NCF Nation: Wes Brown
If Ron Burgundy coached college football -- the San Diego Border Terriers, perhaps? -- he would only need to learn two lines to survive spring practice.
1. "I like my team."
2. "I'm glad we don't have a game tomorrow."
There are reasons to believe the Big Ten will be better this fall, but the work is far from over on most campuses. This isn't a league of finished products, and the coming months take on added importance before the 2014 season kicks off in late August.
"I don't think we're that far behind; it's just painfully obvious that we're not there," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "This next phase will be the most important phase of this team's life. It's always important, but with a lot of things we've gone though, we've got to come together."
Northwestern went through a lot in the spring, mostly away from the field, as the campaign for a player union gained national media attention, especially after players were declared employees of the school in March. The team held a historic vote Friday, after Fitzgerald had expressed his opposition to unionizing. Some players expressed concern that the vote could split the team.
It will be months before we know if the union plan goes through, but the Wildcats continue preparing for a pivotal season. They found their quarterback this spring in senior Trevor Siemian and an offensive identity based around the passing game. But questions along both lines remain.
The spring also produced quarterback answers at Iowa (Jake Rudock) and Minnesota (Mitch Leidner). Michigan's Devin Gardner had a rough spring game but still seems likely to retain his job. Another senior signal-caller, Rutgers' Gary Nova, is a good bet to remain atop the depth chart. Although Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong lacks Nova's or Gardner's experience, he exited spring just as he entered it: as the Huskers' top quarterback.
Indiana's platoon system of Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson frustrates some, but not coach Kevin Wilson, who has given every indication that he'll continue to use both for another season.
Other quarterback races have been reduced but not resolved. Illinois will pick between Wes Lunt, the Oklahoma State transfer who impressed for much of the spring, and veteran backup Reilly O'Toole. Coach Tim Beckman wants a resolution before two-a-day practices in August.
Purdue's Danny Etling, who started the final seven games of his freshman season, appeared to have a slight lead coming out of the spring, but coach Darrell Hazell isn't ready to declare a starter. So Austin Appleby and David Blough remain alive.
Wisconsin reduced its candidate pool from four to two as Joel Stave, who boasts 19 career starts but also a nagging throwing shoulder injury, will compete with dual-threat Tanner McEvoy in camp.
"It will be a fight," coach Gary Andersen said.
Quarterback is just one spot where Wisconsin has questions. The Badgers went through much of the spring with only four healthy wide receivers. They've also revamped their defensive front seven, which returns only one starter from 2013.
"We only have about six defensive calls," safety Tyvis Powell said after the spring game. "We had too many last year."
Offensive line remains Michigan's focal point coming out of the spring. A sloppy spring game didn't ease fears about the Wolverines' front five, although coach Brady Hoke saw positive signs in earlier practices. A critical summer awaits new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, tasked with resurrecting Michigan's run game.
At Penn State, new coach James Franklin continues to energize both players and fans. But he's also realistic about the depth challenge his team faces, particularly along the offensive line.
"When you don't have a two-deep of scholarship players, you've got issues that you're going to have to overcome," Franklin said. "We don't."
Like Rutgers, Maryland began its Big Ten transition this spring and welcomed running back Wes Brown and wideout Marcus Leak after absences from the team. If the Terrapins finally stay healthy, they could be worth watching in a loaded East Division.
Sitting atop the division is defending Big Ten champ Michigan State. The Spartans had a relatively stress-free spring, but they must fill key spots on defense, especially at linebacker and cornerback, where players like Taiwan Jones and Darian Hicks step in.
The returning pieces for teams like Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin fuel optimism around the league. But in spring, optimism is always tempered by what lies ahead.
"We're improving," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Saturday, "but we're hardly ready to play."
They won't have to for 132 days.
Until then, stay classy, Big Ten fans.
He has experienced two 10-loss seasons (2009 and 2011) and two postseason games (the 2010 and 2013 Military Bowls).
Brown won't flinch.
"Just thinking about all the things, from defensive schemes to overtimes to weird calls to different situations, the momentum shifts and swings," Brown said. "You've been through it all when you've been around for five, going on six, years now."
Maryland should be optimistic about its offense entering the 2014 season. Explosive receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long return from leg injuries. Wide receiver Marcus Leak and running back Wes Brown both are back after spending a year away from the team. The Terps return five players with at least 450 receiving yards and all of their top ball carriers from 2013.
Perhaps most important is the calming veteran presence Brown provides at the quarterback spot.
"You know he's not going to get rattled," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. "He's going to be the mature guy and go up to guys and talk to them and get them going [to do] the right thing. It's very comforting for me to know we have that kind of guy with that kind of experience and that kind of makeup being the leader of our team."
Brown's extended stay in college football has reached many junctions. He came to Maryland to play for coach Ralph Friedgen and offensive coordinator James Franklin. When a broken collarbone ended his 2010 season in the opener, he watched as Danny O'Brien went on to ACC Rookie of the Year honors.
Then came Friedgen's surprise firing after an 8-4 regular season -- on the heels of Franklin's departure to Vanderbilt. Edsall arrived and Maryland went through a disastrous 2011 season, although Brown replaced the struggling O'Brien toward the end.
“Brown entered 2012 as the starting quarterback and a co-captain, but an ACL tear in August ended his season before it started. He made it through the 2013 season mostly in one piece -- he missed two games with a concussion suffered on a brutal hit against Florida State -- and recorded 2,242 passing yards, 576 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns (13 pass, 12 rush).
With what he's had to go through with all the injuries, that stuff makes you a lot more mature and makes you see and understand the big picture a little bit more.” -- Maryland coach Randy Edsall on C.J. Brown
"With what he’s had to go through with all the injuries, that stuff makes you a lot more mature and makes you see and understand the big picture a little bit more," Edsall said.
Added Brown: "It's been good to grow, to be able to put all that in the past and take a step forward."
Brown benefits from a resource few major-college quarterbacks enjoy: a dad who did the exact same thing. Clark Brown played quarterback at Michigan State in 1983-84.
C.J. was born in Michigan, and though the family moved to Cranberry Township, Pa., just north of Pittsburgh, C.J. remembers attending Michigan State games every few years.
"He's been a huge resource," C.J. said of his father. "He understood that I had coaches for a reason, and if they wanted his advice or I wanted his advice, I could go to him. He's been an open book, a great support system I could go to when I had questions or I was having a tough time.
"He's been through it, and he can definitely relate."
The scouting report on most college quarterbacks is set by Year 4 or Year 5, much less Year 6. But Brown could be a different player, leading a different Maryland offense this fall, if the injuries that have haunted the unit simply stay away.
Although Maryland flexed its muscles early last season, eclipsing 30 points in each of its first four games, the offense, in Brown's view, hasn't shown its full potential. Despite 1,162 career rush yards, Brown might not have to carry the ball as much this fall. Edsall, pleased with Brown's understated but effective leadership style, wants his quarterback to simply fine tune his game this spring.
"I see how much he's progressing with each practice we have," Edsall said. "He's doing things so much better now than even what he was doing last fall.
"That natural progression, I think he's going to be an outstanding quarterback in 2014."
A solid receiver? Plenty of places to look.
A game-changing running back? Well, let's just say this is not a position of strength for the ACC headed into 2013.
Both 1,000-yard rushers from a year ago are gone. So are five of the top 10 rushers in the league. Now factor in recent developments from the offseason:
- Virginia Tech back Michael Holmes was kicked out of school following his arrest after the spring game.
- Pitt Rushel Shell decided to transfer, to hated rival West Virginia no less.
- Maryland back Wes Brown has been suspended for the season after an offseason arrest.
- Wake Forest leading rusher Josh Harris is not with the team while the Deacs wait for an answer from the NCAA on his eligibility.
- NC State running back Shadrach Thornton was suspended one game after being charged with misdemeanor assault on a female following a June 6 arrest.
So let us take stock of who remains. Essentially, the ACC has one big-time headliner in Duke Johnson at Miami, and several teams with talent and depth.
Take Florida State. The Noles have a great duo in James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman. Syracuse has a 1,000-yard rusher returning in Jerome Smith, plus more depth than nearly everyone in the league. Duke has its top six rushers back from a year ago.
Still, the league overall has improving to do in this important category. In 2012, the ACC had the fewest 1,000-yard rushers of the five biggest conferences. It also only had two teams ranked in the Top 30 in rushing offense (Georgia Tech and Florida State), tied with the SEC for fewest among the top five conferences.
But here is the big distinction between the two. The SEC only had one team ranked in the bottom 30 in rushing offense last season: Arkansas. The ACC had a whopping six -- Virginia, Duke, NC State, Maryland, Wake Forest, Boston College -- the most among the power five.
Will fortunes improve this season? Let us take a look at one key statistic that could have some bearing. I broke down how many returning carries there are per team headed into 2013.
- Top returners: Jela Duncan, Josh Snead
- Percent carries returning: 87 percent
- What it means: Duke has perhaps the best opportunity of any team in the league to boost its rushing numbers this year, with its top six rushers back, a more mobile quarterback in Anthony Boone and four starters returning on the offensive line.
- Top returners: Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley
- Percent carries returning: 82 percent
- What it means: Syracuse has had a 1,000-yard rusher in five straight seasons, and has pretty terrific depth going into the season. It is a pretty safe bet the Orange will make it six straight 1,000-yard rushers.
- Top returners: Andre Williams, Dave Dudeck
- Percent carries returning: 75 percent
- What it means: Though the Eagles don’t have much in the way of depth, they do have experienced players returning in Williams and Dudeck. Given the way Steve Addazio likes to run the football, expect to see the Eagles much better than No. 115 in the nation in rushing.
- Top returners: Logan Thomas, J.C. Coleman
- Percent returning carries: 70 percent
- What it means: Even though this was a weak spot for the Hokies, they do return their top rushers even with Holmes gone. Thomas led the team in carries and rushing last season. Virginia Tech wants to change that this year.
- Top returners: Zach Laskey, David Sims
- Percent returning carries: 68 percent
- What it means: Tevin Washington and Orwin Smith take nearly all the missing carries (176), meaning the Jackets have plenty of experienced players and depth to fill all their running back spots. Shouldn’t be a drop-off here.
- Top returners: Shadrach Thornton, Tony Creecy
- Percent carries returning: 63 percent
- What it means: Once he returns from suspension, Thornton will carry the load with Creecy, the way they did last season. Given the emphasis Dave Doeren puts on the run in his offense -- Northern Illinois ranked No. 12 in rushing offense last season -- the Wolfpack should not be in the bottom 30 again.
- Top returners: Tajh Boyd, Rod McDowell
- Percent returning carries: 62 percent
- What it means: Interesting stat here, considering the Tigers lose 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington. He is one of the biggest losses this team has to replace on offense. Having Boyd run as much as he does certainly helps these numbers, but there’s no question Clemson has to find a way to replace Ellington’s production.
- Top returners: Duke Johnson, Eduardo Clements
- Percent returning carries: 59 percent
- What it means: Miami loses Mike James, but that just means Johnson moves into a starting role and will get more carries. If he continues the work he did last season, Johnson should be the leading rusher in the ACC this season.
- Top returner: Deandre Martin
- Percent returning carries: 57 percent
- What it means: Wake Forest is still waiting to see whether Harris will be eligible this season. There are serious concerns about this position right now, as coach Jim Grobe has said he still hasn’t seen anybody step up and prove they can be an every-down back.
- Top returners: A.J. Blue, Romar Morris
- Percent returning carries: 56 percent
- What it means: The prevailing storyline in Chapel Hill has centered around replacing Giovani Bernard, the other 1,000-yard rusher in the ACC last season. Blue and Morris combined for 151 carries a year ago, so there might not be as big a drop-off in total production as some might anticipate. Each averaged more than 5 yards per carry.
- Top returners: Brandon Ross, Albert Reid
- Percent returning carries: 48 percent
- What it means: The Terps lost significant carries from Brown (90) and Justus Pickett (69). I also did not count Shawn Petty’s 58 carries, because he went back to defense. Overall, Maryland feels good about Ross and Reid being able to carry the load, but questions still remain about whether this group can be consistent.
- Top returners: James Wilder Jr., Devonta Freeman
- Percent Returning carries:45 percent
- What it means: This one is the most misleading among all ACC teams, because the Noles do return two terrific talents and expect contributions from a third in Mario Pender. Those lost carries are from Lonnie Pryor and EJ Manuel, along with Chris Thompson (who was out for the second half of the season anyway). Florida State should continue to be an excellent running team.
- Top returners: Kevin Parks, Khalek Shepherd
- Percent carries returning: 44 percent
- What it means: UVa lost carries from Clifton Richardson, Perry Jones and Phillip Sims, but the Hoos believe they will be better running the ball this season -- especially if Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell is as good as advertised. He could be a breakout star.
- Top returners: Isaac Bennett, Malcolm Crockett
- Percent returning carries: 9 percent
- What it means: I thought this number would be low with Shell and Ray Graham gone. But this is actually worse than anticipated. Pitt has little in the way of experienced players or depth at running back, and we are talking about a team that relies heavily on the run.
"We support the University of Maryland’s decision,” Head Coach Randy Edsall said. “I have spoken with Wes. He accepts the sanctions and understands what is expected of him moving forward."
Brown was suspended indefinitely last month after he was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer. Earlier this week, prosecutors announced they would drop the charges against Brown because they believed he was resisting an unlawful arrest. A Baltimore Police spokesman told The Associated Press that Brown remained a suspect in a shooting in Baltimore in June. Brown's attorney maintains his client had no involvement in the shooting.
Brandon Ross and Albert Reid are expected to carry the load for the Terps this season.
A spokesman for the Prince George's County state attorney's office told The Associated Press that prosecutors decided to dismiss the case after reviewing the evidence before a scheduled preliminary hearing. After Brown was arrested for second-degree assault on an officer, misdemeanor theft and illegal use of wiretapping, he was suspended by the university.
A school spokesman said Tuesday morning that Brown remains suspended by the university.
For more on the story, click here.
The recent suspension of Wes Brown -- last year’s second-leading rusher -- doesn’t change that, as Brown didn’t participate this spring because he was recovering from two surgeries. It does weaken the overall group, but it won’t diminish Maryland’s chances of getting to a bowl game this year. It’s not clear how long Brown will be suspended, as the investigation is still ongoing, but Maryland is deep enough at the position that it could survive without its most talented back if need be.
Even if Brown weren’t suspended, odds are Brandon Ross and Albert Reid would have had a leg up on the competition because they were so impressive this spring, along with redshirt freshman Joe Riddle. In the spring game, both Ross and Reid ran for over 100 yards. Ross, who was praised by coach Randy Edsall this spring for his ability to run inside or outside, had 123 yards on 10 carries, while Reid had 138 yards on 23 carries in the spring game. Ross came on strong toward the end of the season, as he had at least 100 rushing yards in two of the final three games.
In early April, all three of the running backs scored in a scrimmage -- a sign of much-needed improvement. All three were listed as co-starters on the depth chart heading into summer camp, but if Ross picks up where he left off, he could steal the spotlight. Ross last year led the team in rushing with 390 yards and Reid had 92, as Maryland had one of the worst running games in the country.
Don’t forget, though, that the Terps were counting on a backup linebacker as their starting quarterback. If Maryland can actually pass the ball this year (and it should be able to, with the return of C.J. Brown), the Terps won’t have to be so predictable and one-dimensional. Last year, Maryland’s running game ranked No. 112 in the country at 103 yards per game.
While Brown’s suspension will hurt the team’s depth, it shouldn’t hurt Maryland’s chances of improving those numbers.
Heather provided her Pitt recap earlier this morning. Here is a quick look at the headlines from the other spring games across the league:
The Tigers suffered a big hit during their spring game last Saturday, when the team lost backup quarterback Chad Kelly to an apparent torn ACL. Kelly was in a heated competition with Cole Stoudt for the backup job, but it now appears he could be lost for the season. Coach Dabo Swinney said Kelly was hurt while making a cut at the end of a run. Starter Tajh Boyd was held out of the game so the Tigers could get a good look at Kelly and Stoudt. The backup last season, Stoudt set a Clemson spring game record with 304 yards passing and threw four touchdown passes, but his White team lost to the Orange team 34-26 in front of a spring-game record crowd of 30,000.
Sammy Watkins led all receivers with seven catches for 156 yards and two scores, while Grady Jarrett had three sacks. Vic Beasley had two sacks, giving him 10 sacks in four scrimmages.
Tight end Sam Cooper and tackle Kalon Davis also sustained knee injuries in the game, but they are not believed to be as serious.
Anthony Boone and Jamison Crowder were the stars of the spring game as the Blue Devils showed a glimpse of how good they can be on offense this season. Boone went 18-of-30 for 273 yards with two touchdown passes to Crowder, and two interceptions. Crowder finished with four catches for a team-high 71 yards as the Blue team beat the White 27-12.
Blue team end Britton Grier had two sacks and seven tackles, including three for loss. Lucas Fisher, Sam Marshall and Keilin Rayner each added sacks for the Blue team.
“I like where we’re headed,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “We’re building some depth. I think we can be a more energetic defense. The big thing is focusing on why we give up big plays, but trying to play defense, trying to force longer drives. It’s going to be interesting film to study. We got a lot out of this game.”
Coach Jimbo Fisher did not name a starting quarterback after the spring game, so the competition will go on into the offseason. But highly touted Jameis Winston sent jaws dropping with his standout performance, going 12-of-15 for 205 yards with two touchdown passes before leaving the game early to play in the Noles' baseball game against Duke.
"He came in there and he took advantage of opportunities," Fisher said. "That's what you got to do. You've got to go make plays and he's done a nice job of making plays. He took the opportunity to take the day with the stage he had and I thought he played pretty well for the most part."
Winston and Clint Trickett split time with the first team for most of the afternoon. Trickett was just 10-of-16 for 98 yards and an interception before switching to the second team, where he was 12-of-16 for 161 yards and a touchdown. Jacob Coker, also competing for the starting job, went 15-of-26 for 186 yards, a touchdown and two late interceptions.
Running backs Brandon Ross and Albert Reid took center stage, as both ran for over 100 yards in a 13-13 tie between the White and Red teams on Friday night.
Ross had 123 yards on 10 carries, while Reid had 138 yards on 23 carries in the game. Wes Brown, who missed the spring with a shoulder/ankle injury, is expected to be healthy in the fall so the competition at this position is going to be an intriguing storyline during the offseason.
"I limited what the defense could do. It was still good to see them," coach Randy Edsall said. "That is what we have seen out of Brandon and Albert all spring along with how they run. The one thing we have to be able to do is run the ball efficiently. When we do that it opens up the passing game. With the skill guys we have at wide receiver it will make us more productive and a chance to get big plays. They ran the way they have been running all spring.”
Stephen Morris threw for a game-high 256 yards and four first-half touchdowns to lead the Orange team to a 35-20 win over the White team. Meanwhile, ACC freshman of the year Duke Johnson led all rushers with 120 yards on 10 carries as the Hurricanes showed how explosive they can be on offense this season.
“We’re pretty dominant,” receiver Rashawn Scott told local reporters. “Everyone is communicating and … no one is frustrated. If we mess up, we all talk instead of yelling at each other.”
At halftime, the Canes handed out four Spring awards to Nantambu-Akil Fentress (305 walk-on award), Olsen Pierre (defensive most improved player), Danny Isidora (offensive most improved player) and Herb Waters (special teams most improved player).
Bryn Renner went 16-of-27 for 216 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Blue team to a 34-10 win over the White. The running back who took center stage in the game was not A.J. Blue or Romar Morris but true freshman Khris Francis, who ran 20 times for 101 yards to lead the White team. Blue had eight carries for 30 yards, and Morris had 15 carries for 80 yards to lead the Blue team as the Tar Heels work to replace Giovani Bernard. Blue added a 33-yard touchdown reception on a screen pass.
"I thought all three of our running backs played well," coach Larry Fedora said. "But Khris, for his first time out there in a game-type atmosphere, he did a good job. He hit some holes and exploded in them. One time I thought he got stood up. I said something to him and the next time he's got his shoulders down and he's running north-south. That's what he's got to do, so he did some nice things."
Defensively, end Kareem Martin had seven tackles, including four sacks. Travis Hughes added a team-high 14 tackles, including two sacks.
Going into the spring what’s your No. 1 priority?
RE: I want to get everybody to do their job, and to do their job to the best of their ability. Offensively, it’s to make sure that we’re going to take advantage of our playmakers and at least come out with eight offensive linemen we feel really good about and see how Ricardo (Young) can do handling all the snaps he’s going to get. Then defensively, for us to come out as a swarming, tough physical defense in terms of trying to find out who our best 11 are and then work to create a top 22.
You mentioned Ricardo, obviously taking the majority reps with C.J. Brown still limited. How do you approach building the chemistry you need on offense and getting everything done to prepare for the fall knowing you don’t have your starting quarterback?
So the backup job is wide open for competition with Ricardo, and then Caleb Rowe and Perry Hills when they come back?
RE: There’s no question.
In terms of the running back situation, I know Justus Pickett transferred, and Wes Brown is out with an injury. Do you have concerns over depth?
RE: Brandon Ross is going to be the guy who’s the No. 1 guy in the spring, and then Albert Reid, and Joe Riddle, and then we also have Kenny Goins. Kenny is a guy who can be a running back and/or a fullback. Wes had a shoulder done, then had ankle done from an old high school injury, so he’ll be ready to go come the fall. We’ll have four guys there, and then Kenny’s a guy that can carry the ball, too.
What will you work on this spring to try and get the run game going?
RE: That to me all starts up front with the offensive line and I really feel like going into the spring you’ve got Mike Madaras at left tackle, De’Onte Arnett at left guard, then you have Sal (Conaboy) and Evan Mulrooney at center, Andy Zeller at right guard, and Nick Klemm at right tackle. And Silvano Altamirano is a guard, and Ryan Doyle at tackle. My biggest thing is I want to find at least three tackles, three guards and we have two centers that have played. Now we have to get more consistent and do a better job up front. In terms of who we’ll have at quarterback, who we’ll have at running back, who we’ll have at wide receiver gives us some weapons from a skill position. Now we have to do is make sure we’re consistent up front, so that to me is the biggest thing offensively this spring is the offensive line and getting them to be more consistent with their assignments, more consistent with their technique and fundamentals and developing that cohesiveness with guys playing together and hopefully guys staying healthy.
You mentioned the skill position players you do have. At receiver, you’ve got this abundance of talent and depth. How do you see the competition playing out?
RE: Deon Long and then Amba Etta behind him right now. Amba showed us a lot last year and we redshirted him. There we’ve got to have tremendous competition and guys with the ability to make plays. Then on the other side, you’ve got Nigel King, who came on at the end of the year last year, made some plays against North Carolina, and then another freshman Malcolm Culmer, whom we redshirted and then you have Stefon (Diggs) as a slot guy. It gives you a lot of opportunities to get the ball in peoples’ hands who can make something happen after they catch it. Those are the things we have to do to make sure that we find guys who can make the plays on the ball and distribute that. We’ve got some weapons there. So if people want to load the box, you’ve got to make sure we can throw it and catch it, and if they want to worry about some of the receivers we have, then you’ve got to have the ability to run the football.
Is this the best group of talent and depth you’ve had at the skill positions?
RE: Yeah I think so. That’s where we have to get everybody to understand that yeah, they do have ability but they have to go out there and work hard each and every day. If they do that, we’ve got the ability to make a lot of things happen. We’ve got to get the people up front on the offensive line to be really tough, sound, good technicians and competing every play. If we do that, then because of the running backs and because of the receivers we have, that can make their job a little bit easier.
Defensively, you’re losing a lot of your leaders. Where are you looking for the leadership on that group?
RE: We played a lot of people on defense last year so it’s not like we’re going in with guys who haven’t played a whole bunch. But now guys like Dexter McDougle, Jeremiah Johnson, Cole Farrand, Darius Kilgo, Matt Robinson, who we’re going to make him an outside linebacker as opposed to a safety, and then Keith Bowers. Those are the guys that have to step up from a leadership standpoint. And then guys like Quinton Jefferson, who played last year as a true freshman. He has to be more productive for us this year and then Anthony Nixon is back, so it’s just a matter of other guys stepping up in those roles. The thing is, we’re going to be playing in the same scheme, so they’ll be better from that standpoint. They’ll be a year older more, a year more mature, a year stronger. But that’s the thing: who are going to be those leaders?
What’s the strongest part of the defense?
RE: The one thing I take a look at in terms of up front, I really think Darius Kilgo has a chance to take his game to another level. Quinton Jefferson, him and Justin Anderson fighting it out at the one end and then Keith Bowers and, Roman Braglio -- a young man with a tremendous motor that we redshirted last year. We’ve got to get one of the safety spots shored up, between Sean Davis and A.J. Hendy and then I think at the corner, Will Likely and Alvin Hill, you may see them because they have a lot of skill set. They can find a way to get on the field, whether as a nickel or dime package. I think the strength of defense is the athletic ability and the ability to be able to run. That’s something that’s going to help us.
The Coastal Division race is as clear as mud, with Miami, Duke, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech all still capable of winning the division title. Go ahead, rank those four teams on your own. See what you come up with. Good luck. Meanwhile, Florida State is in the driver's seat in the Atlantic Division. Here’s one version of the ACC power rankings for this week:
1. Florida State (9-1, 6-1 ACC; LW: No. 1) – The Seminoles came through in the clutch in a 28-22 win at Virginia Tech. FSU quarterback EJ Manuel orchestrated a last-minute scoring drive and the defense came up with a key interception on Logan Thomas’ final attempt at a comeback. All FSU needs to do is win at Maryland to clinch the Atlantic Division next week.
2. Clemson (9-1, 6-1 ACC; LW: No. 2) – There wasn’t much to be learned from Clemson’s 45-10 win over an injury-laden Maryland team. This game went as expected, with Maryland showing toughness, but not having nearly enough to hang with or stop Clemson’s talented offensive playmakers. The Tigers set a school record with their 12th straight home win.
3. Duke (6-4, 3-3; LW: No. 5) – The Blue Devils had this past Saturday off to prepare for their next opponent, Georgia Tech, but as North Carolina learned, it doesn’t always help. Duke’s defense has allowed at least 48 points in each of its past two losses to the ACC’s top two teams, FSU and Clemson. This will be Duke’s biggest game since 1994, as the program can win the Coastal Division with wins at Georgia Tech and against Miami.
4. Miami (5-5, 4-3; LW: No. 3) – The Hurricanes almost won on the road without three of their defensive starters, but they couldn’t stop UVa quarterback Michael Rocco on the final drive. Miami has one ACC game remaining -- at Duke -- but the Hurricanes could find themselves in a three-way Coastal tie with Georgia Tech and North Carolina.
5. Georgia Tech (5-5, 4-3; LW: No. 9) – The Jackets kept their Coastal Division hopes alive with a 68-50 win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill. It was the most points ever scored in an ACC game, and it was an impressive performance by Yellow Jackets quarterback Vad Lee. The defense will have to play better, though, this weekend against Duke.
6. North Carolina (6-4, 3-3; LW: No. 4) – You’d never know the Tar Heels had two weeks to prepare for Georgia Tech. The defense allowed 588 yards, seven rushing touchdowns and 28 first downs in the loss. Once again, UNC won’t be able to get past the eight-win mark, and even that’s not a guarantee with a Thursday night road trip to UVa looming.
7. Virginia (4-6, 2-4; LW: No. 11) – The Hoos are one of the hottest teams in the ACC right now, with back-to-back wins. Two more and they finish at .500 and become bowl-eligible despite a dismal start to the season. Quarterback Michael Rocco threw for four touchdowns and no picks in the win over Miami.
8. NC State (6-4, 3-3; LW: No. 4) – The Wolfpack bounced back from the loss to Virginia with a convincing 37-6 win over Wake Forest to become bowl-eligible. NC State should now have some confidence heading into Saturday’s game versus Clemson at Death Valley. It was a much more complete effort in all three phases of the game and one the team can be proud of.
9. Virginia Tech (4-6, 2-4; LW: No. 8) – It wasn’t for lack of effort. In fact, Virginia Tech’s defense played its best game of the season against Florida State, but the Hokies came up empty on two turnovers and weren’t able to capitalize on the Noles’ mistakes. Virginia Tech now has to win its final two games just to become bowl eligible, and that won’t be easy against a UVa rival trying to do the same.
10. Wake Forest (5-5, 3-5; LW: No. 6) – The Deacs were beaten soundly by NC State, particularly up front, where the Wolfpack’s defensive line got to quarterback Tanner Price repeatedly. Wake Forest is now in a tough spot with undefeated Notre Dame coming up, and Vanderbilt to end the season. The Deacs need to find one more win to go bowling.
11. Boston College (2-8, 1-5; LW: No. 12) – It was a respectable performance against Notre Dame, a typical, blue-collar, BC effort, but it simply wasn’t enough against a better team. BC’s running game was again stifled, and receiver Bobby Swigert was knocked out of the game with an injury. BC gets to stay home again for Virginia Tech before ending the season at NC State.
12. Maryland (4-6, 2-4; LW: No. 10) – The Terps are hurting, both literally and figuratively. They played hard against Clemson but had only 180 total yards. That number could decrease even more this weekend when Florida State comes to town if the Terps don’t get Stefon Diggs and Wes Brown back on the field.
The ACC Coastal Division is a mess, but it won the entertainment award for today's games. The Atlantic Division didn't quite deliver any must-see TV today. Here's a quick recap of the lopsided wins this afternoon:
NC STATE 37, WAKE FOREST 6
NC State finally became bowl eligible -- the only ACC team to join that club this week -- with its win over Wake Forest. The Wolfpack looked like a different team from the one that showed up (or rather, didn't) last week against Virginia. The Pack came to play, and the defense gave Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price fits all game. He was sacked five times, and was constantly throwing under pressure. It was a much better effort in all three phases of the game from NC State. Wake Forest was held to just 16 yards rushing, and was 2-of-17 on third downs. It was an important bounce-back win for NC State, which can still finish the season on a positive note. With a win over the Deacs, Tom O'Brien took another important step in solidifying his job security. An upset at Clemson next week would likely leave no doubt he'd return, but NC State should still have some momentum heading into the postseason as the Pack closes out with BC. Wake Forest is still one win away from bowl eligibility, but with No. 4 Notre Dame up next, odds are the Deacs will be staring down a must-win situation in the regular-season finale against Vanderbilt.
CLEMSON 45, MARYLAND 10
The Terps were overmatched long before this game even started. They were playing without their leading rusher (Wild Crab Wes Brown), their leading receiver (Stefon Diggs), their leading tackler (LB Demetrius Hartsfield), and they were playing with their fifth-string quarterback, Shawn Petty. Not a good start against a Clemson team ranked No. 7 in the country in scoring offense. Clemson set a school record with 12 straight home wins. The Terps have now lost four straight and need to win their final two regular-season games against No. 10 Florida State and at North Carolina. If the Terps had just 180 total yards against Clemson, they're going to need hope and a prayer next week against the Seminoles' defense. Both Clemson and Maryland had three turnovers each. One thing to keep an eye on from this game -- Clemson standout Sammy Watkins left the game in the second quarter with a lower leg injury.
1. Florida State will win the ACC. Where have you heard that one before? This is the year it will happen! I do not have my fingers crossed behind my back. The best I can do is pinkie-swear with you that the Noles have the best team in the ACC this year and will finish the year ranked in the top five. Wait, that is two predictions in one. Double bonus!
2. The ACC will win its BCS game. Yes indeed, as the BCS representative, Florida State will be the first to take baby steps toward improving the depressing BCS results. That defense is going to be simply outstanding.
3. Travis Blanks will be the freshman of the year. Of all the true freshmen who are going to see playing time this year, I have the most confidence at this point to say Blanks will make the biggest impact on his team. Clemson needs help on defense, and Blanks has shown throughout the spring and summer he will be able to contribute in a variety of ways.
4. Maryland will be better this year. I know the Terps lost quarterback C.J. Brown and have had a few other pretty significant injuries during preseason camp, but there is no way they will be worse than last season. Perry Hills will have his share of growing pains as a true freshman starting quarterback. But Randy Edsall now has a team committed to playing for him, and that will make a huge difference this year.
5. Miami will be better than expected. Not many people have faith in the Hurricanes this year, with only 10 starters returning and limited depth at a variety of positions on the field. But I think Stephen Morris will be a major upgrade over Jacory Harris and there are plenty of young playmakers who will do well when pressed into playing time. Watch out for Duke Johnson, who has the potential to dazzle.
6. Perry Jones will rush for 1,000 yards. There is depth and talent at running back for UVa, but Jones came oh-so-close to the coveted mark last year. He will be better this year and become the first Virginia running back to reach 1,000 yards since Alvin Pearman in 2004.
7. The ACC will have five teams ranked at some point this season. Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech go into the season as the lone ranked ACC teams. But Georgia Tech and NC State are good enough to be in the Top 25 right now, so I think all five will be in the poll. They may even end the season that way.
8. Boston College will struggle. I am having a hard time finding much to get excited about when it comes to this team. Coach Frank Spaziani finds himself on the hot seat, so he has to get back to a bowl game. I just don't see it. The best defensive player in the entire country is gone in Luke Kuechly. Not even he could save this team last year. Injuries to some of its best players are mounting, and the nonconference schedule is not easy with games at Northwestern, Army and home to Notre Dame. I worry about BC this year.
9. Rookie running back attack. There are several true freshmen running backs who have a shot at having big seasons this year. Watch out for the aforementioned Johnson at Miami; J.C. Coleman at Virginia Tech; Wes Brown and Albert Reid at Maryland; and Jela Duncan and Shaquille Powell at Duke.
10. Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner will get 20 sacks combined. The two had 15 combined last year (Jenkins was second in the ACC with eight, while Werner had seven). Clemson's Andre Branch was the only ACC player to reach double digits in sacks last year. I think there will be more than one this year, given some of the talent returning.
Guys like Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett were known quantities. When they finished their careers, they ended up as some of the top rushers in school history.
But headed into this season, there are far fewer players established in the backfield. Scratch that. There are no established players in the backfield. Of the four running backs competing for playing time, true sophomore Justus Pickett is the only one with game experience. Brandon Ross, who has turned heads during fall camp, is a redshirt freshman. Wes Brown and Albert Reid are two very promising true freshmen who have earned praise so far this fall.
Mix in true freshmen Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe at quarterback, and a major youth movement is under way for the Terps in the backfield -- leaving Pickett as the elder statesman of the group.
"It's definitely strange," Pickett said. "I knew going into it that I was going to be the oldest guy but now that it's here, the coaches look upon me to do things the older guys would have to do. I have to assume that responsibility. With C.J. (Brown) going down, it's even more responsibility on me that I have to pick up."
Pickett has no problems with that. Even though he has only played one season, he can share some advice with the younger players. Last year, he ran for 274 yards and a touchdown on 74 carries behind Meggett. Though he does have game experience, coach Randy Edsall has also praised the play of Ross, Brown and Reid as well throughout camp. Ross seems to be the most likely candidate to start the season opener, though Edsall has called Ross and Pickett co-No. 1 starters.
“I’ve been really impressed with Brandon," Edsall told local reporters last week. "Again, he’s still got things he’s got to work on, but ... he’s got the ability to break a run just about every day. I like his speed, I like his power, but we’ve got to get him to be a better blocker, a better pass protector. But as far as carrying the ball, I really like the things that I do see out of him.”
No matter who starts, the Terps are going to feature various running backs. Both Pickett and Ross said the competition has made them better.
"We all feed off one another," Ross said in a phone interview. "If one of us makes a big play, the other one wants to go in the next play and counter it. It's a friendly competition. We all want to do well but it's a battle out there."
And given the loss of Brown, there may be more placed on the shoulders of the running backs.
"We want it that way," Ross said. "We want to be able to run the football when we have to and when we want to. We definitely take pride in that, and we want there to be pressure on us."
Ole Miss running back Dexter McCluster: Had McCluster been this involved in the Ole Miss offense back in September, we might be talking about the Heisman Trophy front-runner right now. He’s run for a touchdown, caught a touchdown and thrown a touchdown this season. He’s 97 yards away from a 1,000-yard rushing season after racking up 148 Saturday against a rugged LSU defense in Ole Miss’ 25-23 win. He’s 88 yards away from a 500-yard receiving season. Here’s one for the SEC historians: When’s the last time a player had 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in the same season. Has it ever happened?
Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett: Two of his first 20 passes were interceptions, and Mallett wasn’t as accurate as he had been in his previous three games, but how do you complain with five touchdown passes? The 6-foot-7 sophomore now has 28 touchdown passes on the season, breaking Clint Stoerner’s old record of 26 at Arkansas, and is having one of the best seasons for a first-year quarterback in the SEC in league history. His five touchdown passes went to four different receivers, and he carved Mississippi State apart in a 42-21 victory.
Tennessee defensive tackle Wes Brown: The gritty senior has been the inspirational leader for Tennessee’s defense all season long. He’s fought through aching knees, most of the time unable to practice because of the pain. But Brown has given the Vols everything he has and refused to call it quits. His final play at Neyland Stadium was one he won’t soon forget. He intercepted a Mackenzi Adams pass in the final seconds and dragged a Vanderbilt defender with him for a 25-yard touchdown to cap the Vols’ 31-16 win over the Commodores. “A dream come true,” is the way Brown explained his home finale.
Kentucky linebacker Sam Maxwell: You think Kentucky’s 34-27 win over Georgia meant a little something to Maxwell, a Hartwell, Ga., product? It had been 32 years since the Wildcats had won in Athens, and it’s fitting that a Georgia boy would seal the deal for Kentucky with an interception in the final minutes. Maxwell picked off Joe Cox’s short pass over the middle with 1:45 to play. And before that, he was all over the field for the Wildcats and led them with 11 total tackles.
Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas: For a guy who was supposedly too small to play at this level, Arenas has had one dynamite career. He played his final game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday in a 45-0 rout of Chattanooga and bid farewell with the seventh punt return for a touchdown in his illustrious career. He took one back 66 yards to set an SEC record and also intercepted a pass in his home finale. Arenas might be known more for his punt return skills, but he’s developed into one of the better all-around cornerbacks in the league with his ability to blitz, play the run and the cover the pass.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
|AP Photo/Wade Payne|
|Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin takes the traditional Vol Walk before Saturday's game against Western Kentucky|
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Never mind that it was a glorified scrimmage.
And never mind that Western Kentucky was probably the most outmanned team to come into Neyland Stadium since Louisiana-Monroe limped in here in 2000 and lost 70-3.
The Lane Kiffin era kicked off Saturday with a 63-7 massacre that produced more fireworks over the Tennessee River than were shot off all of last season.
“Yeah, it was Western Kentucky. But to us, that didn’t matter,” said Marsalis Teague, one of three true freshmen to score touchdowns for the Vols. “We didn’t care who the opponent was. We were going to come out and try to take it to them regardless of who we were playing. For us to get out there and do our thing … it just makes you feel great to be a Volunteer.
“Hopefully, we can have a lot more of these days.”
For Kiffin, it was finally a chance to put a product on the field after nine months of shaking it up off the field in the SEC.
It’s a product –- regardless of how helpless the Hilltoppers were for most of the day –- that bodes well for the future of Tennessee’s program, especially when you consider how many fresh faces were on the field and making plays.
Teague led the Vols in receiving with six catches for 86 yards. He was one of 10 Tennessee players to catch passes.
Freshman tailback Bryce Brown rushed for 104 yards on 11 carries. He was one of two Tennessee players to crack the 100-yard mark. Senior Montario Hardesty, looking as healthy and explosive as ever, had a career-high 160 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Tennessee finished with 380 rushing yards, its most in a game since rolling up 406 yards on the ground in 1994 against Vanderbilt.
“This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. Coach Kiffin told us all that if we came here, we were going to get a chance to play,” said Brown, who scored the first of the Vols’ nine touchdowns on a 2-yard run. “Everybody showed up and did what they do.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
We start a week-long primer today that should further get you ready for the start of spring practice in the SEC.
The first topic: Who are the five players or coaches in the SEC that will be the toughest to replace in 2009?
Let's face it. There are some big shoes to fill in this league.
|Charles Sonnenblick/Getty Images|
|It won't be easy for Florida to replace Percy Harvin.|
1. Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith: This was an easy choice for the top spot. For one, Smith is one of the best left tackles to come through the SEC in the last decade. He was dominant in every way. But go back and look at what the Crimson Tide did (or didn't do) without him last season in the two games he missed. They struggled mightily against Tulane and were torched by Utah in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Retooling the offensive line will be a major undertaking for Alabama. Also gone are All-American center Antoine Davis and steady guard Marlon Davis. A couple of first-year players could be in line to replace Smith -- junior college newcomer James Carpenter and highly rated true freshman D.J. Fluker, who won't be on campus until this summer. If neither are ready, Alabama might have to move Mike Johnson over to left tackle from his guard spot. Johnson filled in for Smith in the bowl game before leaving with an ankle injury.
2. Florida running back/receiver Percy Harvin: How do you replace the most explosive player in the SEC, maybe the explosive player in all of college football? Harvin was a threat to go the distance as a running back and a receiver, and it didn't matter where you lined him up. The only knock on him was that he was prone to injury. He was coming back from a nasty sprained ankle in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game, but still managed to rush for 122 yards on nine carries, catch five passes for 49 yards and score a touchdown in the 15th straight game in which he'd played. Without him, Florida probably doesn't beat Oklahoma. Don't feel too sorry for the Gators, though. They still have plenty of speedy playmakers -- just nobody quite like Harvin. Some of the guys to watch are Deonte Thompson, David Nelson and incoming true freshman Andre Debose. Florida also redshirted three receivers last season who were all highly rated coming out of high school.
3. Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford: As great as running back Knowshon Moreno was, strong-armed quarterbacks like Stafford, who've started since their freshman season, are invaluable. His leaving early for the NFL draft also means Georgia will be going with somebody at quarterback (whoever it is) that has little or no experience in SEC competition. With Stafford's ability to make every throw, he kept defensive coordinators honest. He could beat you a number of different ways. Some of the Georgia fans got down on him at times because of untimely interceptions, but he led the SEC with an average of 266.1 passing yards per game last season and was second with 25 touchdowns, while completing 61.4 percent of his passes. Those numbers won't be easy to replace. Taking his shot will be fifth-year senior Joe Cox, who rallied Georgia past Colorado as a redshirt freshman in 2006. True freshmen Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger are already on campus and will go through spring practice, and sophomore Logan Gray is one of the best all-around athletes on the team.
4. Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers: If you've been keeping up with the NFL combine, you're getting a feel for what kind of talent Ayers is. He was the second-best player on Tennessee's team last season behind All-American safety Eric Berry. The 6-foot-3, 270-pound Ayers was the kind of defensive lineman coaches love. He could play inside or outside and finished third in the SEC with 15.5 tackles for loss. Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith said Ayers was the best player he faced last season and was equally good as a pass rusher and against the run. The other thing that makes Ayers so difficult to replace is that the Vols are scary thin on the defensive line, and they certainly don't have a proven difference-maker at this point in Ayers' mold. This is a big spring for junior defensive ends Ben Martin and Chris Walker, but neither are big enough to slide inside and help. Senior Wes Brown may get a look inside after having a solid 2008 season at end. But other than senior tackle Dan Williams, there's not much there on the interior for the Vols.
5. Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry: The only reason Jerry's not a little higher up on this list is because Ole Miss does have some quality depth in its defensive line. Former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron had recruited extremely well in the defensive line, and Jerry was the gem of that group. He was the SEC's most dominant defensive tackle during the last half of the 2008 season and completely took over games at times. He wrecked opposing teams' plays before they ever had a chance to get started and lifted the play of everybody else around him. Jerry was a first-team All-American who led the SEC with 18.5 tackles for loss from his tackle position, and that kind of player doesn't come around every day. He was also one of the leaders of the Rebels' defense. Ole Miss returns Ted Laurent, Lawon Scott and Jerrell Powe in the middle. Laurent and Scott both have star potential, and if the 335-pound Powe can keep his weight down, he also has a chance to be a real factor next season.