Just five years ago, Chad Morris was guiding Lake Travis High School in Austin to its second straight Texas state title. Now, many Texas fans want him to replace Mack Brown, despite being a graduate of Texas A&M.
With college football’s offseason coaching carousel looming, Morris—who is in his third season as Clemson’s offensive coordinator—is a name on the tip of the tongue of athletic directors such as USC’s Pat Haden.
After a string of record-setting seasons as a coordinator, Morris is the next offensive mastermind in position to take over a major program—despite a resume that lacks experience as a college head coach.
Morris can thank college head coaches Chip Kelly, Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Art Briles for blazing the trail for high school football coaches.
In fact, it was Malzahn—who, as Greg Wallace of Orange and White notes, now counts Morris as one of his closest friends—who gave Morris pointers on how to install his meal ticket hurry-up, no-huddle system almost a decade ago when both were still coaching on the prep level.
The story goes that after Morris failed to make the playoffs at Stephenville (Texas) High School in 2003, he sought out Malzahn’s help in bringing a fresh perspective to his offense.
As Morris detailed to ESPN’s Ivan Maisel on ESPNU’s College Football podcast (around 21:00 mark) last month, he had either played for or won a state title in four of the previous five seasons using an offense that relied on I-formation and shotgun concepts. He heard of Malzahn through a friend of a friend, and then convinced his school’s booster club to pay for him and his offensive staff to fly to see Malzhan’s team in action in a playoff game.
But Malzahn resisted meeting with Morris—until he pulled off the same trick a week later and finally earned the trust and respect of a man who has become one of his biggest coaching influences.
As Chris Vannini of coachingsearch.com notes, Malzahn didn’t give Morris a copy of his playbook. Instead, he shared ideas with Morris on how to adapt and adjust to what defenses were doing at the time.
“I was a little leery to be honest with you, at first,” Malzahn told Bleacher Report recently. “But, we developed a relationship and he brought his staff up to Springdale (Ark.). From then on, we just started sharing ideas. We think a lot alike.”
Since that meeting with Malzahn, Morris’ teams have compiled a record of 116-16—including a minimum of 10 wins in all four seasons (one at Tulsa and the last three at Clemson) on the college level.
With Clemson 10-1 and ranked No. 6 heading into Saturday's season finale at No. 10 South Carolina, the Tigers have crossed the 10-win plateau for the third consecutive season, which has happened only once in school history.
Let’s be clear. Morris didn’t just steal Malzahn’s offense and put a different hat on it. He has added his own wrinkles along the way, including getting explosive receivers such as Sammy Watkins involved in the run game, as illustrated by Shakin the Southland.
GJ Kinne, who played quarterback under Morris and Malzahn at Tulsa, and for Kelly in a stint with the Eagles, said that there’s one common link between all three coaches.
“The tempo,” Kinne said. “I think that’s one thing that defines Coach Kelly, Coach Malzahn and Coach Morris’s offenses. (It’s about) getting those guys lined up quick and make the defense show their cards.”
Two things Morris will bring to his next landing spot are points and yards. In 52 games at the college level, his offense has averaged nearly 40 points per game and less than 10 yards shy of 500 yards of total offense (Clemson is averaging nearly 517 yards per game in 2013).
However, the brilliance of Morris’ scheme is not that it leads to points, but how it leads to points. Its success is rooted in the misconceptions it causes with complex pre-snap movements on the field and the illusion that the system doesn’t emphasize the running game in the film room.
“Where people get it messed up is when they think it's a gimmick offense,” Kinne said. “We do a lot of fun things, like reverses and stuff like that. But if you look at Coach Malzahn's and Coach Morris’s offenses through the years, they are very balanced. We’re a run-first team that sets up the pass.”
Malzahn’s stats in six seasons as an offensive coordinator (at three different schools) are similar to his star pupil’s. The biggest difference is that Malzahn's units are more prolific on the ground while Morris finds more success through the air. Morris also nets nearly 10 additional snaps per game.
Perhaps the most obvious comparison between Morris' and Malzahn’s offenses is their affinity for employing dual-threat quarterbacks as the trigger-men to their potent attacks.
Hank Carter succeeded Morris as the head coach at Lake Travis (Texas) High School after spending more than a decade under Morris as a player and coach.
As Carter notes, the Malzahn/Morris offense likes using mobile quarterbacks. Kinne and Tajh Boyd have excelled in Morris’ offense by hurting teams with their feet by design and when things break down.
“He likes guys who can run because it gives you an extra blocker,” Carter said. “You have to be able to make some plays outside of the scheme in today’s game.”
Morris also excels at creating matchups in space. In essence, systems like his have taken the emphasis off the interior and placed it with electric skill players who thrive in one-on-one matchups in space.
“It used to be that you had to be good up front in order to drop back and pass,” said Yogi Roth, a Pac-12 Network analyst. “If you can’t do that, then they would quick-game the death out of you. Now, that’s not the case. (The system is designed) to take advantage of unique matchups and I think that’s really smart.”
While being an offensive innovator has fueled Morris’ rise through the coaching ranks, it will take more than on-field prowess to become a successful college football head coach.
It’s his proven effectiveness as a gifted leader and communicator that will appeal to the decision-makers in the hiring process.
MORRIS THE LEADER
Kim Brents was hired as the principal at Lake Travis shortly after Morris took over the Cavaliers football program. She said she often marveled at how Morris stressed the importance of being a teacher first to members of his staff. That meant putting simple things such as dressing appropriately, monitoring hallways and attending faculty meetings ahead of being a football coach.
“That is why he has been so successful,” Brents said. “Because he cares about the little things and he does them right. That makes the big things take care of themselves.”
It’s that kind of attention to detail that has helped him win nearly 88 percent of the games he’s coached in the past decade.
Carter said that Morris sets the tone with his passion for the game, and that helps develop a bond with his players that carries over to the field.
“He’s incredible with the players,” Carter said. “He has a rare ability, and there’s very few guys that have it, and it’s not too hard to figure out (who they are).
“The players absolutely love him and they’d do anything for him.”
Kinne agrees, noting that Morris has a quality that players respond to.
“He automatically demands that type of respect,” Kinne said. “He’s just a winner. When he walks into a room, it’s kind of like everyone feels OK.”
Getting players to believe in the system, and more importantly to execute at a high level, are of the highest priority for any coach. It’s the foundation of Nick Saban’s famed process, as detailed by Greg Bishop of The New York Times.
For Morris, making sure the players are fully invested in the system is a critical element to his unit’s success.
“It’s a different way of doing things and it makes them take ownership in it, buy into it and believe in it,” Carter said. “[Morris’ offense] makes it hard for the defenses to prepare and it makes his players buy into the fact that we’re doing something that not many others can do.”
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT
In a small way, all of the pre-snap shifts and motions utilized in Chad Morris’ offense mirror his personality.
To hear Carter describe his mentor’s philosophy, Morris is a bundle of energy who will never rest until he finds the best way to consistently put defenses in a bind.
It’s that relentlessness with which Morris has created an offensive system that has wreaked havoc all the way from the prep fields in Texas to the college level in the ACC.
The only thing he doesn’t have is experience with is running his own program in college.
However, with the success of peers such as Briles, Freeze and Malzahn, the apprehension of administrators considering a coach with Morris’ prep-heavy resume has faded considerably.
“Right now in college football, there’s a big shift going on with athletic directors and programs wanting offense as the identification of their team versus the other side of the ball, which is what we’ve seen in the past,” Roth said.
For those snickering at the thought of a powerhouse program hiring someone without head-coaching experience at the college or NFL level, it’s not unprecedented territory.
In fact, a handful of perennial top-10 programs have gone that route in recent years. Kelly was Oregon’s offensive coordinator for two seasons before taking over for Mike Bellotti. FSU’s Jimbo Fisher and Florida’s Will Muschamp were also coordinators before scoring their current gigs.
In his quest to stay ahead of the curve, Morris is always searching for a way to give his players the best opportunity to be successful. That’s why his system has always been more of a work in progress instead of a finished product.
“He adjusts everything,” Carter said. “He’s not going to be married to one type of play or scheme. The thing that I think he hangs his hat on is the ability to change and roll with the punches and adjust. I think that’s one of the things that makes him rare too.”
Ultimately, Morris will have to sell his vision to another athletic director, another community, fanbase and another group of players. However, if history is any indicator, it’s only a matter of time before he finds success.
“He has the ability to get kids to do things that they never thought they could have because they know that he believes in them, and I think that’s why he will be successful in the future,” Brents said. “He makes you want to work harder than he does. He makes you want to be stronger than he is. That’s what he did for us. He started that strand of, ‘this is what excellence looks like.’ I think that’s what he will bring to any program he’s associated with.”
*Sanjay Kirpalani is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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The 78th Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn on Saturday will feature a bevy of talented NFL draft-eligible prospects who will duel inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
With both teams ranked in the Top Five, several difference-makers for the Tide and the Tigers will get an opportunity to make a statement in front of a national audience.
Nick Saban’s roster is once again loaded with plenty of NFL-ready talent. However, Gus Malzahn has re-energized an Auburn program that had fallen on hard times over the past two seasons.
Which players participating in this weekend’s game will NFL scouts be watching closely?
After the home team won nine consecutive times in the annual "Civil War" game between Oregon and Oregon State, the Beavers beat the Ducks in Eugene in 2007 for their second consecutive win in the series. It took overtime for the Beavers to beat the Ducks, who were completely decimated by injuries at the end of the season.
The Beavers don't care how it might come; they would take a win over the Ducks any way they could get it. After winning the matchup in 2006 and 2007, the Beavers had their Rose Bowl dreams shattered by the Ducks in 2008 and 2009. The Ducks have beaten the Beavers in five straight matchups, with the last three coming by an average of 23 points.
This season, both teams enter the game desperately wanting a win to help salvage their seasons.
The Beavers started the season with a shocking home loss to FCS Eastern Washington, but they responded with six consecutive wins. Since the 6-1 start, the Beavers have lost four straight, including a disastrous 69-27 home loss to Washington last week.
The Ducks started out 8-0 and were ranked No. 2 in the nation before a loss to Stanford derailed their season. After a shocking 42-16 loss to Arizona last week, the No. 13 Ducks have lost two of their last three games and need to make a statement if they have any hope of extending their run of BCS bowl appearances.
Oregon leads the all-time series between the two programs 60-46-10
Here is everything you need to know for the 117th edition of the "Civil War."
Who: Oregon State Beavers vs. Oregon Ducks
Where: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oregon
When: Friday, Nov. 30th, 7 p.m. ET
TV: Fox Sports 1
Spread: According to VegasInsider.com, Oregon is favored by 21.5 points.
The crosstown showdown between the No. 22 UCLA Bruins (8-3) and the No. 23 USC Trojans (9-3) has massive implications for both programs.
For the Trojans, this game could conceivably determine whether or not Coach "O" is named as the official head coach going forward. Finishing the season with 10 wins, including victories over a Top 10 team (Stanford) and a bitter rival (UCLA), would be rather impressive.
UCLA is still trying to take the next step in becoming a prominent program from a national standpoint. Although the Bruins won impressively last year in the Rose Bowl, the program hasn't beaten the Trojans in the Coliseum since 1997. A win here would go a long way in adding credence to the thought that UCLA is "for real" as a program in the city of Los Angeles.
Here's what you need to know:
Date: Saturday, Nov. 30
Time: 5:00 p.m. PT
Place: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, Calif.
Radio: XM Sirius Radio
Line: USC (-3.5), per VegasInsider
As Nebraska football fans prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, thoughts turn to family and loved ones. But not far behind that for the scarlet and cream faithful are the reasons why those fans have such an affinity for the team that takes the field in Lincoln on autumn Saturday afternoons.
So as you prepare your family and your feast for the Thanksgiving holiday, here are a few things that fill the hearts of Nebraska fans with holiday cheer.
Corey Grant fielded the kick at the 10-yard line.
His Tigers led Tennessee, 34-20, coming out of the halftime break on Nov. 9. With the ball in his hands, Grant saw an opportunity to put the Volunteers away — and to continue to prove that he is one of the most electric players in the Southeastern Conference.
"Taken by Grant at the 10," Auburn radio announcer Rod Bramblett called the action. "15 — 20 — He cuts it back across the field..."
Grant edged his way across the turf. He made a defender miss at the 25. He angled toward the sideline, before finding a blocker and the corner as he approached the 50-yard line.
"He's at the 50," Bramblett's voice rose. "Near sideline, to the 30..."
Grant left everyone in his dust.
"Tail lights!" Bramblett exclaimed.
That play put the game out of reach for Tennessee — and that call has followed Grant everywhere since that day.
To Tigers fans, Grant is now known simply as "Tail Lights" — an endearing nickname for one of Auburn's most beloved players.
Grant is a hometown hero on the Plains. He's from Auburn's neighboring city, Opelika, and he's a former Opelika High Bulldog. He became a four-star prospect after his heroics on the high school gridiron, and he was a three-time state champion in track.
He's also a former member of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
And this Saturday, after a four-year journey that took Grant inside both locker rooms on either side — and saw him be overlooked, misused, and forgotten time and again — Grant is finally set to see significant playing time in the Iron Bowl, and make his own mark on the biggest game in the state.
"It's a personal game," Grant said Tuesday. "It's a big game. But I'm going to treat it like any other game."
Having grown up just outside of Auburn, Grant knows just how much the Iron Bowl means to the Auburn faithful and to the community.
Having spent a year in the Alabama locker room, he knows just how important it is to the Crimson Tide, too.
"It's very important to them," Grant said. "It's a very tough game to them. They look at it as their No. 1 game of the year. It's going to be treated by them like they were playing in the national championship."
For the redshirt junior running back, Saturday could not come soon enough, after Grant watched idly from the sidelines during each of the last three Iron Bowls.
After sitting out and redshirting his freshman season at Alabama, buried on the depth chart behind Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, and Eddie Lacey, Grant decided to leave Alabama the following spring, and return home to east Alabama to walk on at Auburn.
In 2011, Grant sat out yet another year due to NCAA transfer years, and last season, during Auburn's 3-9 campaign, Grant barely saw the field as former head coach Gene Chizik and former offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler left his talent on the sideline while fielding one of the most inept offenses in recent school history.
While Grant's talent may have been overlooked in the past by Chizik — and Alabama head coach Nick Saban — Grant's burning speed hasn't been lost on new Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn.
This season, Grant has rushed for 557 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 9.95 yards per carry.
"He's probably one of the fastest players in college football," Malzahn said. "He's been a speed guy, but he's gotten better at running between the tackles and doing the things a normal running back does. He's an even better person."
Now, Grant is an integral piece of Auburn's four-headed rushing attack, alongside fellow running backs Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne, and quarterback Nick Marshall. The Tigers are rushing for 320.27 yards per game — an average good enough for third-best nationally.
"When he first got here, he didn't get much playing time," Mason said. "As you can see this year, things are clicking for him. He gets around that edge, it's hard to stop him. He's got elite speed. I'm ready to see him play against (Alabama)."
No player on either side will have worked as hard to play in this particular game as Grant on Saturday.
After Grant watched from the sidelines as Cam Newton led the Tigers to a come-from-behind victory in Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2010, it seemed doubtful that he may ever get his chance to play in an Iron Bowl.
"It was really just spring ball after (the coaching staff) tried me at corner," Grant said of his departure from Alabama. "The things I was getting recruited for I really wasn't doing. I figured around that time maybe I should get in a spread offense."
As fate would have it, Malzahn had that spread offense for him at Auburn, where he was then the Tigers' offensive coordinator — and the area was ready to welcome him back with open arms.
"Coming back, it was kind of exciting," Grant said. "Everybody welcomed me back. It was like I had been here the whole time. Being recruited (by Auburn) I knew a lot of the guys already on the team, so it wasn't a bad experience at all."
But Grant's return home wasn't a fairy-tale ending. He'd have to sit out the 2011 season due to transfer rules — and he'd have to work to earn another scholarship after walking on with the Tigers.
"The big thing was that he was going to have to walk on," said Brian Blackmon, Grant's former high school coach at Opelika High. "He was going to have to sit out a year because of transfer rules. That was going to be a tough situation for him. I guess the good thing about it was, if he was going to walk on here, he had his family supports system here. Being from here, he was able to go home and be at home while he was going through that process."
Then, just as Grant was set to play again, he was hit with another wall of adversity. Malzahn left Auburn, to take the head coaching job at Arkansas State.
Chizik hired Loeffler, to run an under-center, pro-style offense. In Loeffler's system, Grant was only given nine carries in all of 2012.
But Grant stayed focus, and in late December of last year, everything came full circle when the university announced that Malzahn would be returning to replace Chizik as the Tigers new head coach.
"It was a great feeling once they announced that and it was set in stone that Coach (Malzahn) was coming back," Grant said. "That excited me, because that was what I came back for. For him to be coming back, it was just perfect."
Now — finally — Grant is set to take significant snaps in the biggest game in the state and make his mark on the Iron Bowl.
"I think it's something that every kid that plays football in the state of Alabama dreams of, being able to play in that game — whichever side," Blackmon said. "Kids grow up wanting to be that guy. Every kid when I was young wanted to grow up and be Bo Jackson. They wanted to be one of the great players. Quarterbacks wanted to be Jay Barker.
"Those were the guys that every kid in Alabama grows up wanting to be — and to get that opportunity I think is a dream come true for any kid on either side of that ball."
Grant will have that opportunity Saturday, to etch his name in the record books during one of the biggest games in series history.
Suddenly, all of those struggles — from Opelika to Tuscaloosa and back again — are in the past.
He's put it all behind him.
Justin Lee is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @byjustinlee. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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Lost in the endless debates over who should be ranked where and which player deserves what postseason award is the fact that college football brings a lot of joy and happiness every season.
Your team might be limping to the finish or out of bowl contention, but hope is always on the horizon and the sport we love so much rarely lets us down.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'm going to take a look at 10 things about college football that I am thankful for, in no particular order.
Feel free to share in the comments what you enjoy most—whether it's the passion of the game, the traditions of game day or just simply watching players give it their all for the love of the sport.
Here's my Top 10, and Happy Thanksgiving!
Just days before college football’s most storied rivalry game kicks off for the 110th time, the condition of the Ohio State and Michigan programs couldn’t be much more different.
Led by two-time national-championship-winning coach Urban Meyer, the undefeated, third-ranked Buckeyes have won a school-record 23 consecutive games and are fighting for a spot in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.
On the other side of the field, the Michigan Wolverines have lost four of six games and turned a promising 5-0 start into a disappointing 7-4 mark entering Saturday’s showdown. The Wolverines’ season goal has been reduced from winning the Big Ten Championship to winning 10 games to winning for the team’s seniors in the span of four weeks.
It now seems realistic that a loss, especially a lopsided one, could put Michigan head coach Brady Hoke squarely on the hot seat.
Hoke’s record in The Game stands at a respectable 1-1 since he took over as Michigan head coach in 2011. The win, in 2011 against a lowly 6-5 Ohio State team coached by interim head coach Luke Fickell, was the Wolverines’ first in seven years against the Buckeyes and the capping of a statement regular season that led to a berth and victory in the 2012 Sugar Bowl.
The season was so impressive it prompted the question, is Michigan back?
24 games and nine losses later, the answer to that question seems to be an emphatic “No.” But just how irrelevant are the Wolverines in the national picture and for how much longer should Michigan tolerate being a middle-of-the-pack team in a struggling Big Ten Conference?
Though Hoke’s roster still includes redshirt juniors and seniors from Rich Rodriguez’s tenure at Michigan, Hoke’s recruiting classes since taking over as head coach ranked 21st nationally in 2011, seventh in 2012 and third in 2013 according to Rivals.com.
From an offensive standpoint, the argument can be made that Hoke’s pro-style skill player recruits are still being forced into a spread offense with remaining Rodriguez recruits like Devin Gardner, Jeremy Gallon, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Drew Dileo—and that the unit will be better once Rodriguez’s players have graduated.
Even if that’s the case, though, why has the program continued to spiral downward instead of improving each year as it moves closer to being 100 percent Brady Hoke’s?
According to Vegas Insider, Michigan enters Saturday’s game as a 14.5-point underdog to the undefeated Buckeyes.
A beating at the hands of Ohio State and second consecutive five-loss season might just be what it takes to start a fire under Hoke’s already-warming head coaching seat.
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Recruiting stops for no one and nothing, including Thanksgiving. So even though many people will be spending this weekend with their families, several programs will be hosting recruits for important visits.
This is a big week in college football, as many rivalry games are scheduled to take place. These are always fun games to attend for recruits, as atmospheres are even more spirited on campus and at the game than they are on other weekends.
The University of Florida has an impressive group of talent for its contest versus Florida State, while Missouri is going to try to get back in the race for a talented offensive tackle this weekend. Plus, Oregon is hosting a linebacker who is more open than many believe.
The College Football Playoff will shape the sport's future, and a key cornerstone could take a cue from college football's past.
Prominent nonconference rivalries are taking center stage this week, including Stanford's tilt with Notre Dame. Both are ranked in the BCS standings—Stanford at No. 8, Notre Dame at No. 25. One of the two has played in a BCS bowl in each of the last three seasons, including both last year. Stanford has an opportunity to make it four straight years with a win in next week's Pac-12 Championship Game.
This is a marquee matchup, and with both programs trending in a positive direction, will continue to be in the initial years of the College Football Playoff era.
"It's great for us, I think it's great for Notre Dame and I think it's great for college football," Stanford head coach David Shaw said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call.
The Notre Dame-Stanford rivalry has truly taken off only in the last 16 years, but it's rooted in some of the most rich traditions of college football. Knute Rockne was the Fighting Irish's head coach when the two programs first met in 1925, and Pop Warner led Stanford as The Bootleg's David Lombardi notes on Twitter.
It's a nice nod to the game's past while also mapping out its next phase of evolution. The College Football Playoff promises to change how programs approach the season in their effort to win over selection committee support.
"I would like to see the component of strength of schedule so we can go back to seeing great teams playing each other out of conference across the country," Texas head coach Mack Brown told USA Today's Paul Myerberg.
Brown touches on a very important aspect of the prominent, nonconference game. Strength of schedule is one of the key components expected to shape the College Football Playoff. That benefits programs like Stanford and Notre Dame, since few face slates as rigorous as theirs. The Cardinal and Fighting Irish both rank in the top 30 of the Sagarin Ratings for strength of schedule. Comparatively, none of the BCS Top Five has a schedule ranked better than No. 39.
"Stanford forces that out of you, because [its top 10-ranking] gets your attention," Kelly said.
Shaw sees it the same way.
"This will be another one of those games that goes right down to the end," he said.
More of these pairings aren't just good for teams looking to bolster their playoff resumes. It's also a win for college football fans. Consider the Clemson-Georgia rivalry, which went dormant a decade ago. The programs renewed it this season, and it produced one of the most exciting affairs of the 2013 season.
The two meet again to kickoff 2014 in Athens, Ga.
Last year on the week Stanford knocked Oregon from the BCS Championship race, Alabama beat up on Football Championship Subdivision cellar-dweller, Western Carolina. Uniformity in conference scheduling looks like one of the changes the College Football Playoff will prompt. The SEC appears to be headed toward a nine-game schedule, as B/R SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee examined.
The Big Ten is implementing a nine-game schedule in 2016, joining the Big 12 and Pac-12.
Whether a nine-game conference slate will eliminate the all-too-prevalent SEC-FCS matchups in late November remains to be seen. The additional in-conference date could simply move those lopsided games to September, but fewer available dates means less room for filler.
Might Notre Dame and Stanford having a guaranteed, high-profile date every season become a trend in the changing landscape?
"I would hope so," Shaw said. "It’s positive for all of us to play really hard, physical games late in November."
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Every Wednesday afternoon, the SEC coaches line up one-by-one on the weekly coaches' teleconference to take questions from the media members from around the country.
The Iron Bowl, nerves heading into rivalry weekend and the play-calling of Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease were some of the notable topics of conversation on the final SEC Coaches' teleconference of the regular season.
Here are some of the highlights.
Hey, Did You Hear that The Iron Bowl is Kind of a Big Deal?
It may be rivalry week for every team in the SEC, but virtually every coach was asked about only one rivalry in some way, shape or form—this weekend's showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Auburn.
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones explained that the hype for the Iron Bowl is indicative of just how strong the SEC is.
"It should be a great game for the SEC," he said, "and shows that this is the best football conference in America."
LSU head coach Les Miles, whose Tigers beat Auburn 35-21 in September in Baton Rouge, also sung the praises of the Iron Bowl.
"I think the turnover battle will be key," Miles said. "I think the team that avoids turning the ball over will do real well. It should be a very competitive game, and it's a rivalry that talks about a state and talks about quality teams. It'll be fun to watch."
How about the coaches who are actually playing in the game?
"Everybody realizes that the Iron Bowl is always a significant game," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "This year, it has a little more significance."
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, in true Malzahn style, got through his assessment as quickly as possible.
"Obviously, we have a big game this week," he said. "The good thing is we're playing at home."
Pressure? Missouri Has No Pressure
Not many people expected Missouri to control its own SEC East destiny during the final weekend of the season, but here the Tigers stand at 10-1 and needing to top Texas A&M on Saturday night in Columbia to claim their first SEC East title in program history.
But don't tell that to head coach Gary Pinkel, because he doesn't see this as pressure.
"I don't really look at it as pressure, I look at it as an opportunity," Pinkel said. "You want to be in this position every single year."
As far as his players go, Pinkel has trust that they have a similar mindset.
"What we've done here in terms of playing this year, and if you ask our seniors, they're going to say 'it doesn't matter who we play or where we play, it's about how we play'," he said. "They're aware that we've won a share of the conference title now, and in order to go to the championship game they have to win this game. Your focus now is playing your best game."
Will Muschamp Comments on Brent Pease
There's been much speculation in Gainesville as to who's going to take the fall for the Florida Gators finishing with a sub-.500 record for the first time since 1979.
Offensive coordinator Brent Pease is a good candidate, since they finished with the third-worst offense (334.0 YPG) in the SEC in Pease's first season in 2012, and have followed it up with the SEC's worst offense through 11 games (327.9 YPG) this season.
Head coach Will Muschamp attempted to calm the firestorm surrounding his embattled offensive coordinator.
"When you lose three offensive tackles, and two quarterbacks and a 1,000-yard rusher and a receiver, it makes it very difficult to call plays," Muschamp said. "Brent's a good play-caller and an outstanding football coach. It's been frustrating for all of us, including him."
So has he been operating in a manner consistent with Muschamp's philosophy?
"We want to do what we gotta do to win games," he said. "That's what you need to do and we haven't done that this year."
Translation: Brent Pease will probably be looking for work this time next week.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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If No. 14 NIU's quarterback Jordan Lynch wasn't in the Heisman conversation, he certainly put himself right in the center of it after his 321-yard rushing performance against Western Michigan. For a running back, that total would be Heisman worthy, but for a quarterback, it's record breaking, literally.
Lynch didn't just rack up the yards, he also found the end zone three times. Here's a video of the two he scored in the first half:
The NIU QB has run for 1,755 yards and 20 touchdowns this year, which is good for No. 2 in the nation. Lynch's rushing stats could deserve Heisman attention alone as SportsCenter points out:
He's also thrown for 2,457 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Being in the MAC hurts Lynch's chances of winning the Heisman, but we're going to focus on why Lynch still deserves the Heisman over the likes of Jameis Winston, AJ McCarron, Andre Williams and even Derek Carr. First, let's look at team performance.
Lynch has lead NIU to their fourth straight MAC Championship game. Also, if they stay ahead of Fresno State in the BCS Rankings, he will have lead them to their first and second BCS Bowl appearances.
The performance of NIU is certainly more impressive than Boston College's 7-4 record playing in the ACC. Individually, here's how Lynch and Williams compare:
Lynch trails Williams by about 300 rushing yards on the year.
To call them equal is to say that Lynch's 2,457 passing yards and 22 touchdowns are equal to about 300 rushing yards. It's also to say that an undefeated MAC team on the verge of a BCS berth is equal to a four-loss ACC team projected to play in the Music City Bowl.
Lynch has the advantage here.
Jameis Winston and AJ McCarron both hold the advantage in team performance. And both USA Today and HeismanPundit.com have Winston and McCarron ranked ahead of Lynch. Winston's Heisman hopes hang in the balance with the ruling of a court case.
Just being accused is certainly not Heisman material, but let's assume the case has no effect on Winston's Heisman run.
With that we have three undefeated quarterbacks. Two of them have top-tier receivers, running backs and great defenses. And Lynch stacks up to McCarron just on the merit of his passing statistics as noted by ESPNU's Danny Kanell:
The Winston and Lynch comparison is a bit closer:
Factor in Lynch's 1,600 more rushing yards and 17 more rushing TDs, and it's no contest.
All three QBs are crucial to their team's success, but Lynch is the most crucial. He's the team's leading passer and rusher. Against Western Michigan, Lynch accounted for 80-percent of his teams total offense according to Bryan Vance of SBNation.
If Albama or Florida State had to rely on their QB for 80 percent of their offense, it's not likely that they would be in the National Championship picture.
Lynch does it all for his team and has added his name to a 20-20 club that features three previous Heisman winners as shown by ESPN:
Granted, level of competition has to be accounted for. McCarron has the best edge, playing in the SEC. Winston has a slight edge with the ACC competition. I ask, what's it worth to play in these conferences? There's not a quantitative answer, and conventional wisdom seems to side with major conferences.
Voters shouldn't penalize Lynch so harshly.
Undefeated is as good as a team can be, and Lynch is there with McCarron and Winston. At that point, let's turn to the numbers. I believe the numbers side with Lynch.
Lynch isn't the only QB leading a small conference team into the BCS picture. There's also Fresno State's Derek Carr. Carr has thrown 3,948 yards and 39 touchdowns. He does benefit from a pass-happy uptempo offense, but those numbers deserve a mention.
Lynch has surpassed Carr in the BCS rankings, which helps his cause since the two are comparable. As I mentioned above, team performance isn't everything.
The combination of Lynch's rushing and passing stats represent a more difficult and meaningful combination than Carr's gaudy passing numbers.
"I think he's the best player in college football." Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck said of Lynch via Shannon Ryan Chicago Tribune. "He's the best player because he does everything. And he does everything at an elite level. He deserves to be in New York."
Lynch won't likely win the Heisman, but it won't be for lack of trying. With a MAC Championship game left, NFL Associate Editor Ian Kenyon speculates that Lynch could do something unthinkable:
Simply put, he has the best combination of individual production and team performance in the NCAA.
It's feasible that Lynch's NIU Huskies will be conference champions, ranked in the BCS Top 10 and playing in a BCS Bowl.
Lynch should get to add Heisman Finalist to that list.
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Ohio State and Michigan are scheduled to add to their storied rivalry this Saturday. While the Buckeyes have their eyes on getting into the national title game, the Wolverines will do all they can to spoil the season of their arch nemesis.
The pair of Big Ten powers are also constructing great recruiting classes. Both programs have a chance to finish among the nation's elite, but it's tough to decide which has the better class.
The only way to do that is to see who has the advantage at each unit.
Every year there are surprises and disappointments from preseason predictions, and in 2013, there may be no bigger disappointing performance than that of Michigan Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner.
It's led some to wonder what Gardner's future is at Michigan. Will he be able to stay at quarterback and recover from this season? Or will the coaching staff go another route and put Gardner in a different position in 2014?
A lot of the answers to those questions won't be had until this spring and likely depend on who is coaching Gardner in 2014.
The fact that we are asking questions about Gardner's future as the Michigan quarterback should tell you just how disappointing his season as been.
Over at ESPN.com, Gardner was thought of as the 11th-best player in the Big Ten coming into the season.
It was hard not to buy into the hype, considering how Michigan looked with Gardner at quarterback down the stretch in 2012.
Gardner threw for 1,219 yards (243.8 yards per game) and 11 touchdowns to five interceptions in five starts last season. More than the stats, it was how different the offense looked with Gardner behind center that had people excited.
In four of the five games, the Michigan offense scored 30 or more points. Only in the Ohio State game did the Wolverines fail to score 30 points.
Michigan looked like a team capable of playing consistent pro-style offense with Gardner at quarterback.
However, all of those projections and prognostications about how good Gardner was going to be and how good his team was going to be have fallen by the wayside.
In no way is 2013 a success for Gardner or his team. First off, the Wolverines started the season ranked No. 17 in the country.
Today, the Wolverines are sitting at 7-4 and haven't been ranked since before a 29-6 loss to Michigan State to open up November.
Gardner's numbers have dropped compared to last year nearly across the board. He's completing 58.7 percent of his passes this season compared to 59.5 percent last year. Additionally, he's averaging 228.1 yards passing compared to the 243.8 average from last season.
He also has failed to cut down on the interceptions, throwing 11 interceptions in total and throwing an interception in all but three games this season.
Not all of those numbers are directly Gardner's fault. He hasn't had much help from perhaps the weakest overall offensive line in the Big Ten and has been sacked 32 times this season.
The run game hasn't been there as well, and Gardner has had to be more of a running quarterback than the pro-style offense was supposed to allow him to be. He's averaging 14.2 carries a game this season compared to 9.4 carries a game last season.
Overall, Michigan is averaging just 128.8 yards a game on the ground, which ranks 100th nationally and 11th in the Big Ten.
However, this past week against Iowa, Gardner put up one of his worst performances of his career. He completed 46.4 percent of his passes for just 98 yards, yet he managed two passing touchdowns.
Gardner also had a terrible fumble when the Wolverines couldn't afford a turnover. It led to Gardner putting the blame on himself following the game.
"I lost the game by myself," Gardner said, according to MLive.com. "I fumbled the ball when they trusted me (with it)."
It's all led to questions as to whether or not offensive coordinator Al Borges has put Gardner in the best positions to be successful, or if it's about Gardner's skill set just not being good enough for the offense Michigan wants to run.
With highly touted freshman Shane Morris—a prototypical pro-style quarterback—waiting in the wings, the thoughts of moving away from Gardner and going fully to the pro-style offense have only increased as the season has gone on.
Gardner hasn't exactly set the world on fire as a quarterback like most thought he would this season, and there has been a lack of depth at wide receiver, the position Gardner played before quarterback.
Could that be where Gardner ends up being the best help to this team heading into his senior year?
We may not get the answers to those questions or scenarios until we know what is going on with the coaching staff.
What we do know is that based on Gardner's 2013 season, there is huge room for improvement, and if it isn't coming, it may be time to see what the youngsters can do for this offense.
Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish…unless you’re the No. 4 Auburn Tigers facing the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on CBS).
In this case, how Auburn begins the game will go a long way in determining how it finishes.
From the minute the Alabama team bus pulls up to Jordan-Hare stadium, head coach Nick Saban and his players will be greeted by a hostile environment. Noise will be at a peak, the jeers will be at their wittiest and the confidence of an upset will be at its highest.
It’s vital that the Tigers maintain that intensity throughout the stadium for as long as they can.
With that said, here is the team’s blueprint for a dream start.
1. Score on Opening Drive
In the last 31 games, spanning back to 2010, only Texas A&M (twice) has managed to score on the opening drive against the Tide. The Aggies won one of those games on Nov. 20 of last year, 29-24, and lost the other earlier this season, 49-42.
But in both cases, an early lead—20-0 and 14-0 respectively—allowed Texas A&M to hang around until the final whistle.
That’s a strategy that Auburn will have to adopt on Saturday.
Thus far, the Tigers have scored on their opening drives seven times this year. The team is 7-0 in those games.
Not only will putting up points quickly get the fans even louder, but it also puts more pressure on Alabama to respond.
2. Force Turnovers and Capitalize with Points
During the Aggies’ victory over the Tide last season, the team followed up its opening-drive touchdown by picking off quarterback AJ McCarron in Alabama territory. From there, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel made quick work, finding the end zone in four plays for a 14-0 lead.
Look for Auburn to follow suit.
Entering Week 14, McCarron has shown vulnerabilities on the road. In four games away from home, the senior has thrown three interceptions and only completed 58.0 percent of his passes for a passer rating of 145.0.
In comparison, he’s thrown just two picks and completed 76.6 percent of his throws for a rating of 180.3 in seven contests inside the friendly confines of Bryant-Denny Stadium.
That’s music to the ears of a Tigers defense that has recorded 12 interceptions on the season and forced a turnover in eight consecutive games and in all but one this season.
Auburn must make McCarron uncomfortable early and often.
3. Establish the Ground Game
Coming into this week, only Army and Navy have had more success running the ball than the Tigers.
Through 11 games, Auburn has averaged 320.3 yards per game on the ground. Running back Tre Mason and quarterback Nick Marshall have been a large part of that.
Mason currently leads the team with 1,153 yards and 17 touchdowns on 208 rushes. Marshall comes in at second, rushing for 823 yards and nine scores on 123 carries.
The success for both of these players becomes even more important when you consider that almost nobody has had more success at stopping the run than the Tide.
Thus far, the team ranks No. 4 against the run (91.3 YPG). Alabama has only given up five rushing touchdowns while conceding a meager 3.01 yards per carry.
In fact, the Tide haven’t allowed an opposing running back to top 80 yards since Week 1.
If the Tigers have any hope of winning, both Mason and Marshall will need to exploit a run defense that has been a brick wall for the majority of the year.
Summing It All Up
Over the years, teams that have managed to put Alabama into an early hole have been the ones that have come away victorious.
However, that’s a lot easier said than done. That’s evident by the fact that the Tide have only dropped five games since 2008.
Fortunately for Auburn, the team has all the right tools to carve out an upset that would send shockwaves throughout the entire college football landscape.
And if the Tigers can put it altogether flawlessly on Saturday, they can pounce ahead early and never look back.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com.
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Alabama will make the short trip to Auburn on Saturday, as the Tigers will host the Crimson Tide for the 2013 Iron Bowl. Already a bitter rivalry, this year's game has SEC and national championship implications.
Alabama is tops in the BCS standings, while Auburn is not far behind at No. 4. Both programs are also doing well off the field, as they have enjoyed great success on the recruiting trail.
With Saturday's game destined to be epic, it's time to see which Iron Bowl program has the superior recruiting class.
This is it. August and opening weekend seem like yesterday, but the 2013 Pac-12 football season is nearing its conclusion. And what a season it's been.
Though the conference will again go without a national championship, this has been a banner year. A record nine teams are bowl-eligible, including Washington State, which should snap the conference's longest postseason drought.
The 2013 campaign is also remarkable for the resurgence of USC, a longtime power that had seemingly hit hard times. But with a fiery interim head coach in Ed Orgeron and a thin but talented roster, the Trojans are one of the Pac-12's hottest teams. With the Trojans streaking and UCLA on the rise, the battle for Los Angeles is the conference's marquee matchup for Week 14—and could continue to be the Pac-12's marquee rivalry for the foreseeable future.
All lines courtesy of VegasInsider.com.
Record Last Week: 3-3 (3-3 against the spread)
Record This Season: 69-15 (50-34 against the spread)