they couldn't against TCU. No game will shape the Big Ten's national perception more than the Rose, and Wisconsin is an underdog against a formidable Oregon team that has stumbled twice on the big stage. The Badgers can establish themselves as a nationally elite team with a win, while a loss will show they're not quite there.
2. B1G attempts to atone vs. SEC: While the Big Ten has held its own against the SEC in non-BCS bowls, the SEC embarrassed the Big Ten in last year's games. SEC teams beat their Big Ten opponents by a combined score of 138-45 in the Capital One, Outback and Gator bowls. The Big Ten can't afford such a porous showing this season, and the three matchups with the SEC appear more favorable (Nebraska-South Carolina in Capital One, Michigan State-Georgia in Outback, Ohio State-Florida in TaxSlayer.com Gator). While the Big Ten will have to wait at least another year to end the SEC's streak of national titles, it must fare better in these games. Michigan State might have the most at stake as the Spartans were humbled 49-7 last year in the Capital One Bowl and have yet to win a bowl game under coach Mark Dantonio. While a narrow Big Ten title loss still stings, the Spartans should be motivated Jan. 2.
3. Penn State's motivation in Dallas: Penn State players had nothing to do with the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal, but they paid a price for the fallout as several bowl games passed over the Nittany Lions and selected teams they beat (Northwestern, Iowa, Ohio State). Lions players didn't seem too pleased when they learned they had slipped to the TicketCity Bowl, and it will be interesting to see how a team that has dealt with so much since early December responds on Jan. 2. The Penn State-Houston matchup features two talented teams with star players (Devon Still, Case Keenum) but no permanent coaches. It will be interesting to see which Penn State team shows up to finish off a season like none other.
4. Big Ten bowl streaks (both good and bad): There are several streaks to monitor in the Big Ten as bowl season begins. Northwestern looks for its first postseason win since the 1949 Rose after dropping eight straight bowls, including ones in each of the past three years. Dantonio, who has revolutionized the Michigan State program, aims for the elusive first bowl win with the Spartans. Michigan ends a five-year drought without a BCS bowl appearance but looks for its first BCS bowl win since the 2000 Orange when some guy named Tom Brady played quarterback for the Wolverines. Iowa has been the Big Ten's best bowl representative in recent years and tries to continue its streak of three consecutive postseason wins when it takes on heavy favorite Oklahoma in the Insight Bowl.
It's a fascinating list that's sure to stir a lot of debate. But since this is a Big Ten blog, we're going to concern ourselves with where the Top 100 went to college.
There are 13 former Big Ten players on the list, including No. 1: Tom Brady. (Note: We're counting Nebraska players as Big 12 products since the Cornhuskers in the NFL participated in that league. Same thing for Colorado and Utah, Miami and Virginia Tech, etc.). Here are the 13 who made the cut and how they ranked overall:
1. Tom Brady, QB, New England (Michigan)
9. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans (Purdue)
16. Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay (Michigan)
28. Jake Long, OT, Miami (Michigan)
43. Joe Thomas, OT, Cleveland (Wisconsin)
47. Nick Mangold, C, New York Jets (Ohio State)
58. Brandon Lloyd, WR, Miami (Illinois)
63. Cameron Wake, LB, Miami (Penn State)
64. Tamba Hali, DE, Kansas City (Penn State)
76. Santonio Holmes, WR, New York Jets (Ohio State)
78. Dallas Clark, TE, Indianapolis (Iowa)
82. LaMarr Woodley, DE, Pittsburgh (Michigan)
97. Shaun Phillips, DE, San Diego (Purdue)
Ohio State: 2
Penn State: 2
(In case you're wondering, the two Nebraska players on the list are No. 51 Ndamukong Suh and No. 55 Carl Nicks)
Now let's see how the Top 100 stacks up by college conference:
Big East: 16
Big Ten: 13
Big 12: 7
Notre Dame: 1
Non-AQ/Small schools: 27
This just reinforces what I always said in my previous job: The best football is played in the Big East. Actually, that league greatly benefits from eight Miami Hurricanes who played their careers in the league before the program jumped ship to the ACC.
It's interesting that the Big Ten has the same amount of Top 100 players as the mighty SEC, no? I thought all the best talent was supposed to be in the SEC. Hmm. The ACC continues to underachieve despite all its talent, while the Big 12 has curiously low representation here (only five players outside of Nebraska).
I also find it fascinating that 27 percent of the supposed cream of the crop in pro football never played in an AQ conference -- Kent State, for example, has three players on the list, more than Alabama, Florida and LSU combined and more than every Big Ten school except Michigan. East Carolina and Central Florida have as many Top 100 players as Ohio State and Penn State. More evidence that recruiting stars don't always equal NFL success. (And indeed, the No. 1 player on the list had to fight tooth and nail to earn a starting job at Michigan).
If nothing else, it's fun fodder for debate.
This story, however, must now pause because Luck has walked away from an interview to help a woman open a door to the Stanford athletic building. She needs to use the restroom, and it doesn't require Woodward & Bernstein to ascertain that this might be a pressing need. Luck points her in the right direction but warns her that they might be cleaning up inside.
Where were we? Yes, moments before becoming a hero to a woman who had perhaps imbibed too much afternoon coffee, Luck walked past a ballroom dancing class and, making small talk, noted, "I don't think I'm coordinated enough for ballroom dancing."
Luck is a buffed-up, 6-foot-4, 235 pounds and, besides ranking third in the nation in passing efficiency in 2010, he rushed for 453 yards. But ballroom dancing students, now those folks are athletes.
Actual exchange once the interview starts again:
Hyperventilating reporter [Me]: "Now, everybody in the country knows who you are."
Luck: "I don't think everbody knows."
Said former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, now with the San Francisco 49ers, last fall: "He's almost embarrassed if somebody compliments him or wants to talk about him. He's very quick to deflect it to his teammates. He's someone people want to follow, want to emulate. It's a unique quality to be the sort of anti-celebrity quarterback, the anti-big-man on campus."
More than a few folks were stunned Luck opted to return, no matter how much he enjoyed college or wasn't burdened by financial need -- his father, Oliver, is a former NFL quarterback and presently the athletic director at West Virginia.
Said Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov, "Anybody's logic would have been to leave. We were all stunned."
There is a potential red flag here, though, on the football side of things. Some might observe that NFL coaches prefer the singular focus of the football obsessed over a Renaissance man who enjoys college. Further, the best quarterbacks are often swashbuckling sorts -- Tom Brady, Brett Favre (without the text messages), Joe Namath and Kenny "The Snake" Stabler -- so if Luck seems too much the Boy Scout, might that make it difficult for him to lead a locker room that includes an array of edgier personalities?
Ah, but not unlike Peyton Manning, Luck doesn't do Ned Flanders on the football field. Just ask former USC cornerback Shareece Wright and California safety Sean Cattouse, who both ended up on the losing end of a Luck hit when they stood between the quarterback and something he wanted during a game.
"My dad calls it 'crossing the white line'," said new Stanford head coach David Shaw, who's father, Willie Shaw, was a longtime college and NFL coach.
"You can be the greatest human being on the planet, but once you cross that white line, it's whatever it takes to win football games. Andrew has started to remind me of another guy who was like that: [former Cardinal and nine-time Pro Bowl safety] John Lynch. John Lynch was an all-time human being -- a phenomenal person. One of those guys you say you want your daughter to grow up and marry. That's the way Andrew is. But once he crosses that white line, he's such a competitor. He doesn't care who you are, he's going to try to knock you out. Andrew flips that same switch."
While Stanford practices are closed, the scuttlebutt is that Luck has been masterful this spring. Quipped offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton with a straight face, "He was able to complete 70 percent [71 percent actually] of his passes last year. Our goal is for him to complete 100 percent of his passes."
When asked about this, Shaw pointed out that Luck, indeed, missed a throw-- a 6-yard out -- at practice the previous day.
"You'd have thought it was the Super Bowl," Shaw said. "With a guy like this, you shoot for the moon. You see how far you can push him. And Andrew loves it. He wants to be pushed every day. He wants to be coached, he wants to be coached hard and he wants to be coached specifically. He doesn't know what his ceiling is. So let's not set it."
The high ceiling for Luck is a big reason the national perception is there's a high ceiling for Stanford. The Cardinal will be ranked in the preseason top-10, and Oregon's visit on Nov. 12 is likely the Pac-12 North game of the year, one that might have national championship implications. And if the Cardinal again surges a year after turning in its best season of the modern era, it's almost certain that Luck will be a Heisman Trophy front-runner.
That means even more celebrity for Luck. While Stanford's pristine campus and academically elite student body present a less football-obsessed environment that allows him some privacy, Luck's future is under the klieg lights. It's unavoidable and it will test him.
Luck is told a story about an early Ben Affleck interview with Jay Leno when Affleck tells of pulling out the "I'm Ben Affleck" for the first time to get a restaurant reservation. Luck's asked if he's had a similar moment when waiting for a table.
At first, he seems to be honestly baffled by the inquiry, then replies, "There are enough good restaurants in Palo Alto. We could leave. No, I haven't tried to do that. I don't think it's worth it."
It's prediction time, and while I'm certain most of these will look terrible by mid October, here we go ...
Conference champion: Ohio State
It's not just the history of winning or sharing the last five league championships. Ohio State simply has fewer holes than Iowa and Wisconsin. Yes, the Buckeyes must travel to Madison and Iowa City, but they've been flat-out dominant on the road in conference play, winning 16 straight Big Ten road contests before the loss to Purdue last season.
Offensive MVP: Wisconsin running back John Clay
Someone needs to stand up for Clay. He's being completely overlooked in the Heisman Trophy race, and he was snubbed for Big Ten preseason Offensive Player of the Year in favor of Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor. In case you forgot, Clay is the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, and he'll play behind the nation's best offensive line this fall. He should be more durable following offseason ankle surgeries. I expect big things from big No. 32 this fall.
Defensive MVP: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn
This might be one of the nation's most competitive award races, as Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones, Ohio State defensive lineman Cameron Heyward and Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan also are in the mix. But Clayborn makes more impact plays than any defender in the Big Ten, and he'll continue to have opportunities because of the overall strength of Iowa's defensive line.
Surprise team: Purdue
The Boilermakers' injury situation leaves me a bit concerned about this selection, but I still really like the potential in West Lafayette. Robert Marve is a perfect fit for the spread offense, and will distribute the ball to a talented group of receivers. Kerrigan leads a veteran defensive front seven that should be better against the run. And the schedule is back-loaded, allowing Purdue to find its identity in the first six games before things get really tough. Indiana and Michigan are also possibilities here.
Team most likely to disappoint: Penn State
There isn't an obvious choice here, but preseason No. 19 Penn State enters the fall with two major obstacles: virtually no experience at quarterback, and arguably the nation's toughest road schedule. Trips to Tuscaloosa, Iowa City and Columbus look daunting, and while Tom Bradley's defense should be solid once again, it won't be easy for this team to win 11 games for the third straight season. Iowa, Northwestern and Michigan also are possibilities here.
Surprise player: Michigan State receiver Keshawn Martin
We could see a Devin Thomas redux this fall, which would bring smiles to Spartans fans. Martin seemed to be hitting his stride toward the end of last season, and after averaging 18.1 yards per touch in 2009, he'll get the ball a lot more this season. Other potential surprise players include Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa, Ohio State defensive lineman John Simon and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.
Newcomer of the year: Purdue quarterback Robert Marve
Talent has never been the problem for Marve, and he's finally in the right situation to become a star. The Miami transfer owns a big-time arm in an offense that will feature it, and he has grown up a lot since his time at Miami. If Purdue's new-look offensive line can protect Marve, the offense will put up big numbers. Three junior college transfers in the secondary -- Indiana's Andre Kates, Minnesota's Christyn Lewis and Illinois safety Trulon Henry -- are also newcomers to watch.
Freshman of the Year: Penn State quarterback Robert Bolden
He might not start the opener against Youngstown State, but I expect Bolden to enter the mix in a big way for the Nittany Lions. He has impressive size and arm strength, and his ability to quickly pick up the offense and remain in the race throughout preseason camp tells a lot about his potential. Other candidates include Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and Michigan State defenders Max Bullough and William Gholston.
Coach of the Year: Ohio State's Jim Tressel
It's time. Tressel has dominated the league like few coaches in history, and yet he has never won the Coach of the Year Award. The odds are once again against Tressel because of Ohio State's status as Big Ten preseason favorite, but I have a feeling he finally gets what he deserves. Other potential winners include Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, Purdue's Danny Hope and, yes, Michigan's Rich Rodriguez.
Can't-miss game: Ohio State at Iowa, Nov. 20
For the second consecutive year, this game likely will decide the Big Ten championship, as both teams enter the fall in the top 10. Iowa gave Ohio State all it could handle in 2009 despite playing without starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi. Ohio State has dominated the series with Iowa, but this game could be special. Other can't-miss contests include Ohio State at Wisconsin (Oct. 16), Wisconsin at Iowa (Oct. 23) and whenever Penn State's Joe Paterno goes for win No. 400.
Things got pretty messy in Tallahassee, and Bowden deserved a better final chapter than the one he has received. As Bowden steps down as Seminoles coach today, closing the book on one of college football's greatest coaching careers, you can bet folks will be watching in State College, Pa.
They will undoubtedly feel sadness, perhaps some outrage, and maybe just a bit of understandable relief.
Relief not because of the all-time wins record, which Joe Paterno holds and likely will never relinquish. Relief not because the race between Bowden and Paterno, real or perceived, is now over.
No, the relief stems from the knowledge that unlike Florida State, Penn State has avoided a messy sendoff for its legend.
Five years ago, Penn State found itself in a similar spot to FSU. The football team had endured a miserable run from 2000-04, producing just one winning season and a record of 26-33. Paterno faced numerous calls to retire, as critics spouted theories on ways to let the coach go quietly so things didn't get messier and his legacy could be preserved.
But Penn State stuck with Paterno, and the program has not only recovered, but returned to prominence. In the past five seasons, the Lions have won two Big Ten titles and averaged 10 wins. Perhaps more important, they've made major strides in recruiting and currently own by far the Big Ten's top class for 2010.
Penn State just completed a rather ho-hum 10-2 regular season. How much do you think Florida State would like one of those right about now?
So how has Penn State avoided the same fate with Paterno that Florida State could not with Bowden?
It starts with the staff. Like Bowden, Paterno has extremely loyal assistants, but they've done an exemplary job in several areas during the past five seasons.
Penn State boasts the Big Ten's best recruiter in defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who turned down a coordinator job at Illinois last winter to remain with Paterno in State College. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley also has been tremendous in recruiting, and his defenses have ranked in the top 15 nationally in each of the past five seasons. Linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, a former head coach, has revived the Linebacker U. tradition with players like Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor, Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman.
Florida State, conversely, has witnessed a major decline on defense the past few years, leading to the recent retirement of longtime coordinator Mickey Andrews.
Then there's the coach-in-waiting thing.
There are many, yours truly included, that have called for Paterno to name a successor before he retires. Well, Bowden did so with Jimbo Fisher, and it hasn't exactly worked out well for the Seminoles staff. Fisher and Chuck Amato spent part of the fall denying rumors of dissension on the staff, but it's hard to believe there wasn't some friction, given Fisher's future role.
Paterno's replacement is unknown, but it doesn't seem to be hurting him or the program at all, especially in recruiting. Winning cures all, and the talk of retirement and the team's off-field problems has dissipated.
Whether JoePa steps down in three days or three years, the Penn State program is positioned well for continued success.
Paterno and Bowden might not be the most plugged-in head coaches in college football right now, but both mean a great deal to their programs, their universities and their states. Penn State found a way to restore its program without forcing its legendary coach out the door.
Unfortunately, Florida State couldn't do the same with Bowden, leading to this sad day.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The hype machine hummed with no small amount of justification this week about Jimmy Clausen and Matt Barkley. The thousands of words that have poured forth about these two quarterbacks, connected and divided by so many opinions and sentiments and measures and public and private moments apprehended and misapprehended, diligently aspired to describe the compelling contrasts and similarities that braid them together in a cardinal and green rope of rivalry and friendship.
|Examining the matchup between Matt Barkley and Jimmy Clausen is an exercise in comparisons and contrasts.|
Start with this.
When Clausen picked Notre Dame over USC in 2006, he was "the most acclaimed California prep quarterback since John Elway."
When Barkley, a lifelong USC fan, committed to the Trojans his junior year in 2008, he was "a cross between Joe Montana and [Tom] Brady."
Both southern California products were rated the No. 1 prep quarterback in the nation when they were high school seniors, Clausen at Oaks Christian and Barkley at Mater Dei. Both were longtime students of respected quarterbacks guru Steve Clarkson.
Two years separated them. As personalities, they were very different. But their innate awareness of comparable talent drew them together.
"Every time I go back home during the offseason, Matt is always around," Clausen said. "We're always throwing the ball, hanging out, stuff like that."
But very different.
Clausen committed to Notre Dame from inside the College Football Hall of Fame in front of about 300 people and a TV crew from ESPN. He arrived via a stretch Hummer limousine. He talked about winning multiple national titles. He wore a suit that looked expensive but didn't fit him well. His hair was spiked and gelled.
Barkley released a statement and talked to a handful of reporters when he quietly committed to USC. There was no pomp. There was no circumstance. There was no big, white Hummer. It remains unclear if Barkley actually combs his hair, which already hints at early recession.
A Barkley quote from shortly after he committed as it appeared in the New York Times: “Jesus Christ is No. 1 to me,” said Barkley, who has a 3.9 grade point average. “That’s who I play for."
Do a search on Google images of "Jimmy Clausen" and then "Matt Barkley." Who gets the unflattering, mocking photos? And who doesn't?
So, clearly we have a good guy -- a West Coast Tebow -- and a self-absorbed brat, right?
Great news. It's more complicated that that, more nuanced. To spoil the potential cliffhanger: The folks who actually know Clausen seem to like him. And, you know, maybe he got some bad advice on how to handle his commitment and that one moment shouldn't entirely define him as a person.
"I've grown a lot," Clausen said. "When I first walked into Notre Dame, I didn't really know and expect what it was to be the quarterback at Notre Dame. I've had to deal with some things on the field, off the field."
Clausen mostly stops there and redirects from any deeper introspective insights. He's become pretty jaded -- not without justification -- with this whole "talk about himself to reporters thing," though he seems pleased to learn that USC linebacker Chris Galippo spoke highly of him.
Is Clausen cocky? The question didn't irritate Galippo so much as arouse a linebackery defense.
"No, not at all," Galippo said. "If anything, he's an extreme competitor, which we all are. Regardless of the vibe he gives people, the guy is an awesome football player. He's a guy who goes out and works his tail off. He's easily the best quarterback in the nation right now.
That may be true. Clausen leads the nation in passing efficiency. He's completed 68 percent of his throws with 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Moreover, he's played through pain -- he's been nursing a turf toe for weeks -- and has led the Irish to three dramatic comeback wins.
Perhaps he should be a leading Heisman Trophy candidate? All he has to do to legitimize his candidacy is end the Fighting Irish's seven-game losing streak against the Trojans.
"I think that he's had a heck of a year," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. "I mean, you look at what he's done through these first five games. There couldn't be anyone in the country playing any better than him. But now he is going against the best defense that he's seen all year long. So I think these are the type of moments where you really get judged on how well you do when you go against the really, really good guys."
Speaking of really good guys: Matt Barkley!
Playing his first career away game in front of 100,000-plus at Ohio State, Barkley became a sensation when he led a 14-play, 86-yard, fourth-quarter drive to beat the Buckeyes.
He's seems completely unflappable. His arm is special. He smiles a lot. His teammates rave about him. Coach Pete Carroll calls him an "outlier," meaning he's human but just barely.
His numbers -- three touchdowns and two interceptions -- won't blow anyone away, but that doesn't stop Carroll from gushing.
"He really has everything you're looking for," he said.
There are many potential topics to ask Barkley about -- his maturation, Notre Dame's struggling defense, his decision to turn down an invitation to join the X-Men, etc. -- but one sticks out.
So is Clausen cocky?
"I think people might get the wrong image but I actually admire that about him," Barkley said. "He's confident in how he can play and his abilities and I think it's really coming out and showing this year. It might have come out wrong in a couple of instances, what people might take from what he's said or what he's done. And that's not who I am. I'm going to take a different route. That's how he is. That's how he plays. It's working out well for him this year."
Just a hint of compare-and-contrast there, eh?
There is an itty-bitty bit of entertaining tension present, bubbling just beneath the surface. After all, it's USC-Notre Dame.
For example, when asked about Barkley, Weis praised his supporting cast: "I think the one thing he does very well is he knows who his playmakers are and he gets the ball in their hands."
Asked about how Barkley is different from Clausen as a freshman, Weis said, "I think that Jimmy wasn't around as good a supporting cast. That might be the biggest understatement I might ever say."
Meanwhile, Carroll basically said that Clausen didn't come to USC because he was afraid of competing with Mark Sanchez.
"I felt like he was concerned about who else was around and was coming and all that," Carroll said. "He was trying to take a look at situating himself in the best position where he could play early ... He had a lot of respect for Mark and thought that in all likelihood Mark might have a chance to be ahead of him, which he would have been."
Countered Clausen, "No, that wasn't a factor at all."
Hmm. Clausen became Notre Dame's starter by the second game of his true freshman year. If he'd gone to USC, it's likely he would have competed with Barkley for the starting job this past spring and preseason after waiting for Sanchez to become a top-five NFL draft pick following his junior year.
Clausen vs. Barkley would have been interesting.
But their competition will have to be settled on the field Saturday in the high grass before Touchdown Jesus. These two hyped, golden-boy, southern California quarterback recruits -- and friends! -- will have at least one opportunity to win dominance over the other head-to-head.
Barkley isn't supposed to be the brash one, but he found it difficult to duck the notion that bragging rights are at stake.
"Possibly. Maybe after the game," he said. "I don't like to think about that stuff heading into a game. But there might be. I guess there will be a little individual battle between us two as well."
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
One of the reasons Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes is about to become a hot head-coaching candidate is that he's not a system guy. He's a personnel guy.
He figures out what he has. Then he figures out how to use them.
When Mike Stoops hired him away from Texas Tech, most immediately assumed he'd start throwing the ball 60 times a game, just like the Red Raiders do.
Nope. The Wildcats ran the ball 504 times last year and passed it 412.
It's about doing what works. So Dykes' spread offense has evolved.
Has it worked? Well, in 2006, the year before he moved to Tucson, Arizona averaged 16.6 points and 252.8 yards per game. In 2007, Dykes' offense averaged 28 points and 385 yards per game. In 2008, that offense averaged 36.6 points and 402 yards per game.
In 2007, the Wildcats averaged just 77 yards rushing. In 2008, 158.4.
To Dykes, the spread doesn't mean one thing. Other than moving the football.
Is there a fundamental difference in the way you guys line up versus Oregon and the spreads that are more of a spread-option running attack?
Sonny Dykes: Definitely. If you look at Oregon and West Virginia, with what Rich Rodriguez was doing there, they were spreading to run. They wanted to spread the field to take some of the onus off the offensive line and run the football. Oregon is doing the same thing. Spread teams like Texas Tech were kind of the run-and-shoot guys and are really trying to spread the field to throw it. What we're doing here is kind of a combination of both. We double call a lot of stuff, so depending on how many people are in the box, we're going to throw it when we've got good numbers and run it when we've got good numbers to run it. That's really what Tech is doing but they are more inclined to throw it.
What is your base formation?
SD: For us, it always depends on personnel. Who are our best players? We have a tight end -- obviously we've got [Rob] Gronkowski, so our base formation involves a tight end. When we had [receiver] Mike Thomas, our base formation was a one-back set with Mike Thomas being the inside of three receivers. Now, we'll be a little bit more of a two-back team because of [H-back] Chris Gronkowski. We'll be a mixture really. So our base formation will be with a tight end and a fullback, which is a little bit more old style football.
So that's the big difference between you guys and Texas Tech -- the fullback and tight end are just role players for the Red Raiders, right?
SD: But if Tech had Rob Gronkowski they'd be playing with a tight end a lot. It just depends on your personnel. Any coach is going to try to get his best guys on the field. Our offense has evolved and a lot of it is because of Robbie. We started running some power and a little bit more of a downhill run game just because he can block a defensive end at a point of attack. There just aren't many tight ends you can count on to do that. We're evolving. We're probably a little bit more like Oregon now than Texas Tech, just because of our ability and need to run the football. But if we had Mike Crabtree and Graham Harrell, we'd be throwing it 60 times a game. Instead, we've got Rob Gronkowski and Nic Grigsby, so we're more inclined to run it.
How about with receivers? Does the spread require different things out of them than if you were lining up in a pro-style set?
SD: Yeah, definitely. The quarterback and receivers have to spend a lot of time getting on the same page. If you run the ball, guys are going to try to sneak more guys in the box. When they do that, you need to find a way to get the ball on the perimeter, whether it's throwing the [bubble screens] or whatever, to try to get the ball away from the guys packing the box. When you're doing that, it looks like an easy throw, but it's something that requires quite a bit of timing and work between quarterbacks and wide receivers. If you're going to spread it out and do that, your quarterback and receivers have to spend a lot of time developing a feel for each other.
If you're going to run 35 times a game, you need receivers to block well. But, in general, does a spread receiver need to be a better blocker than a pro-style receiver?
SD: I think so because of the screens. A lot of that stuff maybe forces them to be more effective blockers. It's different. Our receivers don't cut much. You look at the old Nebraska film, when they were running the option and getting the ball on the perimeter, they were cutting guys down. Our guys are really just trying to get in the way more. So it's a different kind of blocking, but it's probably more important in the spread because of the screens and how many times the ball is actually out on the edge.
One way guys recruit against spread teams is they tell recruits that if they play in a spread offense they are not going to get the respect from the NFL in the draft. What do you say to that?
SD: It's weird. Remember [the University of] Miami was one of the first teams running the one-back and running a spread offense with three receivers on the field? They were doing it with guys like Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde and all of those guys were getting drafted. Back then, Miami was using it as a real advantage -- hey, we're spreading the field and throwing the ball. That's how you get into the NFL. What's happened is the spread has changed and there are a lot of different kinds of spreads. You've got what Penn State was doing last year which is more traditional type stuff. And then you've got the stuff that is way out there, the run-and-shoot stuff, what Tech's done. I think anytime a quarterback can drop back and throw the football, that's important. All that does is make him better, whether he does it under center or out of the shotgun. I don't see how a quarterback can be faulted when he takes a snap, avoids a rush, shuffles in the pocket, goes through reads, finds a receiver, throws an accurate ball and does all the things you have to do to drop back and throw. I don't see how he becomes a better quarterback by being under center and handing it to a running back. There's been a little bit of a knock, but I think that's just because of the personnel. If you're Texas Tech, you don't have to recruit 6-foot-6 quarterbacks who can stand in the pocket and throw the ball. And those are the guys the NFL is always going to like. Now, some of those guys don't work out and guys like Tom Brady do, who's not very big and doesn't have a particularly strong arm. They're just good players. Whether it's college or pro, the important thing for a quarterback is just finding a good fit.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Not only did the two candidates for Michigan State's starting quarterback spot pace one another in Saturday's Green-White scrimmage, the two sophomores put up the exact same spectacular numbers: 357 pass yards and four touchdowns.
And that's exactly why Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio is in no rush to name a leader in the race to replace two-year starter Brian Hoyer.
|Matthew Emmons/US PRESSWIRE|
|Kirk Cousins saw action in five games last season.|
"I don't want to have a quarterback controversy, but I also want to provide equal opportunity for everybody involved," Dantonio said. "I don't want it to be, 'He played well one time, so he's the guy.' What we're building for is consistency and performance over the long term."
In a sport that demands decisiveness, Dantonio and his assistants feel no pressure or panic about beginning preseason camp with Cousins and Nichol neck-and-neck for the top job. Earlier this month Dantonio said the competition could last all the way through nonconference play.
Who knows? Michigan State might end up with a two-quarterback system come Sept. 5.
"I'm fine with that," offensive coordinator Don Treadwell said. "I've done that at a couple places. You've got to have a plan for both, but it can definitely be done. I'm flexible. If they're both being productive, it's hard to keep them out."
The lack of clarity this spring has been exciting rather than discouraging for the Spartans.
"It's actually a fun competition to have," junior wide receiver Mark Dell said. "Neither one of them really has a down day."
Cousins owns a slight edge in experience after serving as Hoyer's backup last fall.