NCF Nation: Tom Holmoe
PROVO, Utah -- I bet you can guess the hot topic of conversation during BYU media day on Tuesday.
Talk of going independent dominated sessions with coach Bronco Mendenhall, athletic director Tom Holmoe and players as well. Everyone is excited about the prospects of partnering with ESPN, having an exclusive network in BYUtv and testing the waters in an unconventional way.
Will independence work? We have to wait for the answers. But here are some notes and nuggets off a day spent visiting with a variety of BYU officials.
Scheduling: Despite rampant speculation, there were no scheduling announcements made Tuesday. Getting games on the schedule as an independent has been a bit tricky, because other teams are tied into their conference schedules past September. Many others already have games planned through 2018, and there are those who want 2-for-1 deals instead of home-and-homes. Holmoe said he would like to take BYU all over the country, and would like to schedule games against the service academies, possibly even Northwestern or Vanderbilt. Mendenhall mentioned getting games against teams like Boston College, and playing in the Southeast, Midwest and Northwest.
The 2-for-1 deals, like the one with Texas, are not ideal. But Mendenhall said, "I’m willing to play some 2-for-1s for the sake of establishing credibility. Hopefully after that, more will want to come to Provo and view us on equal footing."
BCS: BYU does not have an automatic berth guaranteed into the BCS. If the Cougars finish ranked in the top 12 of the BCS standings, then they would be eligible for an at-large berth. But both Mendenhall and Holmoe are confident that an undefeated BYU team with the schedule it has lined up for this year would get into the BCS -- something that has never been done before at the school. Mendenhall also seems confident that in the future, a one-loss BYU team might be given consideration if the Cougars string together multiple 11- or 12-win seasons.
Winning: Both Holmoe and Mendenhall know there are risks with going independent. With 10 games set to be aired on ESPN, all national eyes are going to be on the Cougars. They cannot afford another 7-6 season in Year 1 of being an independent. The pressure is on. "I’m willing to take the risk," Mendenhall said. "It’s intriguing. There are many fans that aren’t BYU fans that can’t wait to see BYU stumble with all the exposure. It’s pretty clear our program is strong. We have a worldwide following, we’ve partnered with the worldwide leader in sports. With that, whether folks are BYU fans or not, I bet folks tune in and are anxious to see what happens."
One bit of news emerged today. Mendenhall said he signed a three-year contract extension that will keep him with the school through 2013.
"I would like to coach here as long as I'm wanted and as long as I feel it's where I'm supposed to be," he said. "I was invigorated and so excited by the chance to continue to move the program forward. This idea of independence, while many would have backed away from it, I'm anxious to be the coach to take it on. There's a huge amount of risk but there's also a great opportunity for reward."
A few more nuggets from media day:
- Left tackle Matt Reynolds has lost 25 pounds and is down to 308. To lose the weight, he did two hours worth of cardio every day and kept to a tight schedule and watched what he ate. "I feel so much better now," Reynolds said. "I look better, too. All the weight was in my midsection and now this is going to help me move a lot better on the field.
- Quarterback Jake Heaps is preparing to take more snaps from center this season as more of a pro-style offense will be featured with new coordinator Brandon Doman. "It's definitely a different feel with the drop-back," said Heaps, a spread quarterback in high school. "I have been working on that a lot this summer, and trying to get my timing down with the receivers as well."
- Doman on how he feels headed into his first fall as a coordinator: "In December, I turned 34. Now I feel like I'm 44."
- Linebacker Jordan Pendleton makes his return this season after missing half of 2010 with a knee injury. He wasn't quite ready to declare himself 100 percent, but said he does feel better than he has in a long time. He has spent the summer getting back into shape, taking it slowly so he would not suffer any setbacks.
But nothing is typical about Oregon's offense. "That's a good question," Tedford replied. See: The Ducks ludicrous-speed offense even transforms a mundane question into something good.
"Sometimes people get a little razzled out of it," Jordan said. "Sometimes you've got to tell them, 'Just breathe.'"
Jordan wasn't channelling Anna Nalick -- "But you can't jump the track, we're like cars on a cable, And life's like an hourglass, glued to the table, No one can find the rewind button now!"
He was considering a task that few believe the Bears have any chance of doing: Slowing down the Ducks' offense, notching the upset and ending Oregon's run to the national title.
But here's the thing: There is a "maybe" here.
The Bears have a good, athletic defense, starting with Jordan, a likely first-day NFL draft pick this spring. He's coming off a 12-tackle, 1.5-sack performance at Washington State. The Bears are the only Pac-10 team yielding less than 300 yards per game. And they are stout against the run (119.9 yards per game).
Further, few teams in recent memory have been more Jekyll and Hyde than the Bears. But forget the ugliness of the Bears on the road this year because they will be safely ensconced inside Strawberry Canyon, where they are 4-0 and have outscored foes 189-34. That's an average of 47.3 to 8.5 ppg.
While some have focused on the 42-3 beatdown the Bears suffered at Oregon last year -- Cal was an unbeaten national title contender at the time and the Ducks were still associated with a humiliating opener at Boise State -- the Bears still have won four of five from the Ducks, who haven't won in Berkeley since 2001, when Cal went 1-10 in Tom Holmoe's final season.
Ergo: There's a "maybe" here. But there's also plenty of "maybe not."
A big question: How will first-year defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast contend with an offense he never saw during his long career in the NFL? His first exposure to a distinctly college offense -- Nevada's pistol -- didn't go well in a 52-31 loss. In that game, the Bears weren't losing physical matchups; they were just out of position. Over and over again.
Out of position against Oregon is very, very bad.
"I think the biggest thing is assignment defense," Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed said. "Everybody has a gap, everybody has a responsibility. And when you look at film, when Oregon busts big plays, it's because guys get tired, they get out of their gap, they start to do their own thing, and Oregon exploits that and takes advantage of that. So it's going to come down to every guy doing their individual job within the defense."
That's a critical, two-pronged observation. Oregon doesn't just force you to show assignment discipline. It forces you to do so when you are beat-tired. It's the Ducks tempo that seems to break down a defense's will as much as a complicated scheme or speedy personnel.
"It's ridiculous," Jordan said. "That's what they expect. They expect you to get tired."
Jordan leads a good defensive line. Mohamed leads an athletic corps of linebackers. Both are NFL prospects. And the supporting cast makes this front-seven as good as any the Ducks have faced. UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, whose Bruins lost badly to both teams, sees this matchup as the linchpin of the game.
"Cal has a very formidable defensive line," he said. "The question is can they withstand the pace. Can they hang in there and play at that tempo for that long? It will be interesting to watch."
The second question: If the defense slows the Ducks, can the Bears score enough with backup QB Brock Mansion, who will be making his second career start, for it to matter in the final tally?
Again, that's a "maybe" with plenty behind the "maybe not." But, really, if the upset is going to happen, it's going to start with the Bears D.
And Jordan thinks that gives them a chance. "We're pretty powerful ourselves at home," he said.
These are the days of the BCS, featuring TCU and Boise State.
Former Boise State running back Ian Johnson has reluctantly returned to Boise after getting released by two NFL teams this season.
Idaho starting cornerback Isaac Butts has been dismissed from the team.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe opens up about the officiating controversy in the San Diego State game, which resulted in a new Mountain West rule that doesn't allow alums or school employees to work in the replay booth.
Nevada receiver Chris Wellington is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Zac Dysert and Andrew Cruse shrugged off adversity for Miami (Ohio).
Hawaii LB Corey Paredes is a natural hunter.
After a loss to Rice, what's next for Houston?
North Texas coach Todd Dodge tries to help his team focus after a 1-6 start. One more loss, and the Mean Green will have their sixth straight losing season.
A mediator is handling the WAC lawsuit against Nevada and Fresno State, according to a report.
Hawaii defensive line coach Tony Tuioti tried to coach his wife through her labor as he made his way back home from Fresno State. She gave birth to a girl while the team was in flight to Honolulu.
Southern Miss senior linebacker Martez Smith has a knee injury that ends his season and career.
Creating an independent schedule has been a big challenge for BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe.
Boise State is using more of the Wildcat.
San Diego State WR Preston King has turned to coaching, because an undiagnosed heart condition has prevented him from playing this season.
Houston freshman quarterback David Piland is getting on-the-job training.
Troy needs a new option at backup quarterback with Jamie Hampton out for the season.
The heat is on UAB coach Neil Callaway, whose team is off to a 1-4 start. Many fans are calling for his ouster.
Buffalo has moved quarterback Alex Dennison to tight end.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller and Adam Rittenberg
Holy Rose Bowl! It's another Big Ten-Pac-10 weekend, with No. 8 California visiting Minnesota and Arizona headed to Iowa. All four teams are 2-0. Seems like a good time for another blogger debate.
Ted Miller: You again! Adam, we need to stop meeting like this. Or at least the Big Ten should stop meeting like Ohio State did with USC. Perhaps there will be some redemption on Saturday when California visits Minnesota and Arizona takes a gander at Iowa.
|Icon SMI/US Presswire|
|Golden mascots square off in the Twin Cities on Saturday.|
Let's start with your game Saturday in fancy pants TCF Bank Stadium. (Nice job, Minnesota.)
I look over Minnesota's particulars and I can't get a good vibe about what Cal should expect, particularly after the Gophers struggled to beat Syracuse and Air Force. Who are these guys ... and whose mascot is more golden?
Adam Rittenberg: Ted! Buddy! Good to be with you again. OK, full disclosure here. I grew up in Berkeley, attended pretty much every Cal home game between 1994 to 1999. Witnessed the one Mariucci season in '96 (still have nightmares about the Pat Barnes fumble at Washington State) and the insufferable Tom Holmoe era. But I was never a huge Oski the Bear fan. Too subdued of a mascot. Looked like a glum professor who hadn't had his sweater ironed in 50 years. And he doesn't wear pants, which is perfect for Berkeley (I grew up there, so I can say that!) So Goldy Gopher gets my vote. He's goldier.
As for Minnesota, they did struggle against the Cuse, but the Air Force win is pretty solid in my book. The defense has been the big plus so far, especially the three linebackers (Nate Triplett, Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence). Triplett has gone from special teams all-star to major playmaker. The offense has struggled quite a bit, as Minnesota incorporates a new pro-style system under Jedd Fisch. It's a pretty dramatic departure from what they did the last two seasons, and it has taken a bit of time to click. Quarterback Adam Weber has loads of experience and can be effective when he limits interceptions, and Eric Decker is a freaking stud. Might be the best wide receiver in America that no one talks about. The problem is Minnesota hasn't found many weapons other than Decker. The Gophers need to spark their rushing attack behind Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge and hope a No. 2 wide receiver emerges, possibly speedster Troy Stoudermire.
I saw Cal is flying in Thursday for the game. Will the Bears be ready to play this time around for a 9 a.m. Pacific kickoff, and can anyone slow down Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen? How has Kevin Riley looked so far?
|Paul Jasienski-US PRESSWIRE|
|Cal QB Kevin Riley ranks eighth in the nation in pass efficiency.|
As for Best and Vereen, they are a great combination for sure. Best is going to make a play or two, mostly because he always does. The question is whether he can be such a bothersome threat that he forces Minnesota to load up the box. If that happens, a much-improved Kevin Riley and a receiving corps that has grown up could make big plays down field. Riley ranks eighth in the nation in pass efficiency and has yet to throw a pick, so he's started off as a completely different quarterback from the guy who was so inconsistent last last season.
The big issue for Cal is playing on the road: They've lost four in a row on the road. Moreover, they've not been challenged by a team so far that can approach them physically. Minnesota will be a far tougher test, and we just don't know whether Riley and the Bears can maintain their cool efficiency away from Berkley.
As for the other game: Iowa seems to have righted itself with the big win over Iowa State. But Arizona has a fast defense. Can quarterback Ricky Stanzi and running back Brandon Wegher lead an effective attack against the Wildcats?
AR: As I like to say, Stanzi is the Manzi. Actually, Stanzi has been inconsistent throughout his time as the starter, mixing big plays with too many picks. But he has more targets this year with Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Tony Moeki, Trey Stross and Marvin McNutt. The running game has been a bit messy this year because of departures (Shonn Greene) and injuries (Jewel Hampton, Jeff Brinson). Brandon Wegher likely would have redshirted but stepped up big last week. He and another freshman, Adam Robinson, will get most of the carries Saturday. It's rare to see Kirk Ferentz play so many young players, but these guys seem up to the task. The offensive line could be without star left tackle Bryan Bulaga (illness) again, so those two speedy Arizona pass-rushers will have their ears pinned back for sure.
Let's talk about the Wildcats offense. How good is Nic Grigsby and does Arizona have a passing game to complement the nation's second leading rusher?
TM: Grigsby is off to a fast start, but the Iowa defense will offer a far tougher test than Central Michigan and Northern Arizona. Also, Grigsby had some fumbling problems a year ago -- he got benched a couple of times and capable back Keola Antolin took over -- but that has yet to be an issue in 2009. My guess is the Hawkeyes load the box, gang up on Grigsby and will dare Arizona's new quarterback, sophomore Matt Scott, to pass, which is never easy on the road.
And therein lies a huge issue for this game. Arizona's best player, tight end Rob Gronkowski, is out with a back injury. Gronkowski is a beast. More than a few folks in the Pac-10 believe he's every bit the player that Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham is. Think having a 6-foot-6, 265-pound safety valve would help a young QB? It also doesn't help that No. 1 receiver Delashaun Dean has been slowed by a hamstring injury, though he will play.
So, the Wildcats passing game, with Scott making his first road start, is a huge question.
Speaking of road games, seems like all the Big Ten owns home field advantage in all these matchups with the Pac-10 ... no fair. But, seriously, which place will be more difficult for a visitor from the West Coast? I love Minnesota's new digs but I've heard a lot about pink bathrooms and the nutty horde at Kinnick Stadium.
AR: Well, you guys do have this game called the Rose Bowl. If memory serves, it's in Pac-10 country. Like in USC's backyard. That reminds me, Ted, can you find a way to make sure the Trojans don't go to Pasadena this year? The Big Ten would like a break from the Trojans after all these years of punishment. I stayed on the same floor as Pete Carroll last week in Columbus but forgot to ask him myself. Let me know what they say over at Heritage Hall. Thanks, dude.
|AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall|
|Ricky Stanzi has passed for 439 yards and five touchdowns so far this season.|
TCF Bank Stadium is pretty freaking awesome, and I'm excited to see the finished product in person. But I'd have to go with Kinnick Stadium as a tougher place right now. Iowa always sells it out and the fans are right on top of the field. It's a tremendous atmosphere, one of my favorites in the league. The early start time at Minnesota could be tougher for a Pac-10 team, but Kinnick definitely is less hospitable.
OK, prediction time. Who you got in Minnesota-Cal? Arizona-Iowa?
TM: Rose Bowl in Detroit, which is beautiful in midwinter!
I don't think anyone wants to see USC in the Rose Bowl again -- even USC's fans and players. The Trojans, however, wouldn't mind being in Pasadena again this January, if you catch my drift (nudge, nudge).
As for the predictions: For folks who read the Pac-10 blog, they know I've been advocating Cal as the team that might challenge USC's seven-year run atop the conference. They also know that for weeks I've been ranting about how underrated Arizona is.
So I've got pick a road warrior weekend for the Pac-10.
Let's say: Cal 35-21
And: Arizona 24-21.
Now, for the pick you should take to Vegas ...
AR: Call me a homer, but I've got to go with Cal. Minnesota has really struggled to make plays on offense, and while the Gophers' defense looks much improved, it'll be hard to contain Best and Vereen for 60 minutes and keep Cal off the scoreboard. Minnesota will have its crowd going and should keep things relatively, close, but I have Cal winning by 11, 34-23.
We'll probably see a defensive struggle at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa's defense is always solid under Norm Parker, and the front seven should prevent Grigsby from going nuts. I think Iowa got its mojo back last week and pulls this one out, 21-17 Hawkeyes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
A month ago, Eugene Register-Guard columnist George Schroeder did a wide-ranging Q&A with Oregon athletic director Pat Kilkenny.
This is what Kilkenny said of the plan, announced in December, for offensive coordinator Chip Kelly to take over for head coach Mike Bellotti when Bellotti decided to step down.
That's my proudest accomplishment, the succession plan. That was really my proudest accomplishment.
I just think the guy (Kelly) is a moon shot. And it's not because he's just a brilliant offensive guy. He's this leading-edge thinker who has this football toughness. And it doesn't come in the same package very often. Most of those mad scientists aren't tough.
Chip's no-nonsense, and he sees a different game than almost anybody sees. You watch how that Oklahoma State game worked? They had 12 plays scripted and they went really fast, but then they went really slow. We went really fast the whole game. It's hard to do that on your feet.
"A moon shot."
"A leading-edge thinker."
I am no pom-pom waver for Kilkenny, who unnecessarily killed the Oregon wrestling program, but it's not up for debate whether he's a sharp guy. He is.
And how he chose to describe Kelly here should indicate that he's seeing critical head coaching qualities in Kelly. Or believes he sees them.
Kelly, 45, without question, is one of the sharpest offensive minds in the country. His spread-option at Oregon has been a thing of beauty.
That offense has established 24 school records, including scoring, rushing yards and total offense, over the two seasons since Kelly bolted New Hampshire for Eugene. The Ducks have scored 50 or more points in 10 games since he arrived.
Kelly knows his Xs and Os. That made him a hot head coaching candidate that Kilkenny and company didn't want to lose.
But being a great head coach isn't about Xs and Os.
It's about managing a program. It's about leading and motivating -- not to mention choosing -- staff and players.
It's about commanding a locker room. It's about connecting with young men. And scaring the hell out of them with one cross glance.
It's about authority. It's about making decisions. It's about building unbreakable loyalty and trust within a program.
Kilkenny was telling Oregon fans that Kelly isn't just a big-brained football nerd -- a "mad scientist" or a "leading-edge thinker."
He's telling them that the locker room will hush when Kelly walks in. He's telling them that players will think twice about cutting class or hitting the town because they'll be convinced that the moment they do, Kelly will know and then, well, things will get real uncomfortable.
It's fair to wonder, however, if Kelly is ready. He's only been a BCS conference coach two seasons.
Even if he is "a moon shot," it's inevitable that lack of experience will lead to mistakes.
You've got to learn by doing, and we all know we learn the most from mistakes, so Duck fans need to be prepared for fits and starts and a moment or two when it's impossible not to slap your forehead.
Still, some of the best coaching hires of the past 10 years were guys with no head coaching experience: Bob Stoops, Jeff Tedford, Chris Petersen and Kyle Whittingham come immediately to mind.
Of course, there also have been plenty of coordinators who failed after getting promoted.
It's impossible to tell for sure if Kelly is the next Stoops or if he's closer to Tom Holmoe or Mike DuBose.
But it's clear he's got the mind for the job.
And Kilkenny believes he's got the leadership skills for it.
Oh, and it's worthwhile noting that Kilkenny figures to be risk-averse. Know how he made his millions?