NCF Nation: Tommy Tuberville

American spring preview

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5
Another year, another set of fresh faces.

And, of course, new challenges, as well.

This is life now in the American Athletic Conference, which won’t complete its makeover complete until next season, when Navy joins the fold as a football-only member.

For now, it watches two others walk out the door while welcoming three new programs into the fold.

Goodbye, Louisville and Rutgers. Hello, East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa.

And, if last season is any indication, the newcomers may not be second-class citizens upon their arrivals.

"There's enough talent around the country that creates a little bit more parity than people are talking about now," said East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeil. "I know they're trying to talk about these conferences and those conferences. Well, I've been to those conferences, and there's good football players in each league. And I feel we're ready to compete with anyone. I'm not afraid to say that, and I know other coaches in the league are not, either."

That became evident through UCF's historic campaign in the remodeled league's debut last season, with the Knights going 12-1 and topping Baylor in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. These, of course, were the same Knights that lost twice to Tulsa a year earlier, and the Golden Hurricane now enter the American coming off a disappointing 3-9 season last fall.

That is all encouraging from one perspective. But the optimist's approach shows a similar surprising run could be on the horizon in 2014.

"East Carolina is going to have a huge advantage in our conference. I think they're going to be the next guys, to be honest, similar to UCF," said conference commissioner Mike Aresco.

"Everything's in place: They've got a Heisman candidate, they've got just some tremendous players and I think they're going to make a mark quickly because they've never had this kind of TV exposure. They've got a 50,000-seat stadium and they fill it up all the time. Their quarterback Shane Carden I think will be a Heisman candidate. I think they're the kind of team that will really benefit."

Among the old guard, UConn made a major move by hiring prized Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco to head its program. Cincinnati has another year under Tommy Tuberville and could possibly start the most talked about quarterback to never take a college snap in Gunner Kiel.

The American begins life in the post-BCS era with no automatic entry to access bowls. It is a member of a group of five conferences from within which the top overall team will be granted a berth at the adults' postseason table.

It's not exactly ideal, but after enduring a year of turmoil and coming out on the other end with a BCS win and several probable high draft picks to its name, the league enters its next phase with a much more positive outlook.

The Belk Bowl unfolded quickly as North Carolina jumped out to an early lead over Cincinnati and never looked back Saturday, running away with a 39-17 win. Here's how it all happened:

It was over when: Can a game be over almost as soon as it begins? North Carolina started off as strong as conceivably possible, scoring the game's first touchdown on a 2-yard run from Romar Morris with 5 minutes, 40 seconds left in the first quarter. Just three minutes later, the Tar Heels delivered what proved to be a debilitating series of jabs as Kareem Martin got the sack-safety and T.J. Logan followed that up by taking the ensuing kickoff 78 yards for a score, resulting in a 9-point swing. Cincinnati showed some life in the second half, but the 16-point deficit was ultimately too much to overcome.

Game ball goes to: Even without Blake Anderson calling plays, North Carolina didn't miss a beat. Marquise Williams executed the offense in perfect tandem with head coach Larry Fedora, who subbed in while his former offensive coordinator was off starting his own head-coaching career at Arkansas State. Williams, a talented sophomore, spread the ball around in the air, completing passes to seven different receivers while rushing for 46 yards. He finished the game with 171 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions on 19-of-33 passing.

Unsung hero: Make no mistake, North Carolina won the Belk Bowl in the trenches. A tip of the cap should go to both the offensive and defensive lines. The Tar Heels wouldn't have jumped out to such a big lead without the defense providing four sacks and three three-and-outs in the first half. Cincinnati's line entered the game having allowed 12 sacks all season, but UNC wound up with five on the day. UNC's offensive line, meanwhile, allowed for a balanced offensive attack, with 171 yards through the air and 174 yards on the ground.

Stat of the game: North Carolina got the monkey off its back by finally not rejecting some good old-fashioned home cooking. The Tar Heels won a bowl game in their home state for the first time after losing the three previous bowl games they played in Charlotte. Ryan Switzer, meanwhile, managed to tie an NCAA record by returning his fifth punt for a touchdown this season. Where many would have called for a fair catch in the third quarter against the Bearcats, Switzer hung in, caught the ball with a number of defenders in the vicinity and weaved upfield 85 yards for the score.

What North Carolina learned: Fedora taught his Tar Heels that it's not how you start but how you finish. Ending the season with six wins in seven games was impressive. Getting above .500 after starting off the year 1-5 was incredible. The hope for North Carolina is that the momentum coming out of the Belk Bowl will carry over into next season and such a furious surge won't be necessary to reach the postseason again. With Williams, freshman tailback Logan, freshman receiver Switzer and sophomore receivers T.J. Thorpe and Quinshad Davis all returning to Chapel Hill, the future is bright.

What Cincinnati learned: The Bearcats, on the other hand, end the season on a sour note. The momentum of winning six straight games late in the year was almost entirely wiped out after losing in overtime against Louisville on Dec. 5 and then getting blown out by North Carolina on Saturday. Next season will be tough for head coach Tommy Tuberville, as he will be without senior quarterback Brendon Kay and the quarterback of the defense in senior linebacker Greg Blair. But with the much-traveled redshirt freshman transfer quarterback Gunner Kiel entering the fold, there's reason for optimism. The former No. 3-ranked quarterback in the 2012 class has all the tools to do well in the Bearcats' spread offense.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Belk Bowl, click here.
Whenever Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater takes the field, it is tempting to say he is the player to watch -- -- almost by default.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Smith
Jim Owens/Icon SMILouisville's Marcus Smith leads the nation with 12.5 sacks.
But that may not be the case Thursday night in Cincinnati, when the No. 19 Cardinals take on the cross-state rival Bearcats in the final scheduled meeting between the two. The game could very well rest on both defenses, the top two groups in the American Athletic Conference and among the best units in the entire nation.

Louisville and Cincinnati rank in the top 10 in the nation in rush defense, total defense and scoring defense. The Cards lead the nation with 38 sacks, six more than Cincinnati (which ranks No. 16). Their ability to get after the quarterback starts with defensive end Marcus Smith, who is putting up an All-America-type season.

Smith leads the nation in sacks with 12.5, the most at the school since Elvis Dumervil had 20 in 2005. Teammate Lorenzo Mauldin has 9.5 sacks, making them the top sack duo in the entire nation. To understand how far both have come, just take a look back at where they were when they arrived at Louisville.

Mauldin was a project, a player who had severe trust issues after spending his childhood in and out of foster homes. At first, he was only used in obvious passing downs. But now, he has developed into a dependable every down player.

Smith entered as a 217-pound quarterback before moving to linebacker and then defensive end. But the transition was not easy for him to make.

“I had a confidence issue,” Smith said in a recent phone interview. “Even though the coaches told me, ‘You can be this; you can be that,’ I didn’t believe it within myself. It took maybe a year into it for me to realize how good I could be so I just took the coaching and I got my craft together.”

Smith has gained 40 pounds since he arrived at Louisville and spent this past spring working on his speed. The results have followed. Before the season started, he made a goal to get to 10 sacks. Now that he has pushed past that, and with one game left in the regular season, he wants 15.

All this brings up an interesting question. How he transform himself from a quarterback to a punishing defensive end?

“It’s hard to explain,” Smith said. “All you can do is listen to your coaches. I never would have thought I’d be playing defensive end. I asked my dad what should I do because I wasn’t getting any action at quarterback, and they asked me to play on defense because they felt I could help the team out. I wanted to help the team.

“I love going against the quarterback now. I know quarterback tendencies, so I help out our defensive linemen who haven’t been on that side of the ball and let them know what’s going on. I have a better feel for it.”

He’s grown up, and up he understands the type of football team and players around him. He’s fun to watch on film, but I’m not going to have fun watching him Thursday. He’s a complete player, and he’s going to make a name for himself one day.

--Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville, on Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater

Cincinnati, meanwhile, went through some growing pains early in the season as the Bearcats made the transition to a new scheme under coach Tommy Tuberville. But Tuberville says his group has played much more consistently in the second half of the season as his players have gotten more comfortable with what they are being asked to do. More importantly, the Bearcats have been able to build depth.

They can go two-deep on the defensive line, linebacker and in the secondary, relying on younger players who have improved with each passing week.

Still, the challenge Thursday may be bigger for the Cincinnati defense, which has to try and shut down Bridgewater, who is putting up another terrific season outside the national spotlight.

“He’s grown up, and up he understands the type of football team and players around him,” Tuberville said in a recent phone interview. “He’s fun to watch on film, but I’m not going to have fun watching him Thursday. He’s a complete player, and he’s going to make a name for himself one day.”

The stakes are high in this game, the battle for the Keg of Nails. Cincinnati will hand out replicas of the trophy to the first 5,000 fans coming to the game at sold out Nippert Stadium, where the Bearcats are undefeated this season.

They also hold out slim hope for a BCS berth. The Bearcats would need to win, have UCF lose to SMU on Saturday and then finished as the highest ranked BCS team when the final standings are released on Sunday.

“We know we’ve dug ourselves a hole, but this is a rivalry game. You want to have bragging rights,” Tuberville said. “This I about the Keg of Nails.”

AUBURN, Ala. -- All Corey Grant ever wanted was a shot.

He grew up in Auburn's backyard, but the four-star running back committed to cross-state rival Alabama in the Class of 2010 based on a pitch the Crimson Tide staff gave him, promising to open the offense and utilize his blazing speed. Had he stayed home and signed with the Tigers, he would've been a part of the 2010 BCS National Championship team.

Not to worry, Grant surely would get a ring while at Alabama, right?

Wrong. The role he thought he was going to play in Tuscaloosa never panned out, and he transferred to Auburn after his freshman season. He was back home, but he had to watch his former team win back-to-back national championships.

The state of Alabama has claimed the past four crystal balls, and Grant doesn't have a ring to show for it. But none of that matters.

"I'd rather play than sit on the bench and get rings," Grant, now a junior, said.

[+] EnlargeCorey Grant
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesCorey Grant finally is playing, which means more to him than winning rings while on the sideline.
That's how he always has been.

Grant grew up around football. His father, Ike Grant, was a football coach for 33 years and would take his son with him to work as soon as Corey was old enough to walk. Corey would cut the grass. He would watch film. He would hang out in the weight room with the players. He was always working, always around football.

"Corey didn't have no other choice than to be the kind of kid that he is, simply because I was a football coach and no stranger to hard work," said Ike, the 10th child of 14.

More than anything else, Ike wanted his son to be a good person, but he could see at an early age that Corey was going to be a special athlete. When Corey started walking, it wasn't long before he was running around the house. In pee-wee football, they would toss him the ball and Corey would outrun everybody.

It continued into high school, where he emerged as one of the top prospects in the state.

"Corey had a tremendous junior year," Opelika coach Brian Blackmon said. "Corey had a really big upside. He played a little bit at a bunch of different positions as a sophomore for us. His junior year, though, he had an incredible year. A lot of big plays."

Stanford was the first to offer Corey a scholarship. Auburn was the first SEC school to offer back when Tommy Tuberville was still the head coach. He had double-digit offers but chose Alabama over both Auburn and Florida, which was also in the mix.

But Corey never found a fit while he was in Tuscaloosa.

"He went to Alabama, but we could tell during preseason that he wasn't really happy," his father said. "He wasn't really sure. Midway through the season, we really knew it, because when he'd come home, he would kind of indicate that, and he would always regret going back."

Corey stuck it out through the next spring, but when freshman running back Dee Hart arrived in January and passed him on the depth chart, the writing was on the wall. It was time to move on.

There was just one problem. Nick Saban wouldn't release Corey's scholarship if he chose to play for another SEC school. The Alabama coach knew the caliber of athlete he had and didn't want to have to compete against him for the next two or three years.

That left Corey with very few options. Ultimately, he wanted to come home and play for Auburn. But to do that, he was forced to walk on to the program and live at home for the first year. He would wake up at 4 a.m. and drive to the football complex every morning for practice. It wasn't easy, but it was the only way.

"I think Corey was just happy to be home," Blackmon said. "Corey's a very driven kid. He had to go back and earn it all over again. He went from a four-star, highly recruited kid to a walk-on, having to earn it again."

Corey won multiple team awards the year he walked on and eventually earned a scholarship. But when former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn left for Arkansas State, Corey's opportunity to play left with him. The local kid was working hard and doing everything the right way, but his opportunity never came.

"He's had a hard road, simply because when he got to Auburn, he had to sit down, because Coach Saban wouldn't release him," Ike said. "Then the next year, he stood on the sideline and nobody gave him an opportunity.

"All the coaches would say he's a great kid, he's a great athlete, he's a hard worker, he does what he's supposed to, but he never got that opportunity. He's had a struggle with that."

Flash forward to this season. Malzahn returned to Auburn as head coach, and, in turn, Corey has become an integral part of the rushing attack. He's one of four Tigers with more than 500 yards rushing, and he leads the SEC in yards per carry (9.9) with a minimum of 50 attempts. He had 53 yards and a touchdown on just six carries last week against Georgia.

"He's one of the faster guys probably in college football," Malzahn said. "He's been a speed guy, but he's gotten a lot better at running in between the tackles and doing the things that a normal running back does. He's an outstanding player and an even better person."

It would have been easy to stay at Alabama. He might never have seen the field, but he'd have been part of two national championship teams. Some of his teammates knew they were never going to play but stayed anyway for the shot at getting a ring.

But that's not Corey. His father once asked him about the rings, to which he responded, "Daddy, it don't make no difference if you're not happy."

Corey's finally happy, and he'll get his shot against his former team this Saturday in the Iron Bowl. If Auburn wins, he might even get a chance to play for a ring.

Cincinnati Bearcats season preview

August, 23, 2013
Cincinnati Bearcats

Coach: Tommy Tuberville (130-77 overall, first season at Cincinnati)

2012 record: 10-3

Key losses: RB George Winn, TE Travis Kelce

Key returnees: LB Greg Blair, QB Brendon Kay, OT Eric Lefeld

Newcomer to watch: K Tony Milano

Biggest games in 2013: at Rutgers (Nov. 16), vs. Louisville (Dec. 5)

[+] EnlargeTommy Tuberville
AP Photo/Al BehrmanOne of Tommy Tuberville's challenges will be deciding how to use senior quarterbacks Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The Bearcats have the luxury of two successful senior quarterbacks, but figuring out how to use them could be tricky for Tuberville in his first season at Cincinnati. Tuberville said Kay is the starter after he went 4-1 in the last five games and led Cincy to a win over Duke in the Belk Bowl. But Kay and Munchie Legaux will split time, at least initially. Is Tuberville embracing South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier’s signature two-quarterback system, or will he stick with the quarterback who separates himself early in the season?

Forecast: Cincinnati has won four conference championships in the last five years, and the inaugural American Athletic season will be a two-horse race between the Bearcats and Louisville. The Cardinals are the AAC favorites, but Cincinnati stole two first-place votes from them and were picked to finish second. The two likely will play for the conference championship on Dec. 5, the last game of the regular season for both teams. Last year’s Keg of Nails went to overtime when Cincinnati rallied with a minute left in regulation, but the Cardinals escaped with the win. To be in contention at the end of the season, the Bearcats will need to take care of a critical conference matchup at Rutgers on Nov. 16.

Cincinnati will miss Kelce, a third-round NFL draft pick this past April, on offense, but Kay and Legaux are experienced passers with an offensive line that boasts two All-Big East first-team selections in Lefeld and Austen Bujnoch. Ralph David Abernathy got 366 rushing yards on 69 carries behind Winn last season, but he shined on kickoff returns. He’ll be the No. 1 option at running back this season.

Blair will be an All-America contender this season, leading the team in tackles last season. The Bearcats will miss Dan Giordano as a pass-rusher, but defensive tackle Mitch Meador and nose tackle Jordan Stepp return to the interior defensive line.

Having coached in the SEC and Big-12, Tuberville is used to high expectations placed on his team, and with veteran players at key positions, Cincinnati looks poised to deliver on those.

“Cincinnati has been one of the bright spots in college football for the past six or seven years, four times winning 10 games,” Tuberville said. “That doesn't happen very often. … And so being at Cincinnati for me, I'm excited to try to keep it going and improve it.”
1. The American Athletic Conference has taken a lot of heat since its inception. The league is losing its automatic-qualifier status after this season. But the one thing the American has is good, veteran coaches. Four of the league's coaches -- June Jones of SMU, George O’Leary of UCF, Paul Pasqualoni of Connecticut and Tommy Tuberville of Cincinnati – have won at least 100 games. Only the SEC has more with five, and that’s actually a lower percentage (5-of-14, 35.7 percent) than the American (4-of-10, 40 percent).

2. The rise of freshman walk-on quarterback Baker Mayfield at Texas Tech brings to mind two points. One, Mayfield played high school football at Austin's Lake Travis High, as sophisticated a prep program as there is anywhere. That explains his maturity. Two, when a new coach comes in with new systems, the depth chart becomes wide open. Mayfield has gotten a closer look because sophomore Michael Brewer is day-to-day with a back injury.

3. At first glance, the announcements in the last few days that bowl games are starting next season in the Bahamas, Boca Raton, Fla., and Montgomery, Ala., make no sense. There are 35 bowls this season, and 6-6 teams are needed to fill them. However, in the next couple of years, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Old Dominion, and Charlotte are moving up to FBS, increasing the membership to 129. More teams? More bowls.

Being forced out in the SEC

August, 16, 2013
Head coaches are hired to be fired in the SEC. OK, not really, but it sure seems that way.

The league will have four new head coaches this season, and only six of the 14 coaches have been in their current jobs longer than two seasons.

The leash is shorter than ever. Consider this: Georgia's Mark Richt is the dean of SEC coaches at the same school. He's entering his 13th season in Athens. Dating back to when Richt was hired at Georgia in 2001, there have been 43 different head coaches at the other 13 SEC schools, which includes Missouri and Texas A&M.

The reality is that you're always on the hot seat if you're coaching college football in this day and age. But we've also seen that making a change, especially when it's a longer-tenured coach, doesn't always guarantee success.

Look at what happened at Texas A&M after R.C. Slocum was forced out, and look at what's happened at Tennessee following Phillip Fulmer's ouster. By the same token, when Auburn and Tommy Tuberville parted ways in 2008 after 10 years together, the Tigers won the national championship two years later under Gene Chizik. But then two years after that, Chizik was gone following a 3-9 season, Auburn's worst in 60 years.

Here's a closer look:
Coach on the bubble: Gary Pinkel, Missouri

SEC precedents: Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee and R.C. Slocum, Texas A&M.

Phillip Fulmer, 152-52-1 at Tennessee

[+] EnlargePhillip Fulmer
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesAfter Philip Fulmer was fired Tennessee hasn't won more than seven games a season.
Prior to his arrival: Fulmer was promoted from offensive coordinator after veteran head coach Johnny Majors was forced out toward the end of the 1992 season. Fulmer took over a program that had won SEC championships in 1989 and 1990 and played in the Fiesta Bowl in 1991. But after a promising start to the 1992 season that included wins over Georgia and Florida with Fulmer serving as interim head coach, the Vols lost three straight when Majors suddenly returned to work after missing the first part of the season while recuperating from heart surgery. To this day, Majors and Fulmer don't speak, and Majors holds Fulmer responsible for being part of the group that Majors says conspired to push him out after 16 seasons at his alma mater. It's a charge that Fulmer adamantly denies.

Why he was fired: Fulmer led Tennessee to its first national championship in nearly 50 years in 1998, and from 1995-98, the Vols went 45-5 and won two SEC titles and a national title. He won 10 or more games in nine of his 16 seasons, and Tennessee made five SEC championship game appearances in his last 12 seasons. But the program dipped toward the end of Fulmer's tenure with a pair of losing seasons in 2005 and 2008. The Vols also lost badly to rivals Alabama and Florida in each of Fulmer's final two seasons and dropped 14 of their last 20 games to nationally ranked foes. With much of the Tennessee fan base growing increasingly restless, the final blow for Fulmer was a 29-9 loss to Alabama in 2008. Tide fans all but took over Neyland Stadium that night, and the only thing left at the end of the game was a sea of crimson.

The aftermath: The Vols haven't won more than seven games in a season since Fulmer's ouster and have suffered through three straight losing seasons for the first time since 1909-11. They've lost 14 of their last 16 SEC games, and Butch Jones is Tennessee's fourth head coach in the last six years. Some fans have pinned the blame on Fulmer for leaving the cupboard bare and his last couple of recruiting classes not panning out. Others point to Lane Kiffin's tumultuous 14-month reign as what triggered the downfall of the program. Kiffin's highly ranked 2009 signing class turned out to be a dud, and he bolted for USC just weeks before signing day in 2010. The bottom line is that Tennessee has endured one of its worst stretches of football in school history after firing a coach who was inducted last year into the College Football Hall of Fame and won 98 SEC games. The only coaches who've won more are Bear Bryant, Steve Spurrier, John Vaught and Vince Dooley.

R.C. Slocum, 123-47-2 at Texas A&M

Prior to his arrival: Texas A&M was rolling along as a Southwest Conference power under Jackie Sherrill, who guided the Aggies to three straight league titles from 1985-87. But NCAA problems caught up with the Aggies, and they were placed on probation for recruiting violations. Sherrill resigned under pressure following the 1988 season, and Slocum was promoted from defensive coordinator to be Texas A&M's new head coach.

Why he was fired: Slocum was Texas A&M's head coach for 14 seasons from 1989-2002 and won three Southwest Conference championships and one Big 12 championship. He won nine or more games eight times and had four straight seasons of 10 or more wins from 1991-94. The Aggies finished in the Top 25 of the final polls 10 of his 14 seasons. But in Slocum's last four seasons, he never won more than eight games and dipped to 6-6 in his final season. Even then, he never had a losing record overall, and his only losing record in league play came that final season in 2002 when the Aggies finished 3-5 in the Big 12. Slocum was 7-7 against rival Texas, but lost his last three to the Longhorns. The final loss to Texas was a 50-20 blowout. As fate would have it, Slocum promoted Kevin Sumlin to offensive coordinator during the middle of his final season, and Texas A&M beat then-No. 1 Oklahoma with a true freshman quarterback. But after Slocum was fired, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops snatched up Sumlin, who was instrumental in recruiting Adrian Peterson to Oklahoma after Peterson had also shown heavy interest in Texas A&M.

The aftermath: Until last season, when Sumlin returned to Texas A&M as head coach, the Aggies had struggled mightily to match the success they enjoyed under Slocum, who was inducted last year into the College Football Hall of Fame. Since Slocum's departure in 2002, Texas A&M has won more than seven games in a season only three times, and one of those came last season when Sumlin guided the Aggies to an 11-2 finish. They also haven't won a conference championship since Slocum was shown the door 11 years ago. Texas A&M was just 3-6 against Texas under the two coaches who followed Slocum -- Dennis Franchione and Mike Sherman. Last season marked only the second Top 25 finish by the Aggies in the final polls since Slocum was forced out. Also, until last year, the Aggies had lost 29 of their last 36 games against nationally ranked opponents post-Slocum, who remains Texas A&M's all-time winningest coach.
We'll soon have the American Athletic Conference media days. Here's some info to get you started:

When: July 29-30

Where: Newport, R.I.

Big names in attendance: QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville; QB Garrett Gilbert, SMU; WR Brandon Coleman, Rutgers; LB Greg Blair, Cincinnati; LB Yawin Smallwood, UConn; S Hakeem Smith, Louisville; QB Gary Nova, Rutgers.

Five storylines/things to watch:

1. Name tags might be mandatory. The American will have 10 football-playing schools this season: UCF, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, Louisville, Memphis, Rutgers, SMU, USF and Temple. Louisville (leaving for the ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten), two of six holdovers from the former Big East, depart the league after the season. East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa jump to the American from Conference USA in 2014.

2. Can Louisville win the league and crash the BCS championship game in its last season in the league? After going 11-2 and trouncing Florida 33-23 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl last season, the Cardinals bring back 14 starters, including a Heisman Trophy nominee in Bridgewater. Can anybody in the league challenge the Cardinals this season?

3. Is that really Tommy Tuberville coaching at Cincinnati? The former Auburn coach never seemed like a good fit at Texas Tech, where he went 20-17 in three seasons. Former Cincinnati coach Butch Jones, now at Tennessee, guided the Bearcats to back-to-back 10-win seasons, so Tuberville inherits another pressure-packed situation.

4. Along with Tuberville, there will be two other new faces on the sideline: USF’s Willie Taggart (formerly of Western Kentucky), and Temple’s Matt Rhule (a former Owls assistant).

5. The American became a landing spot for plenty of high-profile transfers. Former Notre Dame defensive end Aaron Lynch is eligible after sitting out last season at USF, where he’ll be joined by former Penn State quarterback Steven Bench, who is eligible to play immediately. Former FSU linebacker Jeff Luc landed at Cincinnati, and Louisville added former Florida tight end Gerald Christian and receiver Robert Clark.

Future American Power Rankings

June, 21, 2013
You've seen the college football future power rankings. Let's take that to another level here, using the eye test to look at how this conference is set up in the years to come.

1) Cincinnati. With at least a share of four of the past five conference titles, and with a proven coach in Tommy Tuberville aboard, the Bearcats are the class of the conference.

2) UCF. The most ready-made of the conference newcomers this fall, the Knights have the ideal talent, recruiting tools and coaching to compete for the conference crown year-in and year-out moving forward.

3) USF. Like rival UCF, USF is ideally located to land top talent. The Bulls have had that talent in recent years, but the hope is that new coach Willie Taggart can make the most of it and thrive back on the recruiting trail in Tampa, Fla.

4) Tulsa. Three straight eight-plus win seasons show that this program is on the rise, as the Golden Hurricane, much like UCF, look ready to compete with the league's elite upon their arrival.

5) UConn. The last of the "old guard" of the old Big East is in need of a turnaround following consecutive 5-7 seasons under Paul Pasqualoni. A Fiesta Bowl appearance in 2010 and five draft picks this past April show that there is potential here.

6) SMU. June Jones and Hal Mumme together will be a fascinating experiment to watch this year. But with their history and an always-strong nonconference slate, the Mustangs can put themselves in position to be a conference contender only if the breaks fall their way.

7) Navy. The Midshipmen won't be aboard until 2015. But eight-plus wins in nine of the past 10 seasons against a solid independent schedule suggests the triple-option can give its new conference brethren problems upon its arrival in two years.

8) Houston. Kevin Sumlin had a great run in 2011. Tony Levine still has some work to do, especially on the defensive side of the ball, after a down season in 2012. But landing big-name receivers like Deontay Greenberry and Markeith Ambles shows that there is promise for the Cougars moving forward.

9) Temple. The Owls started off 2-0 in the Big East last season, but then received a rude awakening. New coach Matt Rhule seems perfect for the role, but the cupboard is bare as he tries to turn things around in Year 1.

10) East Carolina. The Pirates always face their share of tough nonconference opponents, but Ruffin McNeill seems to have the program trending upward after going bowling in two of his first three seasons.

11) Memphis. Justin Fuente won't let the Tigers get too high on themselves after a three-game winning streak to end last season. By opening up key spots -- including quarterback, where Jacob Karam returns -- he has shown that he is set on taking this program to another level as it enters a new conference and tries to put the Conference-USA era behind it. Still, Fuente faces an uphill battle.

12) Tulane. The Green Wave haven't won five games in a season since 2004. They have their work cut out for them, as they move up to a better version of the C-USA they have struggled in.
We're looking at first-year coaches across the country today, and the challenges ahead of the new guys in each league.

There's only one in the Big 12, but here's what I tab as the biggest challenge awaiting Kliff Kingsbury:

Expectations are the biggest hurdle for Kingsbury

It's not every day fans pile into the streets to celebrate a coaching hire, but when Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt posted a short video on Twitter of Kingsbury flashing a Guns Up to officially announce his new job, that's exactly what the Texas Tech faithful did.

Yeah, it was a celebration, but they were celebrating what was to come. A program legend was coming home, but he was bringing with him the promise that brighter days were to come. Mike Leach teams won at least nine games in four of his final five seasons. Tommy Tuberville never hit that mark in three seasons as the Red Raiders coach.

The fans' memories of and love for Kingsbury will give him a longer leash and more support than Tuberville received, but this is far from a rebuilding project. While Texas Tech struggled to a five-win season in 2011, the 2012 record was 8-5. Kingsbury was hired to take Texas Tech to the next level. He has a good roster, but not a roster that looks like a Big 12 title contender. He has to build through recruiting, but in 3-5 years, if Kingsbury hasn't carried the Red Raiders to a 10-win season or two, he's going to find the fan base restless. That's a tough task, and not one many coaches have to deal with. For a competitor like Kingsbury, it's surely a welcome challenge. But among Big 12 coaches, only Bob Stoops, Mike Gundy, Mack Brown and maybe Gary Patterson face the pressure of living up to those kinds of expectations.
Three first-year coaches will open the season in the future American Athletic Conference. What are the biggest challenges they face?

Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati. The Bearcats have had more consistent success in this league over the past five seasons than any other program. So challenge No. 1 is maintaining their standing at the top of the league in Year 1. Many coaches have said maintaining a program is much more challenging than rebuilding a program. Tuberville certainly has the coaching background to ensure the Bearcats continue winning championships, but once again Cincinnati goes into the season without much national love. That brings us to challenge No. 2 -- taking down Louisville, its cross-state rival and the favorite to win the Big East. As for some of the on-field challenges, Cincinnati has to get adjusted to a slightly different offensive scheme while finding some playmakers at the skill positions. Figuring out a running back rotation is a top priority, along with developing a deep threat at receiver. Defensively, Cincinnati has to answer some questions up front and in the secondary.

Matt Rhule, Temple. Several challenges await Rhule. First and foremost, getting the Owls back to a bowl game after slipping to a losing record last season in Year 1 in the Big East. He may not have all of the pieces in place to get there in 2013, but Rhule has been a part of a winning Temple program and knows exactly what it takes to get things going in the right direction. There are some pieces in place but this is a young team without a lot of depth, particularly at the skill positions. The entire offensive scheme has been changed. Temple will now play more of a pro-style spread offense, so the Owls have made a change at quarterback. They have nobody proven at running back or receiver, so that is a major challenge heading into fall camp. Defensively, there are question marks in the secondary and depth has to be built up front. Temple also lost terrific punter/kicker Brandon McManus and special teams player of the year Matt Brown, so there are challenges all over the field for this team.

Willie Taggart, USF. Like Rhule, Taggart has to find a way to get the Bulls back into a bowl game. But the hard times have lasted a smidge longer in Tampa, where USF has now gone two straight seasons without making the postseason. There will be pressure on Taggart to deliver a long-anticipated league championship based on his track record and all the resources USF has to be able to bring in quality talent in the area. But there are challenges everywhere in Year 1. Right at the top of the list is the offense, which has major questions at every single position. There is no starting quarterback right now; the running backs did not show much in the spring and there is not much depth at the position. The offensive line had its share of problems last year and the receivers are unproven behind Andre Davis. Defensively, the secondary was abysmal last year and depth has to be built at linebacker. The nonconference schedule has two big challenges, too, in games at Michigan State and home to Miami. In addition, Taggart is working to change the culture around the program. He is trying to instill a different mindset and different demeanor, and to get players to believe in themselves again. That could be the biggest challenge of all.

100-day checklist: Big East

May, 21, 2013
We have officially reached the 100-day mark until the college football regular season kicks off. There is still plenty of business to tend to until then -- much of which is being discussed this week at the Big East's spring meetings in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. -- so here is a checklist of five things that the conference needs to accomplish between now and Aug. 29, when three league teams (UConn, Rutgers and UCF) will be among the 34 to start their 2013 campaigns before everyone else.

1. Release a new logo: The league will officially become known as the American Athletic Conference at the conclusion of the 2012-13 college sports season. A new logo is on the way, but is not expected to be revealed during this week's conference meetings, though we could see it in the next couple of weeks.

2. Get QB answers: Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, USF and Temple all exited the spring with open competition under center, though some seem to have a lot more clarity (Cincinnati, Houston, Temple) than others (Memphis, USF). For the other five teams, the summer is about continuing the growth of returning starters, all of whom took big steps this spring to build off their 2012 campaigns (particularly Rutgers' Gary Nova and UCF's Blake Bortles).

3. Find a true No. 2 to Louisville: No, the Cardinals have not already won the AAC in their final year in the conference before moving to the ACC. But the early Heisman Trophy and NFL draft hype surrounding quarterback Teddy Bridgewater -- coupled with preseason top-10 appearances in every major forecast, a favorable schedule and the overall brilliance of its athletic department this academic year -- has the hype at previously unforeseen levels on campus. Louisville still has 12 games to deal with once the first ball is kicked this fall, but it is the only team in the conference that, this far out, seems to have most of the answers it needs heading into the season. Who will make the biggest strides in the next 100 days to close that gap and emerge from the pack of relative unknowns in the league? This is, after all, the conference's last year with a guaranteed BCS bowl berth.

4. Make the rounds: Matt Rhule does not need to meet and greet all that many new people in the Philadelphia area since he was a longtime Temple assistant, but he is stepping into his first career head-coaching job. Willie Taggart has been a hit back in his home area of Tampa, Fla., but he is taking over a roster that has vastly underachieved the past two years, and he is entering recruiting battles with local rival and Big East newcomer UCF. Tommy Tuberville has had great success on the recruiting circuit so far at Cincinnati, but he has a big standard to live up to in following the footsteps of the school's past three head coaches. How will each new head coach in the conference further establish himself in the dog days of summer?

5. Houston must figure out several game locations: One of the more overlooked aspects of one of the conference newcomers this season is the Cougars' need to determine where they will play all of their home games. Four of them have been slated for Reliant Stadium, but the school's Oct. 12 game against Memphis and Nov. 23 tilt with Cincinnati still need locations. Rice Stadium and BBVA Compass Stadium are the options, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Delvon Simmons' road to Texas Tech was complicated, but his stay was short.

He's elected to transfer, according to multiple reports, leaving a void in the middle of Texas Tech's defensive line. Simmons won a starting job last season and made 27 tackles with six tackles for loss and two sacks.

Simmons, a 6-foot-5, 290-pounder from McKeesport, Pa., came to Texas Tech as a four-star recruit and the No. 3 player in his state. He signed with North Carolina originally, but never played. Tommy Tuberville's staff in Lubbock got Simmons to make the big move from Pennsylvania to West Texas in his 2011 recruiting class.

He would have been a junior this season and showed some promise, but can't seem to catch a break when it comes to coaching changes. He's got tons of talent, but wanted to leave UNC after his position coach took a job in the NFL. Now, another coaching change has him looking elsewhere.

It's not great timing for Texas Tech's defense, who won't find many others on the depth chart with Simmons' physical gifts. He didn't live up to the hype at Tech yet, but he definitely was on the right track. We'll see if he can reboot his career elsewhere.

Simmons, who has two years of eligibility left, will have to sit out the 2013 season if he goes to an FBS school. CBS reported reported Simmons planned to visit USC.
1. Penn State senior guard John Urschel, a grad student in mathematics, is teaching a trigonometry class this semester. “I get these printouts of kids that have to leave practice early because they have exams,” head coach Bill O’Brien said. “They color-code it. A freshman, it’s yellow. A sophomore, he’s red. If a kid’s a junior, it’s blue. Whatever. So Urschel is purple. ‘What is this color?’ I asked. He said, ‘He’s leaving practice because he’s giving the exam. He’s the professor!’” O’Brien laughed. “I’ve seen it all now.”

2. With the decision of former Notre Dame quarterback Gunner Kiel to transfer to Cincinnati, the head coach formerly known as the Riverboat Gambler is on a hot streak. Kiel is everything Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville could want. Big body (6-foot-4, 210), big arm, relatively local, and itching to prove himself. Plus, Tuberville has two seniors who can play while Kiel sits out this season. Credit UC quarterback coach Darin Hinshaw with making the sale. Credit Tuberville with making an early splash.

3. My colleague Ted Miller posted an interesting analysis of the Pac-12’s turnover margin over the past three seasons. USC is a cumulative plus-1 under head coach Lane Kiffin, who had a veteran quarterback (Matt Barkley) all three seasons. In Pete Carroll’s glory days, the Trojans dominated that statistic. They went plus-21 in 2005, the last Trojans team to reach the BCS championship game (has it been that long?). The three Rose Bowl teams that followed went a combined plus-13. USC doesn’t protect the ball like that anymore.
Tommy Tuberville closed out his first spring with Cincinnati on Wednesday morning. Shortly afterward, he made his biggest move as the Bearcats' new head coach.

Tuberville landed former Notre Dame star quarterback Gunner Kiel, a former four-star prospect who, yes, has raised several red flags despite never stepping foot in a college game yet.

He has gone from the Big Ten (Indiana) to the SEC (LSU) to Notre Dame, drawing the public ire of Les Miles and three different fan bases along the way.

But getting past the (hopefully) subsided drama, there is a reason Kiel drew so much attention in the first place.

He is good. At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Kiel was ESPN's No. 3 quarterback and No. 52 overall player out of the recruiting class of 2012.

That is quality. And not simply American Athletic Conference quality.

No player ranked higher than him committed to a school currently in the conference. In fact, outside of Rutgers' Darius Hamilton (No. 69 overall in 2012) and Louisville's James Quick (No. 79 overall in 2013), no one in the top-100 from either the 2012 or 2013 class committed to a current conference school. And Hamilton and Quick will be in the Big Ten and ACC, respectively, by the time Kiel is finally eligible to take the field for the Bearcats, in 2014.

"Cincinnati was the best fit for me because the relationship I have with [quarterbacks] coach [Darin] Hinshaw is like nothing else. He is a great overall person and is someone I know I can get coached by," Kiel told ESPN's Joe Schad on Wednesday. "The group of guys I'm going to be around is second to none. I love where they are heading and the future is bright."

The Columbus, Ind., native will be roughly 90 minutes from home at his new destination. And though Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux are slugging it out for the right to start this coming season, both will be gone by the time Kiel is eligible.

Cincinnati welcomed in three quarterback commits during this recruiting cycle, but it is unlikely that Tuberville would pursue such a high-profile transfer had he not envisioned big plans for him.

The coach's pro-style offense seemingly suits Kiel perfectly, and the success of recent Tuberville signal callers -- Texas Tech quarterbacks finished in the top-10 nationally in passing yards per game in each of Tuberville's three seasons there -- should serve as validation.

When Louisville and Rutgers announced that they were departing next year, Cincinnati looked like the class of remaining conference schools. Landing a high-profile prospect like Kiel only re-affirms that moving forward.