NCAA Football News
The USC Trojans had a disastrous 2012 season after initially being ranked first in the country. With lowered expectations and a relatively easy early schedule in 2013, Lane Kiffin's team will get off to a strong start and bounce back in a big way from last year's disappointment.
Some concern may be present due to the changing nature of the defense under new coordinator Clancy Pendergast or the lack of a true starter at quarterback, but there is no reason that Southern Cal can't rattle off six victories out of the gate.
None of the No. 24-ranked Trojans' opponents in the early going are ranked.
The toughest home game is against Utah State, a Mountain West team who went 11-2 last year but graduated their top three receivers—including 1500-yard rusher Kerwynn Williams.
Trips to Hawaii and Arizona State shouldn't cause too many problems—even if the Sun Devils are receiving several votes in the early polls. Home showdowns with Boston College and Washington State shouldn't, either.
Now that QB Matt Scott is gone from Arizona, too, the Trojans will be keen on revenge from last year's loss to the Wildcats. This time, the meeting will come in the friendly confines of the LA Coliseum in a Thursday evening showcase.
The first time USC will meet a team in the preseason Top 25 will be in the very next contest: a road trip to South Bend in taking on arch-nemesis, 14th-ranked Notre Dame.
No matter who is quarterbacking the team—Max Wittek or Cody Kessler—the Trojan signal-caller will be tossing the pigskin to Marqise Lee, who is arguably the best athlete of any skills player in college football.
Between his electricity in the open field, knack for getting open, vision as a ball-carrier and dynamic returns, Lee is in prime position to be a Heisman Trophy contender.
In recently telling Gary Klein of The Los Angeles Times that he is 100 percent back from a shoulder injury, Lee expressed approval over both Wittek and Kessler:
One week I'll be like, "Oh, yeah, Cody did a great job." Next day, Max comes out and does a great job. I'm like "Oh, my God." So I'm glad I'm not the coach. It's a big decision for Kif. It's all on his back—his problem—all I've got to do is catch the ball.
Even though fellow prolific receiver Robert Woods graduated, the Trojans still have a strong enough running game keyed by running back Silas Redd to supplement the passing attack.
In helping Pendergast and Co. make the transition to a new defensive alignment, Kiffin has implied that the offense will run the ball more, citing the success of Alabama and Stanford as the inspiration for the change in tactics.
Plus, not having a seasoned starter under center certainly contributes to that strategy, too.
But while the defense struggled under Monte Kiffin's Tampa 2, 4-3 look—which works well at the NFL level but evidently didn't last year—Pendergast is bringing a dynamic shift to the talented unit.
Klein reports that Kiffin was looking for an immediate fix, and was intrigued by how well Pendergast turned around California in his first two years there.
More of an attacking mindset is being deployed in the unique 5-2 defense Pendergast commands, and at least a couple of players are loving it.
"Coach P is more of a 'get after the quarterback' type of guy," safety Dion Bailey said. "That's pretty much his identity."
Linebacker Hayes Pullard had similar praise, saying that "Pendergast brings that swagger. That's been great for us."
Swagger essentially defines the recent memory of the dominant USC program. When Pete Carroll was at the helm, he would mix it up with his players, celebrate on the sidelines and encourage his young men to have fun.
Football is an aggressive sport, and no player at this level is going to be repulsed by a breath of fresh air in Pendergast who is passionately advocating for more aggression and pressure on the opposing quarterback.
There are many changes taking place in terms of personnel, adjustments in schemes and in style of coaching at USC. However, it shouldn't be looked at as a chaotic, unstable time, but rather as a year of adaptability and renaissance.
Getting off to a 6-0 start playing hard-nosed, power-running football on offense and becoming more of a ball-hawking, quarterback-crushing bunch on defense should afford the Trojans plenty of Momentum heading to South Bend on Oct. 19.
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If not for a bowl ban against the Ohio State Buckeyes last season, it is entirely possible they would have met the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the National Championship Game, as they went undefeated during the regular season. Ohio State is eligible to play for the title this year, though, and Urban Meyer's squad is favored to reach the big game.
There is a reason why teams play out the season, though, since things rarely go as expected. The USC Trojans were the perfect example of that last season, opening the season as No. 1 in the polls only to fall completely out of the BCS picture. Ohio State is currently No. 2, but it won't exactly be a walk in the park.
Here are the three biggest hurdles standing between Ohio State and an undefeated season, which would almost certainly produce its first national title since 2002.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Although Ohio State can't afford to take any of its opponents lightly this season—even when it plays the University at Buffalo in its season-opening game—there is no question that the Buckeyes have a favorable schedule.
In fact, there are only three nationally ranked opponents on their slate, and none of them is ranked higher than No. 17. That puts Ohio State in a very favorable position as far as the regular season is concerned, but if it reaches the National Championship Game and has to play the Alabama Crimson Tide, the fun and games will be over.
The Big Ten isn't necessarily a pushover this season, but there is a definite lack of elite teams aside from Ohio State. Because of that, the Buckeyes should be heavily favored in essentially all of their games.
Assuming Ohio State plays to its potential in every regular-season game, as well as the Big Ten Championship Game, it appears the Buckeyes and Crimson Tide will be on a collision course. Ohio State will have to deal with some tough defenses and power running games in the Big Ten, but Alabama resides at a totally different level.
Bama is truly incredible, as it seems to lose high-quality players to the NFL each and every year. Despite that, head coach Nick Saban reloads and continues to win. Running back Eddie Lacy is now with the Green Bay Packers, but T.J. Yeldon rushed for more than 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns last year and appears to be in line for a huge 2013 campaign.
The defense lost some key components, but the Tide's depth will more than make up for that. Quarterback A.J. McCarron is the main constant, and it would be very difficult for Ohio State to overtake Alabama with him at the helm.
Skill Position Players
In many ways, it can be argued that the Buckeyes have to worry about beating themselves more than anything else this season. While quarterback Braxton Miller is expected to have a Heisman-caliber season, and the defense should be even better in Meyer's second season, there are reasonable question marks regarding Ohio State's skill players on offense. Miller can't win every game on his own, and he's going to need plenty of help over the course of the season.
Running back Carlos Hyde had the best season of his collegiate career in 2012, as he rushed for 970 yards and 16 touchdowns, but he'll need to be even better in 2013. Miller was actually Ohio State's leading rusher with more than 1,200 yards last season.
While tucking and running will still be a huge part of Miller's skill set this year, Hyde needs to alleviate some of the workload. If he can do that, Ohio State will be in much better shape.
An even bigger concern is Miller's receivers. Miller made some strides as a passer last season with over 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns to just six interceptions, but his completion percentage was only 58 percent. Much of that was on him, but his receivers were fairly inconsistent as well.
Philly Brown and Devin Smith both exceeded 600 yards receiving; however, they truly have to emerge as go-to guys. Miller lost a security blanket in the form of tight end Jake Stoneburner to graduation, so the onus is especially on Brown and Smith to have big seasons.
Assuming Ohio State is able to make its way past the first 11 potential landmines on its schedule, its game against the Michigan Wolverines on Nov. 30 could be absolutely huge. Ohio State vs. Michigan is already a big deal regardless of how good or bad the teams are, but if a potential National Championship Game appearance is on the line for either team, the atmosphere will be electric.
The Buckeyes may look better on paper, but they will have their hands full in front of nearly 110,000 strong at The Big House.
Michigan could be playing for a Big Ten Championship Game berth in its own right, so there is no doubt the Wolverines will be up for the game. Ohio State beat Michigan by just five points at home last season, so the Wolverines are likely to give the Buckeyes some trouble. "The Game" is always a spectacle, and it will be made even bigger if Michigan has a chance to ruin Ohio State's title aspirations. Perhaps it wouldn't be as difficult of a contest earlier in the season, but it definitely has trap-game implications for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State truly rose to the occasion against Michigan last year, as Meyer essentially billed that matchup as their national title game. There is a real national title to strive toward this year, but the Buckeyes can't afford to look past Michigan. Nothing would be more heartbreaking for Ohio State fans than for the team to go undefeated only to lose to Michigan in the final week of the season. The Ohio State players need to be fully aware of the pitfalls that the Wolverines present heading into that game.
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If your first introduction to Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel was during the Tigers' inaugural season in the SEC, you might not be impressed. However, in this second installment of our coverage of the 14 SEC coaches in 14 days, you will find Pinkel is a blue-collar coach with an impressive body of work.
Pinkel was a star football player in high school where he helped Kenmore High School win their first state championship in school history. Pinkel went on to sign with Kent State, where he would be a two-time all-conference selection and AP Honorable Mention All-American.
Pinkel was a vital part of the 1972 team that won the Mid-American Conference championship, the only conference championship in school history. Upon graduation, Kent State head coach Don James offered Pinkel a position as a graduate assistant, and he accepted.
In fact, the 1974 Kent State graduate assistant staff is one of the top graduate assistant staffs ever assembled, as it included both Pinkel and Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, who played in the secondary for the Golden Flashes.
James would leave Kent State prior to the 1976 season for the University of Washington, and Pinkel would follow him, serving one year as tight ends coach.
Pinkel would leave Washington to become wide receivers coach at Bowling Green. He would stay there two seasons before reuniting with James back at Washington as a wide receivers coach, a position he would hold for five seasons.
In 1984, Pinkel finally got the position he longed for as offensive coordinator for the Huskies. In his first season as offensive coordinator, Washington finished the season ranked No. 2 with an 11-1 overall record and a win in the Orange Bowl over Oklahoma.
In his seven seasons as offensive coordinator, he helped mold one of the nation's most potent offensive attacks, and in his final season at Washington, the Huskies finished with a No. 5 national ranking and were Rose Bowl champions.
In 1991, Pinkel became the head football coach at Toledo after his former graduate assistant and teammate Nick Saban departed to be an NFL defensive coordinator.
Pinkel would spend 10 seasons at Toledo and would leave the school's all-time winningest coach, while capturing one Mid-American Conference championship and three MAC West Division titles.
In 1995, he led the Rockets to an 11-0-1 record and finished the season as one of only two undefeated teams. After a 10-1 season in 2000, the Missouri Tigers came calling.
Missouri was a step up from Toledo in potential only. The Tigers had been horrific for 17 years.
In the 17 seasons prior to Pinkel's arrival, the Tigers were only bowl-eligible twice. Moreover, they only had more than four wins in a season four times. The first two seasons under Pinkel were not much better statistically as he posted a 9-14 record.
However, there was reason for Missouri fans to be optimistic. Although the Tigers did not make a bowl game, they were only one win short. They had three tough losses against ranked teams, including getting beat by the third-ranked Oklahoma on a fake field goal in the fourth quarter, an overtime loss to 18th-ranked Colorado in overtime and a last-second loss to Iowa State, who was ranked 22nd.
Yes, they were losses, but at least for the first time in almost two decades the Tigers were competitive.
2003 was a breakout season for the Tigers as they finished the season with eight wins and a berth to the Independence Bowl. The 2003 win total was the most for the Tigers since 1981, and a win over No. 10 Nebraska broke their losing streak to their conference rival (24) and against Top 10 teams (45).
In 2004, the Tigers dropped back down to five wins, but that season was a stepping stone for the future.
In 2005, Missouri finished the season 7-5 with an Independence Bowl victory over South Carolina 38-31. It was just the second bowl win for the Tigers' football program in 23 seasons.
Equally important for Tiger fans, it was the start of a bowl-eligibility streak of seven years.
The height of the run under Pinkel thus far was in 2007, when the Tigers finished the season ranked No. 4 in the nation with a 12-2 overall record. After reaching a No.1 national ranking, they were defeated in the Big 12 Championship Game.
However, they would rebound to dismantle nationally ranked Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl 38-7.
Pinkel might very well be on the hot seat, and if things don't turn around soon, he might be out as head coach of Missouri. However, no one should ever doubt the amazing job he has done at Missouri.
Moreover, if you are a betting person, it might be foolish to bet against Pinkel.
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Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney draws all of the headlines at South Carolina, but one of the more important pieces of the Gamecocks' puzzle in 2013 is at running back, where head coach Steve Spurrier has to replace Marcus Lattimore.
Sophomores Mike Davis, Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson emerged as the top candidates, and—as expected—Davis nailed down the starting spot for South Carolina's opener versus North Carolina on Aug. 29.
"We'll see all three, but right now Mike is a little bit ahead," assistant coach Everette Sands said after Tuesday's practice, according to Gamecocks Online. "He's going to be the starter."
Davis had 52 carries for 275 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman last season, 118 of which came in the final month of the season after Lattimore was lost for the year.
The 5'9", 215-pounder was the favorite heading into fall camp after capping off a solid spring with a dazzling 25-yard touchdown run in the spring game. He is built like a bowling ball, but light enough on his feet to be slippery and has home run speed.
"(Mike) made a few more plays in the scrimmages," Sands said. "All of them are getting better in the pass protection. They can all get it done, he just made a few more plays."
Considering he's stepping into the role that for parts of three seasons was occupied by Lattimore, comparisons to the former Gamecock superstar are inevitable.
Davis doesn't have to be Lattimore in order for the Gamecocks to be successful. He just has to be Davis. He will be the featured running back, but being a work horse like Lattimore is a completely different goal that Davis doesn't necessarily have to meet for the Gamecocks to be successful.
Winning without Lattimore is nothing new.
They've only lost one game over the last two seasons after he went out of the lineup. The reason for South Carolina's success without Lattimore is due in large part to the ability of quarterback Connor Shaw to make things happen on the ground.
The rising senior signal-caller has averaged 59.4 rushing yards per game in games not started by Lattimore, and scored nine of his 11 career rushing touchdowns. In games in which Lattimore has started, he averaged 36 rushing yards per game.
For Davis, finding a happy middle ground is where he needs to be and where Spurrier needs him to be. He needs to provide the offense with a solid, reliable option at running back that can keep Shaw from taking too many hits, but still allow the versatility of the Gamecock offense to shine through.
Trying to be Marcus Lattimore is too much, even if the Gamecocks may be limited offensively due to injury early in the season.
Bruce Ellington is limited by a hamstring injury, but has proven throughout his career that he's a reliable deep threat. Tight ends Rory Anderson and Jerell Adams were also unable to practice on Tuesday due to hamstring and ankle injuries, respectively.
It should be an interesting season in Columbia. Shaw will be the unquestioned No. 1 at quarterback, but backup Dylan Thompson should see the field in specific situations. That alone makes the offense incredibly dynamic since both players excel in different areas but are capable of running the entire offense.
If Davis can gobble up 15-20 carries per game and be reliable in pass protection, that would be a perfect scenario for the 2013 Gamecocks.
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"For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them."
–Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Penn State's collective heart sank earlier this month, when the Big Ten Network visited Happy Valley and reported that Tyler Ferguson—not blue-chip freshman Christian Hackenberg—was leading the team's quarterback battle.
It's not that PSU fans dislike Ferguson. He was the No. 5 JUCO quarterback on 247Sports' composite and looks every bit the part of a capable college passer. They would be happy (and lucky) to have him as a backup and revere him as a valuable insurance policy.
But Hackenberg is already a folk hero. He was the No. 2 pro-style quarterback on 247Sports composite and No. 1 on the site's subjective ratings. He's 6'4'' and only scratching the surface of his potential. He's been billed as the savior of a program that desperately needs saving.
Unless he performs drastically worse than Ferguson in practice, Penn State fans want to see Hackenberg out there in Week 1 vs. Syracuse. They want the new era of Penn State football to get underway this season. They want to take off Hackenberg's water wings, push him in the deep end of the pool and see if he can swim.
And they're absolutely right for wanting to do so.
Hackenberg is a rare prospect, earning a perfect grade of 100 from 247Sports and a .9925 on its composite (which is aggregated out of 100 from various recruiting services). Whenever a player of his merit comes along, there's debate as to whether he should ease into action or start right away.
In the past 10 years, eight true freshman have started eight-plus games after scoring 98-or-higher on the 247Sports composite. Here's how they fared:
That provides a general baseline on what to expect from Hackenberg, and though solid, it's decidedly unspectacular. Matt McGloin threw 24 touchdowns to five INTs last year, supplementing it with a 137.7 efficiency rating. So even if that baseline is taken as gospel, Hackenberg will almost surely be a drop-off from last season.
That drop-off gets even bigger when you remove the dual-threat quarterbacks, Braxton Miller and Terrelle Pryor. The six pro-style freshman above averaged an efficiency of just 121.7, more than five points lower than before. Again: If Hackenberg is the starter, no matter how cant-miss of a prospect he is/was, there are bound to be some bumps in the road.
Were Penn State concerned solely with the upcoming season, Ferguson vs. Hackenberg, as a battle, would hold genuine merit. But if it's looking to the future, that table doesn't just not compromise Hackenberg's claim to start—it validates it.
Why the change in verdict? Ignore the numbers on the list and look closely at the names. Other than Mitch Mustain, who promptly (and foolishly) transferred from Arkansas to USC, the others all benefited greatly from starting as true freshmen.
Especially the pro-style passers.
How greatly, you ask? Every single one of them, sans Mustain, would post a season-efficiency of 143.0 (or better) at one point of their career. After their first-year average of 121.7, their career average since rose to 143.5.
They are five of the more-accomplished BCS passers of the past decade, and none can be rightfully labeled a "bust." Chris Leak won a BCS National Championship and Matt Stafford was a No. 1 overall draft pick. Even much (and unfairly) maligned Jimmy Clausen threw 28 touchdowns to four interceptions as a junior in 2009.
Playing as a true freshman helped them all reach new heights.
Need further proof? From 2002-2011, 13 other pro-style passers earned a grade of 98-or-better on the 247Sports composite. Some, like Tajh Boyd and Mark Sanchez, enjoyed elite college careers in spite of sitting early. Their talent was that great.
But on a list of just 13, check out how many busts were produced:
- Garrett Gilbert*, Texas/SMU
- Dayne Crist, Notre Dame/Kansas
- Aaron Corp, USC
- Rhett Bomar, Oklahoma/Sam Houston State
- Kyle Wright, Miami
- Tommy Grady, Oklahoma/Utah
- Ben Olson, UCLA
Seven! Seven out of just 13! More than half of the "cant-miss" QBs who didn't start as true freshmen ended up missing anyway. As compared to just one-of-six who did start—and who's to say how good Mustain might have been had he stayed in Arkansas?
Ferguson, too, comes with relative hype, but compared to Hackenberg he might as well be chopped liver. Out of high school he had just a .7833 on the composite and now that's up to a mere .8383. He was the No. 5 pro-style prospect out of JUCO this year, but in the past three seasons, BCS schools have had little success starting those players in Year 1:
Whitmer could still come around for Connecticut, which is counting on him to not throw twice as many picks as TDs this coming season. But the other three guys on that list all fizzled out—and fast. History says a guy with Hackenberg's pedigree will become a superstar. Ferguson's forerunners all became forgotten.
It's wrong to say Penn State has "nothing" to play for this season, despite its bowl ineligibility. Ohio State proved that point with last year's 12-0 mark, which it has quickly parlayed into success with recruiting. There are reasons, both morale-based and financial, that winning would be a good thing in Happy Valley this year.
But Bill O'Brien can't just ignore the bowl ban either. He has to realize the bigger picture at hand; he must remember that unless Ferguson is demonstrably better than Hackenberg today, the latter provides a better chance to win tomorrow. He has to sacrifice, arguably, a win or two this year if it ensures his QB will actualize.
Like Aristotle said, the things we're supposed to learn through seeing are better learned by doing. Hackenberg can't learn to be a starting quarterback by sitting and watching Ferguson. He can only learn to be a starting quarterback by starting games at quarterback.
And that's exactly what he should do.
*Garrett Gilbert is still active and has a chance to shed the "bust" label in 2013.
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According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Jamabo and Flowers are the No. 1 and No. 2 running backs in the class respectively, and they both feature a ton of potential.
Soso Jamabo, 5-star RB, Plano West High School (Plano, Texas)
Jamabo is 6'2.5'', 200 pounds and he's only a rising junior recruit. That's tremendous size for a running back, and he also runs a 4.55 40 (247Sports). There's a lot to like about Jamabo just from his measurables alone.
For as big as he is, he's a very natural runner. Jamabo has extremely long strides and a fluid running motion. He's patient, waits for his blocks to develop and displays great vision for such a young back. In particular, Jamabo does a great job of setting up the cutback lane, planting his foot and changing direction.
He's shifty, has a nice spin move and definitely has a second-gear once he gets to open space. Jamabo will be good off the edges on stretch plays, and he can also be a factor as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.
Below you get a quick look at some of his abilities. Jamabo is in the slot here, running a quick out to the sideline. The wide receiver on the edge is running a "go" route, to help clear the flat. This is a good cover three beater, because the cornerback is forced to travel upfield with the receiver, and Jamabo has an advantage to the flats against the safety coming down:
Jamabo catches the ball, turns upfield and plants his outside foot to cut in. This is smart, instinctual football because he's using the defender's momentum against him. In the second picture you get a look at a powerful and effective stiff arm.
From there, Jamabo simply outruns two defenders to open space, and he gets a clear path to the end zone the rest of the way.
He took a quick out route and turned it into a touchdown. How did he do it? Agility, natural instincts and fundamentals.
Texas and Texas A&M are on top of Jamabo's 247Sports interest list.
Desherrius Flowers, 5-star RB, Vigor High School (Prichard, Ala.) *Alabama Commitment
Flowers is another big back at 6'1'', 212 pounds, and he committed to Alabama in April of 2013. He's going to have a ton of competition ahead of him on the depth chart, but there's no doubting the fact that he's a talented running back.
Flowers is simply a power runner, so he'll fit right in with Alabama. He runs with low pad-level, forward momentum and hits the hole hard. He's a typical north and south runner, meaning that he's going to get upfield in a hurry, and he won't do much dancing around in the backfield. He has that talent, but he's best when he tucks the ball and runs forward.
With that said, Flowers does have the speed to be an edge rusher, and he can be effective catching passes out of the backfield as well. He does have quick footwork and good vision.
In the play below Flowers is getting the hand off to the left. Notice the big hole he has to work with there:
He displays good balance and power by not getting tripped up by this diving tackle at his legs. Many running backs will get tripped up here, but not Flowers:
He gets back on track and upfield. Notice his shoulders are lowered and he's running with a forward lean (running with good pad level):
Here's a nice point of emphasis. Again, his shoulders are lowered and he makes contact with the defender trying to stop him. The best running backs in the world initiate contact with defenders, and this is what he does here:
Flowers puts on a nice spin move to get that last bit of separation he needs. Notice how the defender smartly tries to rip the ball out, but Flowers is able to pull it back and tuck it in:
From there, he walks into the end zone:
Many running backs would have been down on first contact there. Flowers initiates contact though, shows off a good spin move and creates a touchdown.
If he stays committed through signing day 2015, 'Bama will be getting another great back.
Note: Scouting and analysis done by writer, via breakdown of film provided on each recruit's respective 247Sports interest list. Screen grabs via their Hudl film.
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The 2012 USC football team was one comprised of giants that absolutely crumbled under the weight of lofty expectations. When push came to shove, mounting pressures and deflated egos crushed the team. This cost USC not only a trip to the title game that they were slated to play in, but also a highly coveted recruiting class. After the dust settled, the Trojans were reeling, their recruiting class in shambles and their coach on the hot seat.
When USC was in tight, win-or-go-home situations in 2012, more often than not they opted for the latter. It was as if they saw an uphill battle, and as a team, waved the white flag. Eventually, their confidence as a group plummeted. That's why against Arizona, despite the fact that wide receiver Marqise Lee single-handedly put the team on his back—he shredded the Wildcats for over 300 yards—the Trojans lost in baffling fashion. Arizona was not an isolated incident (I’m looking at you, UCLA, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech), though it was the most glaring example of a team that had lost its will to win once it stopped being easy.
Now, less than two weeks away from USC's season opener at Hawaii on Aug. 29, the Trojans are fostering a new mentality that could make a difference for them as the season wears on. It seems simple, but a "Team First, Ego Second" mantra is one the Trojans need, and one that surprisingly was not present in their 2012 campaign.
Having consumed a large helping of humble pie, the Trojans are ready to play together as a team, not as an assembly of stars.
"We really haven't missed a beat," redshirt senior offensive lineman Kevin Graf said of the development his unit has experienced under new coach Mike Summers. "We really work together well which is the biggest thing that needs to happen.”
That sentiment begins in the trenches and ripples throughout the entire team.
Despite the fact that USC has yet to name a starting quarterback between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek, there have been little in the way of distractions that plagued the team last season.
“We have such a great team dynamic but compared to last year we had so many individual, just highly-ranked guys,” Wittek tells Evan Budrovich of Reign of Troy. “This year, there is no drop off in talent, but we have so much more of a togetherness as a team.”
The togetherness that Wittek speaks of could be the difference between USC posting a 10-win season and having another disaster.
Though their quarterback will be green, USC returns experienced starters at all other skill positions, and the new-look 5-2 defensive scheme that Clancy Pendergast has installed is generating lots of buzz in LA for its ferocity. They have an extremely favorable schedule, with Stanford and UCLA coming to the Coliseum while also avoiding Oregon. The road is paved for a comeback season in Troy, though that can only happen if the team remains true to itself.
“A lot of the stuff you don’t see off the field, the great player accountability we have,” Wittek said of another difference between this season and last. “We have a good dynamic and it will be awesome this year to see how it all plays out.”
With big names like Marqise Lee, Silas Redd, Leonard Williams and Hayes Pullard lining either side of the line of scrimmage, the Trojans have a lot to look forward to talent-wise in 2013. They have a newly bolstered running back corps with a bevy of talent, a defensive line that can hang with the best of them and a wide receiving corps that is going to give opposing secondaries fits. But USC learned in 2012 that talent without heart or will is the difference between playing the postseason in Miami and playing it in El Paso.
If USC can stay grounded in putting the team first and checking egos at the door, the 2013 USC Trojans have the potential to surprise many who have counted them out this year.
It all begins next Thursday, when the Trojans travel to Hawaii for their season opener Aug. 29.
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The trap game is the one contest that every college football coaching staff hopes their team can overcome. It's that game on the schedule that seems fishy and sets an uneasy feeling to one's stomach. Some of the factors that play into a trap game include where the game is played, the time of the event or the fact that the opponent isn't given enough respect.
It's tough for a powerhouse such as Alabama to wake up for Ole Miss. You really think Oregon wants to travel to Colorado?
Some games simply don't motivate players, and that's when the opponent that everybody has counted out sets the trap.
Note: Rankings are in order of the latest AP Poll.
There is a lot of hype surrounding Arizona State football coming into 2013, and if all goes as planned, don't be surprised to see Marion Grice in New York come awards season.
ASU running back Marion Grice came to ASU last season as a JUCO transfer from Blinn College.
He put together a solid season while sharing time with Cameron Marshall and freshman D.J. Foster in 2012. Grice accounted for 19 total touchdowns, ran for 679 yards, had 425 receiving yards and averaged 6.6 yards per carry last season.
With Marshall graduated, Grice will get even more touches in 2013, and more touches means more touchdowns.
With a year under his belt at ASU, Grice should be able to perform at an even higher level than last year.
Grice's versatility, game-changing ability and nose for the end zone will make him a Heisman Candidate come year's end.
You have to start with ASU’s Marion Grice, who is going to continue putting up fantastic dual-threat numbers as a runner and receiver. He’s packed on more weight and ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said they've expanded the playbook now that he and quarterback Taylor Kelly are a year into the system.
Grice is the most versatile Sun Devil on ASU's roster. He can line up in the backfield or as a wideout and be just as successful.
His sneaky-quick speed and good hands make him a threat anywhere on the field.
The title of the video to the right is self-explanatory, but after just watching a minute of the video anyone can see how special a player Grice is.
There are plays where he puts his head down and runs between the tackles, plays where he runs a flat route and turns it up the sidelines and plays where he simply beats his man off the line and makes an over-the-shoulder catch like a wide receiver.
He can do it all, and do it well.
To win the Heisman, a player needs to be a game changer. Grice is a game changer.
Last year, ASU traveled to Tucson to play their annual rivalry game against the University of Arizona. It's the biggest game of the year for both schools and Grice stepped up by having his best game of the year.
He carried the ball 18 times, had 156 rushing yards, averaged 8.7 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns in ASU's win.
In the Sun Devils' Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl victory, Grice ran for 159 yards on 14 carries and scored two touchdowns. He averaged 11.4 yards per carry in that game.
When the lights shined brightest, Grice rose to the challenge.
ESPN's Travis Haney (Subscription Required) lists Grice as the No. 4 player he expects to have a breakout season in 2013 due to his ability to make key plays:
I’m cautious, but it sounds as if betting on Grice seems like one of the spots that should guarantee returns. As Graham almost immediately pointed out, Grice, as a newcomer, scored a touchdown every 7.5 carries (19 total touchdowns in 144 touches) last season. So he was essentially De’Anthony Thomas without the Oregon spotlight. Graham said Grice, the JC transfer who outran incumbent Cameron Marshall, could wind up a dark horse Heisman candidate. Big talk, right? Except Grice will have enough big-game opportunities, that’s for certain. In addition to the Pac-12 schedule, the Sun Devils host Wisconsin and play Notre Dame at Jerry World.
Being compared to Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas?
Not too shabby.
Grice's success will play a pivotal role in how ASU fares in 2013, and as Haney said, he will have plenty of big games to prove he's worthy of Heisman consideration.
Nose for the End Zone
Grice knows how to score.
As stated earlier, he scored a touchdown every 7.5 carries last season. Basically, if ASU needed a touchdown, it was a sure bet Grice was getting the rock.
Last year's Heisman winner, Johnny Football, won the award for his ability to score essentially at will. Grice has that ability and will showcase it even more in 2013.
Ben Haber of houseofsparky.com writes that, while Grice had a great 2012 campaign, more touches in 2013 basically guarantees more touchdowns:
The 6'0, 204-pound senior has a knack for exposing defenses with his bulldozing strength and dynamic open field speed. Grice's downhill approach allowed him to capitalize on red-zone chances nine out of 44 times (20%). For comparison's sake, the nations leading rusher, Ka'Deem Carey, registered a 16.8 percentage in the same situations. The numbers are slightly skewed because of sample size, yet it certainly doesn't hurt Grice's candidacy to be one of the top ball carriers in the nation. In spite of being criminally underutilized, Grice shockingly accumulated the third most touchdowns in the conference.
The video on the right shows how, despite Grice's smaller build, when he gets the ball he's going to the house.
Despite a wall of defenders, Grice still manages to get into the end zone for the score. That is exactly what he does best, score.
He can make guys miss in the open field with his arsenal of moves or put his head down and power forward, no matter what he's going to make it to the end zone.
If Grice can improve on what he did well in 2012 and get more touches, he will be in New York for the Heisman ceremony at the end of the season.
All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from ESPN.com.
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According to NFL.com's Gil Brandt, who was (ostensibly) listening to some casual radio as he drove though the great south, a Dallas-area Dodge dealership was offering Johnny Manziel's autograph as a reward for test drives:
Like Brandt himself says, you can't make this stuff up.
NFL.com's Chase Goodbread goes into more elaborate detail, explaining that "the advertisement would represent an NCAA violation if Manziel or Texas A&M failed to take steps to stop the promotion."
According to dallasnews.com, which also has a recording of the radio advertisement, the school is aware of the situation and handling it:
Texas A&M, according to spokesman Jason Cook, is aware of the situation. The school intends to comply with the relevant NCAA bylaw in requesting the dealership cease the promotion in connection with a current student-athlete.
Manziel, of course, is already under investigation by the NCAA concerning memorabilia that he may or may not have been paid to sign. ESPN's Outside the Lines broke the story, which has since cast his college eligibility into doubt.
What's most troubling about this story isn't any new revelation about Manziel—everyone knows he's signed some stuff, the issue concerns his compensation—but the density of this car dealership. Given everything that's going on with Manziel, a very public investigation, did they think this promotion would go unnoticed?
Did they think the opposite, that it would get noticed even more, and thus lead to more test drives? That's kind of a shrewd business move, but not exactly an ethical one. Or maybe they just live under a rock and had no idea about Signature-gate?
According to Goodbread's story, the dealership's general manager, John Zillioux, was not available when they reached out for contact.
As for Manziel, unless the dealership has some sort of proof he accepted money to sign the football, this probably can't be used against him in the court of NCAA bylaw. But as more and more signed objects start to surface, it can begin to indict him in the court of public opinion.
How many footballs would he (or anyone) really sign for free?
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The SEC released its 2014 conference schedule Wednesday, laying the foundation for when and where the conference's new network will broadcast its first games.
SEC commissioner Mike Silve said, via the SEC's Digital Network:
One year from today, August 21, 2014, the SEC Network will be launched, marking an historic day in the almost 80-year history of the Southeastern Conference.
One week later, the SEC Network will kick off the 2014 football season with a conference game between Texas A&M and South Carolina scheduled for Thursday, August 28 in Columbia, S.C.
The 2014 season will be a historic one for both the conference, in its launch of the SEC Network, and the nation, in its launch of the College Football Playoff. Much of how the postseason will work is arcane and only by (finally) playing it out will folks get to see how it operates.
That all starts in the regular season, and unless something drastically unforeseen happens, the SEC will have a number of playoff frontrunners among its ranks. But who might have the easiest paths to the national semis?
Who might have the hardest?
Week 1 – Aug. 28/30
Texas A&M at South Carolina
Arkansas at Auburn
Analysis: Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel might potentially both be gone, but given the way each school has recruited, A&M at USC should still be a marquee game. If nothing else, it's definitely a small step up from 2013's opener: Vandy at Ole Miss.
It should be interesting to watch Bret Bielema and Gus Malzahn (presumably) start their respective second years against each other, too.
Week 2 – Sept. 6
Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
Analysis: Ahh, there's that familiar matchup. Ole Miss and Vandy open the SEC season against each other for the second straight year, this time in Week 2 instead of 1. If 2013's game is close, the next one could have some bad blood.
Week 3 – Sept. 13
Kentucky at Florida
Georgia at South Carolina
Analysis: The bad news for Kentucky: SEC play will start with a butt-kicking in the Swamp. The good news for Kentucky: No one will be watching.
All eyes will be on Georgia (coming off a bye) at South Carolina, the Gamecocks' second brutal conference game in the first three weeks. But at least they're both at home.
Week 4 – Sept. 20
Florida at Alabama
Mississippi State at LSU
South Carolina at Vanderbilt
Analysis: The good news for Florida: SEC play will start with a butt-kicking of Kentucky. The bad news for Florida: Things get much harder in Week 4. The Gators head to Tuscaloosa for the Tide's conference opener, where a new starting quarterback will replace AJ McCarron and get his first taste of SEC play.
Elsewhere, in a not-too-spectacular week, LSU starts conference play against Mississippi State, and USC gets its third SEC game in the first four weekends.
Week 5 – Sept. 27
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (Dallas)
Tennessee at Georgia
Vanderbilt at Kentucky
Missouri at South Carolina
Analysis: How quickly can Butch Jones get things rolling in Knoxville? How quickly can Gary Pinkel help restore his team in Columbia? How quickly can Bielema make Arkansas competent again? If the answer is "very," this could be an epic week. But if Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri look like they did last season, it could also be a total dud.
Week 6 – Oct. 4
Alabama at Ole Miss
LSU at Auburn
Florida at Tennessee
Vanderbilt at Georgia
South Carolina at Kentucky
Texas A&M at Mississippi State
Analysis: The first of just two weeks with six SEC games, October's first weekend brings some traditional intrigue. LSU is coming off an SEC-bye in Week 5 but might be looking ahead to the next week's game at Florida.
If Auburn is improved (as expected), it might be able to knock off the Tigers. Ole Miss' vaunted recruiting class will be one year older, too, giving it a chance to beat rebuilding Alabama in Oxford.
And the sky's the limit on how good Florida at Tennessee could be—that used to be one of America's premier games each season.
Week 7 – Oct. 11
Alabama at Arkansas
Auburn at Mississippi State
LSU at Florida
Georgia at Missouri
Ole Miss at Texas A&M
Analysis: LSU and Florida, both presumably drained from road trips to Auburn and Knoxville, meet in the Swamp for a game that should hold massive importance. If Ole Miss somehow finds a way to beat Alabama, and even if it doesn't, A&M might be able to catch it sleeping in College Station.
And keep an eye on Georgia at Missouri—the Tigers played Georgia very closely to start the 2012 season and are coming off an SEC-bye in Week 6.
Week 8 – Oct. 18
Texas A&M at Alabama
Georgia at Arkansas
Missouri at Florida
Kentucky at LSU
Tennessee at Ole Miss
Analysis: Texas A&M at Alabama, Part Deux. The Aggies head to Tuscaloosa for the first time since upsetting the Tide in 2012. What will happen in the meantime? Only time will tell.
Elsewhere, Georgia gets its second straight (potentially) tough road game, and Missouri gets its second straight traditional powerhouse. Hopefully, by 2014, the Tigers have gotten used to SEC rigors.
Week 9 – Oct. 25
Alabama at Tennessee
South Carolina at Auburn
Mississippi State at Kentucky
Ole Miss at LSU
Vanderbilt at Missouri
Analysis: Again, if Jones can get the Vols up-and-running (which his recruiting certainly seems to indicate he is), a home game against rebuilding Alabama could be interesting. If not, T.J. Yeldon might rush for 200 yards.
South Carolina finally returns to marquee SEC play with a tough road game at Auburn, and Ole Miss travels to LSU for the first time since 2012's nail-biter.
Week 10 – Nov. 1
Arkansas at Mississippi State
Auburn at Ole Miss
Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville)
Kentucky at Missouri
Tennessee at South Carolina
Analysis: Florida and Georgia (coming off another bye) in Jacksonville is the obvious highlight—not just of this week, but of many SEC seasons. That game has become something of a measuring stick for each program's year.
Past that, Auburn and Ole Miss both brought in top-15 recruiting classes in 2013, and both currently have top-15 classes for 2014 (per 247Sports). There could be a lot of fun, young talent on the field in Oxford.
Week 11 – Nov. 8
Alabama at LSU
Texas A&M at Auburn
Florida at Vanderbilt
Georgia at Kentucky
Analysis: No excuses for Alabama or LSU heading into this one. Neither plays an SEC team the previous weekend, and both should be rested for their annual showdown (this time in Baton Rouge). Texas A&M at Auburn has the potential to be a high-scoring show, provided Kevin Sumlin and Malzahn are still coaching. Don't change the channel on that one...unless it's on at the same time as 'Bama-LSU.
Week 12 – Nov. 15
Mississippi State at Alabama
LSU at Arkansas
Auburn at Georgia
South Carolina at Florida
Kentucky at Tennessee
Missouri at Texas A&M
Analysis: The other six-game week in SEC play has intrigue to spare. LSU at Arkansas should be fun for those who love physical football, as should South Carolina at Florida. Will Nick Marshall still be starting at QB when his former team plays Georgia in Athens? The home crowd probably wouldn't take too kindly to him—especially if he plays well against the Bulldogs at Jordan-Hare in 2013.
Don't sleep on the old Big-12 showdown in Texas A&M, either; prior to last year, Missouri had beaten the Aggies three straight times.
Week 13 – Nov. 22
Ole Miss at Arkansas
Vanderbilt at Mississippi State
Missouri at Tennessee
Analysis: Rounding into the home stretch, most of the conference's blue-chip programs get a respite from SEC-play. None of this sextet are particularly strong today, but who's to say where they'll be almost two full seasons from now? Even if this doesn't look sexy in August 2013, there's a good chance at least one of these games sticks out by November the following year.
Week 14 – Nov. 27/29
LSU at Texas A&M
Auburn at Alabama
Arkansas at Missouri
Mississippi State at Ole Miss
Tennessee at Vanderbilt
Analysis: That's more like it. Rivalry Week. The Iron Bowl highlights Week 14, as always, and depending on how quickly Auburn can rebuild, it might finally be a game.
LSU heads to Texas A&M for the first time since last year's ugly 24-19 win, and Ole Miss hosts in-state Mississippi State for an underrated annual game.
Also, how long will James Franklin sustain his success at Vanderbilt? Starting a legitimate rivalry between the Commodores and Tennessee sounds like fun.
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After months of anticipation, the SEC released its 2014 football schedule on Wednesday. The 2014 docket features the same format as in years past, with each team playing the other six teams in its division, one permanent cross-division opponent and one rotating opponent from the other division.
South Carolina and Texas A&M will begin their new permanent cross-division rivalry on the first Thursday of the season with Columbia, and Alabama's cross-division slate tightens up a bit with a visit from the Florida Gators on Sept. 20.
Talk about kicking things off with a bang in the opening month of the season.
Florida draws Alabama and LSU out of the west, which is no cake walk. But the schedule is light leading up to the trip to Tuscaloosa. The Gators also host LSU and South Carolina, but all three of those games are spread out a bit.
Who are the winners and losers of the 2014 SEC schedule? Our picks are in this slideshow.