NCAA Football News
It took until April, but TCU coach Gary Patterson has finally broken his silence when it comes to being left out of the initial College Football Playoff.
Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com noted that the Horned Frogs' leader spoke to a small group of reporters and was critical of dropping from No. 3 to No. 6 in the final rankings despite beating Iowa State 55-3 in his team’s last regular-season game. The eventual national champion Ohio State Buckeyes leapfrogged TCU after destroying Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Dodd passed along some of Patterson’s comments:
I was told the reason we had a [selection] committee is we were going to take all that stuff out of it. [Conference] championship games shouldn't have mattered.
Their job was to watch all this film and pick the four best teams no matter who you played, what you did. All the sudden it came down to, ‘Well, they played a championship game but they didn't.' That's not what we were told. We were told they were going to pick the four best teams.
Interestingly, Dodd noted that Patterson told Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads before their two teams squared off that he believed his own squad would not reach the playoff. Turns out, he was right.
Patterson was also quick to point out that things may have gone differently if his team was a national brand school, like a Texas, Oklahoma or the Ohio State squad that got into the playoffs instead.
"There was that motto out there, if we would have been an Oklahoma and Texas with a larger fan base and sold more T-shirts, that we would have been in the playoffs," he said. "I think we gained more possibly by not being in the playoffs -- and how we handled it -- than by being in the playoffs."
That may be the case, but TCU suffered a 61-58 loss to Baylor, and the Bears ultimately ended the season in the No. 5 spot in the playoff rankings. It would have been difficult to explain to Baylor how it was left out of the top four in favor of a team it beat in a head-to-head matchup from its own conference.
By including Ohio State instead of Baylor or TCU, the potential controversy of choosing between Big 12 teams was eliminated.
If the Big 12 had a conference title game that allowed its teams to make one final statement against quality competition like the Buckeyes did, things may have unfolded differently for the eventual winner as well. However, David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest believes there is a downside to that avenue moving forward:
TCU ultimately made a rather loud statement when it dismantled an Ole Miss team from the mighty SEC to the tune of 42-3 in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
Of course, that statement may have rung louder if the Ohio State squad that controversially jumped TCU didn’t go out and knock off Alabama and Oregon en route to a national title or the Michigan State team that Ohio State beat during the season didn't win the Cotton Bowl against the same Baylor squad that beat TCU.
All is not lost for the Horned Frogs, though, especially after the bowl performance.
Quarterback Trevone Boykin is one of many talented returnees, and TCU figures to be among the top two or three teams in the country when the initial polls come out before the 2015 season. As long as it takes care of business, it is difficult to envision a scenario where it would be left out of the playoff this year.
That may not help remove the pain of being left out a season ago, but at least the Horned Frogs have a bright future to look forward to in 2015 and beyond.
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The spotlight on Tallahassee has dimmed, at least temporarily. With the mass exodus of talent from Florida State—headlined by the departure of its former Heisman-winning, headline-grabbing quarterback—expectations for the Seminoles have cooled to room temperature for the upcoming season.
There are holes along the offensive line. There are large holes at tight end and wide receiver. There are holes along the defensive line and in the secondary. But for all these notable vacancies and empty roster spots scattered across Jimbo Fisher’s evolving depth chart, none are more glaring than the one at quarterback.
Jameis Winston’s brief tenure at Florida State was chaotic. There is no other way to put it. Without him, however, the Seminoles never win a national championship. They also don’t come just short of another.
His wizardry against the clock and under duress gave Florida State a chance—even when the prospects looked bleak. But now, much like many of his talented teammates, he’s gone.
What’s left is a roster ripe with talent and a group of quarterbacks with ample promise and even more questions. This group will take center stage this weekend as Florida State celebrates its offseason with a spring game. A starter could be named shortly after.
There is a defined hierarchy of hopefuls—at least starting at the top—though the player who ultimately replaces Winston may not actually be on campus yet. Taking this uncertainty one cryptic step further, the next great quarterback at Florida State might not be on the roster this season.
In September of last year, the football world learned the name Sean Maguire. After Winston was suspended—at first for one half but later for a full game—Maguire was thrown into action against Clemson, one of the premier defenses in the nation and a critical conference foe.
Given the circumstances, Maguire played well. He looked inexperienced, nervous and slightly out of place, but it was anticipated that he would look inexperienced, nervous and slightly out of place. The 6'3", 224-pound QB also flashed brightly at moments—throwing for more than 300 yards and a touchdown.
Most important to its eventual College Football Playoff appearance, Florida State eked out a win.
Seven months and many reps later, the soon-to-be redshirt junior is in line to be the starting quarterback for the upcoming season. His head coach has not been shy in admitting as such.
“If I had to bet right now, yes, but we’ll wait and see,” Fisher told Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com when asked about Maguire’s prospects to start. “As of right now, he’s done the things he needs to be doing.”
Maguire certainly feels like the safe option, and perhaps that’s not doing his ability the appropriate justice. The reality is that we simply don’t know—not with such limited reps. Unless something drastically changes on Saturday, he could be named the starter shortly after.
What happens from there is another conversation entirely.
There are four quarterbacks currently on Florida State’s roster. Please take note of the word “currently” and store it for later use.
Joining Maguire are John Franklin III, J.J. Cosentino—both were with the team last season—and freshman early enrollee De'Andre Johnson.
Franklin, who redshirted in 2013, is the most athletic quarterback on the roster. He’s taken reps at wideout, run track and been a valuable asset on the scout team. When the Seminoles played a mobile quarterback, Franklin assumed the role. Given his range of skills, he fit this position quite nicely. He’s also still incredibly raw.
Cosentino was a true freshman in 2014 and the No. 15-rated pro-style quarterback in the class of 2014, according to 247Sports. He has the size—listed at 6'4" and 237 pounds—and a big arm to go with this size. For further proof of the mortar sitting on top of his shoulder, here he is throwing a football over a four-story building.
The rest of Cosentino’s game is relatively unknown. Clearly he has the tools necessary to succeed at the position, although he’s a wild card—and an underdog—in this race.
The same can be said about Johnson, who is still acclimating himself to the college lifestyle and Florida State’s offense. Johnson, 247Sports’ No. 11 dual-threat quarterback in this past class, has electric ability. He’s also remarkably raw and listed at 6'0" and 174 pounds on his recruiting profile.
Much like the others mentioned above, there is plenty to like about Johnson’s game. He’s a playmaker, though the buzz over his potential to start hasn’t exactly blossomed this spring, nor would you expect it to. There is still so much to learn.
The Wild Card
The most intriguing and enticing quarterback option of the whole bunch isn’t even there just yet. Deondre Francois—still months away from arriving on campus—doesn’t seem the least bit worried when it comes to the steep challenge ahead.
When speaking of Winston in a Bleacher Report piece earlier this year, Francois seemed comfortable with the idea of being next in line.
“He’s a good player,” Francois said of Winston. “But I like to play my own game, have my own swag.”
Yes, 247Sports’ No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2015 has plenty of it. He also has plenty of game, too.
Though he’s listed as a pro-style quarterback, Francois also brings plenty of speed to his game. He’s not a towering prospect just yet at 6'1" and 195 pounds, but he was one of the better deep-ball throwers in the class.
In terms of overall ability, Francois might be, in time, the best quarterback on the roster. Given the fact that he won’t have the benefit of spring practice, he will likely spend the better part of camp simply settling in.
The likelihood of him starting in the first game seems remote, especially as Fisher seems to lean more toward experience with his complex offense. Remember, it took Winston, one of the sharpest football minds out there, a redshirt season to learn the ins and outs of Fisher's system.
That doesn’t mean Francois won’t play this upcoming year. Clearly he’s entering with eyes on the opening. But it would take a miraculous early impression for such unlikely scenarios to be considered, confident or not.
To truly replace Winston, you can’t simply name a starter. Technically, the individual dubbed the starter for the team’s first game against Texas State will be his replacement, but this does little to guarantee short- or long-term success.
Winston’s replacement may not be on the roster this spring. Heck, he may not be on the roster by the time Florida State’s upcoming season comes to a close.
Malik Henry, 247Sports’ No. 9 player overall and No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2016, is currently garnering rave reviews in the high school ranks. And yes, the new IMG Academy product just so happens to be a Florida State verbal commit.
Although a lot can happen in the recruiting world between now and signing day, Henry already has his sights set on an early arrival.
"I'm graduating early, so in a few months, I'll officially be a Seminole," Henry told Bleacher Report’s Sanjay Kirpalani.
Assuming Henry will be the next great quarterback at Florida State is a magnificent stretch, at least as it stands in April. Recruiting is a strange, unpredictable craft, and projecting young quarterbacks is an art form that has yet to be mastered. But there’s no denying his enormous potential and possible presence on the roster. Regardless of what happens this fall, Henry could shift the depth chart simply by showing up.
But that won’t be, at the very earliest, until the end of the year. By that point, perhaps a quarterback will have unexpectedly grabbed the baton from the best quarterback in the country and take off running.
This is not about finding the next Jameis Winston. In all likelihood, you’ll be searching for a while. This is about finding a quarterback capable of winning games through whatever means necessary. It's about winning games and keeping momentum churning, and Florida State, despite the exodus, has a great deal of it.
Maguire will likely be the one who gets the first crack to keep things moving forward, and he could very well outperform modest expectations.
With a young core of wideouts, a future star at running back and talent scattered throughout an inexperienced and youthful roster, Maguire won’t have to be his successor’s reincarnation for the Seminoles to better than anticipated. And whether he does or not, Florida State will have no shortage of quarterback options.
More help, whether the Seminoles need it or not, is coming.
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It's not December, but this is Christmas time for Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema. Spring football: It's the most wonderful time of the year.
He may as well be a kid again.
"It’s the greatest time in the world to coach," said Bielema. "You don’t have a dark cloud hanging over your head of an opponent on Saturday. We’re not trying to beat LSU, Alabama or Auburn. You don’t have to worry about the task of a game plan.
"It allows you to focus on everything that is right about football."
It's the right time to be Bielema. The Razorbacks won three of their final four games, including a 31-7 rout over Texas in the Texas Bowl, to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2011. There's some mojo around the program that hasn't been present in awhile; the irony, of course, is that Arkansas still finished dead last in the SEC West.
But there is a contagious optimism in spring, even for coaches coming off of losing seasons. Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury and North Texas' Dan McCarney finished with 4-8 records and are tasked with getting back on the right track.
Everyone is 0-0, especially Pitt's Pat Narduzzi. He enters his first spring as a head coach after serving as a defensive coordinator for 10 years under Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati and Michigan State.
How each coach conducts his spring practice, though, is like having a batting stance: Everyone does it a little differently. What they all want, though, is to come out better prepared for the chaos of the regular season.
Here's what they really think about college football's best season.
Keeping It Fun
Major college football is a multibillion dollar business, and it will never go back to what it was. There's a lot at stake—namely jobs at every level—week in and week out.
It is still a game, though.
To keep things loose, McCarney created the Mean Green Laugh of the Day. It can be anything that happened in practice that day. "Maybe someone fell asleep in a meeting and the position coach got him with a bullhorn," he said. "And everything is recorded, you know."
The program favorite, though, is the look-a-like contest. It's just like it sounds: Someone puts a player or coach's picture on a wall in the facilities building next to his respective doppelganger.
Who was McCarney's?
"Ernest Borgnine," he said, "and it wasn't a very becoming picture, either."
He pauses and then chuckles.
"If you can't laugh at yourself..."
Yes, coaches ride their players hard. They yell, and they push others to their limits. The chaos and fatigue that exist in the regular season are created in the months between February and May when there are no opponents on the schedule. It's the ultimate form of preparation.
"It's about building faith and trust," Narduzzi said. "Take the Cotton Bowl against Baylor. We were down at the half, but because we had trust in one another, we were able to go out and play the second half. We didn't allow a single fourth-quarter point."
However, practices have to have an element of fun. There's too much hard work being put in for there not to be. Narduzzi likes to blast music and run around with his team. It's not a good day if he's not sweating. Standing around with a clipboard is the "old-school way of doing it," he said. "We're new school."
Bielema and Kingsbury love team-building competitions, both during and beyond spring practices. They are the crucibles in which team chemistry is organically grown. They range from paintball games to bowling, cookouts to dance-offs, as Kingsbury headed last spring.
"Your team grows more between that last play of the spring game to the first day of fall camp than at any other time of the year," Bielema said.
Competing All Day, Every Day, With Everyone
Bielema and McCarney have something in common. Both are former underrecruited players who ended up at Iowa trying to make a name for themselves. Spring football was their means to do it.
"When I was a player, I was an unrecruited walk-on," Bielema said. "I made my biggest gain in the program in my very first spring because I moved past people on the depth chart. I knew how to work. I could learn well, and I carried that over to the playing field. I’ve seen so many kids have a similar approach in our program."
Now on the other end of things, they see their players carving similar paths.
McCarney added, "You have walk-ons, guys coming off of redshirts, guys who have had disappointing careers so far. They all have something to prove."
Including early enrollees. The Razorbacks have seven freshmen early enrollees for 2015, many of whom are competing at positions of need. One player specifically, 4-star defensive tackle Hjalte Froholdt from Denmark, is taking first-team reps.
"He's played both the nose tackle and 3-technique," Bielema said. "He’s 6’5”, runs like a deer, learns like Einstein and plays like Rocky Balboa."
Bielema is a fan of early enrollees because they've already succeeded in academics and athletics. "They're not dumb," he explained.
It's true; there's something to be said for a teenager bright enough to handle three-and-a-half years of high school and football. With the rise of summer camps and seven-on-seven competitions, more football players are coming into college better prepared for competition.
Physically, there will be room to grow, but mentally, freshmen are catching up.
"Now, a lot of them do get homesick. There is that, " Bielema added. "Little Johnny should be going to prom, but instead he’s getting his head beat in for 64 plays in a Saturday scrimmage."
Kingsbury started two freshmen quarterbacks in 2013—Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield—and won eight games. He knows firsthand what they're capable of doing.
He isn't alone in this philosophy, but Kingsbury is a big believer that winning is a destination and competition is the road that gets you there. "That raises the level of play for everybody," he said. "You have your schemes, the things you want to tweak; but for us, spring is about watching your guys compete for their position."
Kingsbury comes across as cool and collected, someone who has it together all the time. And he is, and he does. However, he's not OK with the status quo. There has to be a level of discomfort every day. One of his bigger frustrations from 2015 stemmed from the fact that he didn't have quarterback competition in the spring. Webb, who played in 10 games as freshman in '13, was the only scholarship signal-caller available.
This spring, Webb, though recovering from a shoulder injury, has been competing with sophomore Patrick Mahomes. "With Davis and Patrick, each day knowing they have to bring it, it’s been huge," Kingsbury said. "They’ve improved dramatically. They’ve been protecting the ball more."
That competition is expected to continue into preseason practices.
Players Developing on Their Own
There's only so much coaches can do during spring. That's a technicality.
The NCAA allows coaches 20 hours a week to work with players and up to 15 spring practices. Beyond that, players are on their own. If they want to stay after practice and run routes, that's on them. If they want to watch film outside of meetings, it's their time.
But that's when the real growth occurs.
"The technology is there," McCarney said. "When I was in school, I had to drive from Iowa City to Cedar Rapids to get film.
"The best players are the ones who are willing to sacrifice their personal time to be better."
Bielema uses a buddy system with older and younger players. The idea, he explained, is to get young players into the right habits early. It's not just an on-the-field partnership either. He wants older players explaining to newer ones where the best places are to live and which foods are the best ones to eat at the training table.
Football, like all sports, is a game of "want to."
One of the most rewarding aspects of spring practices for coaches is to watch players grow knowing they put in the work on their own.
"Every guy has the one thing that makes them tick," Narduzzi said. "Great players are the ones who have the desire to do things—the things they're not as good at—on their own."
In between, coaches do what they can to develop players physically and mentally without crushing them. Those interviewed preferred three practices per week—and no back-to-back practices to keep players from physically breaking down.
"Because you don’t have games, you want to make spring practices physical, you want to bang 'em around pretty good, but you want these guys healthy," Kingsbury said. "There’s a fine line, but spring is a time to up the physicality because you want to make it a demanding environment. At the same time, you don’t want to have 300-play scrimmages."
Additionally, the coaches polled said they like about eight weeks of strength and conditioning in the winter to get players ready. Strength coaches have become the unofficial assistant head coach. They're as important as anyone on the staff because of the amount of time they spend with players when coaches aren't permitted.
"Effort is great, but it’s a byproduct of getting better," Bielema said. "Take (former defensive end) Trey Flowers last year. This was a guy that could have left for the NFL but grew as much as anyone last spring because he developed on his mental and physical tools.
"When you have a player of elite status get better during spring, I know that someone who’s just beginning can get better as well."
Things are even more wide-open for Narduzzi. This is a new coaching staff trying to earn the trust of players who have been there longer and know the program better.
This is Narduzzi's first spring as the head honcho of a college football program after spending years as an assistant. So how does it feel?
"Is there a difference?"
Don't know, is there?
Narduzzi wants to have fun. He wants to create competition, and he wants to win above all. But he also knows that he can't do any of that without earning the respect of his players.
It's a twofold approach really. Narduzzi employs the "I'll trust you until you give me a reason not to" philosophy and would like the same in return. He also understands, though, that the players have to buy into the concepts he's teaching.
If nothing else, time demands it. During the summer, players are mostly on their own. Not everything will be accomplished immediately, Narduzzi explained, but there has to be a solid enough foundation that players can conduct summer workouts without developing bad habits.
"That's the fun part, the challenging part," he said. "I'm kind of a builder in that way."
In their own way, every coach starts over each spring. Whether it's installing a new scheme or managing expectations, a blank whiteboard is a metaphor that carries a lot of different meanings.
Losing records? They don't matter. "It's in the past," said Kingsbury and McCarney.
Even surging programs have to wipe the slate clean. There's a danger in getting too caught up in media hype. Bielema knows his kids read social media, watch ESPN and the SEC Network. It's his job to bring them back down.
"The respect you have in college football? That rent is due everyday," Bielema said. "It’s not once a month; it’s something you pay daily."
And it is paid in the form of sweat and blood on the practice field. It's a tough time for the players. If winter conditioning did its job, they're better prepared—but not fully prepared. Coaches can't have that type of complacency.
They don't want it either. There's a joy in the challenge of player growth because there has to be an infancy to it. That infancy is now.
And, maybe, these coaches see themselves in their players. In a way, they're kids all over again.
"The players, they hate spring. They say 'I want the game, I want the game, I want the game.' But coaches? We love it," McCarney said. "The best time of day is when you're on the field with your players.
"If some coach says they'd rather be in a meeting room, well, they're B.S.ing you."
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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Nebraska football fans will get their one dose of football on Saturday at the Red-White Spring Game to tide them over through the long summer months until football season begins again. They will be scrutinizing every little piece of information they can find to get some idea of what Nebraska will look like under new head coach Mike Riley when the 2015 season begins.
To help, here are five things you can keep your eyes on during the spring game to help give you an insight of things to come for the scarlet and cream.