NCAA Football News
The California Golden Bears landed a big-time recruit, as 4-star athlete and linebacker Devante Downs announced his verbal commitment to head coach Sonny Dykes.
Justin Hopkins of 247Sports provides the news:
The Cal commit list just got even better today. Mountlake Terrace (Wash.) athlete Devante Downs added his four-star talents to the list and committed to the Bears...
... 'I really liked it when I was down there,' [Devante] Downs said. 'My mom went to and she liked it as well. I like the coaches and how they use their system.'
... Downs will be brought in as an athlete including a shot at running back.
Downs played his high school ball at Mountlake Terrace High School in Washington state, and took snaps as a running back, a linebacker and a safety for the Hawks during his junior season. He also had offers from Stanford, Washington, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State, Utah and Boise State.
According to 247Sports' rankings, Downs ranks much higher as an overall prospect than his composite score. He's listed as the No. 84 player in the country, No. 6 outside linebacker and No. 2 player in the state of Washington for the 2014 class in the initial rankings, while the composite marks rank him No. 229, No. 18 and No. 2, respectively.
Listed as an athlete on his highlight tape, Downs has shown an ability to contribute on both sides of the ball.
A 6'3", 230-pound bruiser, Downs has been a matchup nightmare for high school defenses when he's in the backfield. He is currently too fast for defensive lineman, too shifty for linebackers and too strong for defensive backs. He has a nice burst out of the backfield, and has ideal size to be a power back at the next level.
He also shows extreme potential on defense, where his wide frame and speed off the edge would be vital to the Pac-12 offenses he will see on a weekly basis. While it's clear that Downs is a talented back, his long-term future (thinking NFL) will likely benefit more from making the full-time switch to defense.
If you're itching to check out Cal's newest recruit, you can pencil in the U.S. Army All American Bowl as a prime opportunity to check out his skills (via MTHSports on Twitter):
Downs might not have a set position when he comes to campus next fall, but his skills on both sides of the ball will be a huge coup for Dykes. While he'll get a shot at running back, fans should assume he'll be used as a linebacker.
Verbal commitments are non-binding, and the first day a 2014 recruit can sign his National Letter of Intent (NLI) is Feb. 5, 2014 (h/t NCAA.org).
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are coming off an extremely successful campaign overall, finishing the previous regular season undefeated before unfortunately losing to powerhouse Alabama in the BCS national title game.
Several prominent contributors from last year are no longer with the team, and due to the 42-14 thrashing at the hands of the Crimson Tide, Brian Kelly's bunch opens the 2013 preseason polls as the No. 11-ranked team in the country.
Quarterback Everett Golson won't be leading the offense due to a fall semester suspension, which puts senior Tommy Rees in the saddle to keep the positive momentum going. That will be difficult without tight end Tyler Eifert, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round.
Reigning Maxwell Award winner Manti Te'o also won't be anchoring the defense at linebacker, so others will have to step up to fill the void.
A rather difficult schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Irish to prove themselves, though. Below is a breakdown of the biggest games of 2013 for the Irish and their prospects of winning each one.
Game 2, Sept. 7: at Michigan
The Te'o-less defense will be tested early against the likes of the Wolverines, who sport a possible Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback in Devin Gardner.
With prototypical arm strength, a strong frame and fantastic speed that allowed him to play wide receiver in 2012, Gardner presents plenty of problems for the Irish as a dual-threat quarterback. In Brady Hoke's pro-style system, he will test the Notre Dame secondary by throwing deep down the field.
Although Michigan lost star safety Jordan Kovacs to graduation, it still had one of the premier pass defenses, which will require George Atkinson III and Co. to pick up the slack in the Notre Dame running game.
If Rees is put in a position where he has to throw the ball a lot to lead the Irish on a comeback charge, it could be bad news and a disappointing early loss.
Thankfully, Rees flashed clutch ability in relief of Golson last season, but with the weight of expectations and a lack of proven playmakers outside of DaVaris Daniels and experienced yet modestly productive TJ Jones, pulling this one out in Ann Arbor could be very difficult.
This is a sort of a rivalry game, and Michigan will be seeking revenge for last year's gritty 13-6 loss. Expect this to be a higher-scoring affair, with Notre Dame needing a strong running game to keep Gardner off the field as much as possible to seal a victory on the road.
Game 7, Oct. 19: vs. USC
Speaking of rivalries, the Trojans are one of the Irish's arch-nemeses. Each year, the schedule alternates between Notre Dame taking on Stanford and USC in the season finale, and this time around the Irish will do battle with Lane Kiffin's team after the bye week.
There are other important contests following the Michigan game—which is important to establish early-season momentum. However, setting the tone following the bye week might be mot important.
Being well-rested should bode well for Notre Dame's chances, and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco can dial up the pressure against whomever the Trojans have under center.
A quarterback competition is taking place between Max Wittek and Cody Kessler.
Wittek was unimpressive against Notre Dame at home last season, throwing two costly interceptions in a 23-14 loss after guaranteeing a victory. The Irish won't forget that, regardless if he's on the sidelines or under center.
Kessler is athletic and an intriguing talent as a precocious sophomore, but he's only thrown two passes in his short career.
However, containing superstar playmaker Marqise Lee will be easier said than done. If the Irish can keep him under wraps, the Trojans probably won't be able to muster much firepower.
The defense is also a huge question mark for Southern California, which is transitioning to a new scheme after struggling in Monte Kiffin's 4-3, Tampa 2 alignment a season ago.
Game 12, Nov. 30: at Stanford
The physical brand of football that the Cardinal play must be matched by the Irish in the trenches, and it will be critical for nose tackle Louis Nix and defensive end Stephon Tuitt to stymie the Stanford running game.
Running back Stepfan Taylor is no longer in the fold, but senior Tyler Gaffney returns from professional baseball after averaging 6.1 yards per carry and scoring seven touchdowns in 2011.
Kevin Hogan is a dangerous runner at quarterback for the Cardinal, too, and also completed 71.4 percent of his passes in his limited action a season ago.
Despite a small sample size, Hogan has the promise to be a breakout star this season.
After supplanting Josh Nunes as starter in the middle of 2012, Hogan guided Stanford to impressive victories at Oregon and in the Rose Bowl over Wisconsin. He went 4-0 as a starter and replaced Nunes early in a 48-0 rout of Colorado.
The good news for Notre Dame? Stanford's own star tight end, Zach Ertz, also moved on to the pros, and four of the team's top five receivers are no longer on the team.
Rees came off the bench for Golson, completed all four of his passes for 43 yards and the game-winning touchdown to Jones to boost the Irish to a 20-13 win in overtime last year.
Hogan's lack of weaponry and Diaco's exotic 3-4 schemes may be enough to prevent the Cardinal from getting redemption, even at home in a low-scoring, hard-hitting showdown.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Jim Mora and the UCLA Bruins are wrapping up the two-week fall camp period in San Bernardino. Due to injury concerns, younger players are going to be thrust into significant roles.
As is the case with the majority of teams nationally, fall practice has been a mixed bag of sorts.
Here's a progress report of the second week of fall practice for the UCLA football team.
Boise State is closing out another week of fall practice, and so far, things look to be progressing well.
There have only been a few minor issues and a couple of injuries to report. Head coach Chris Petersen and his staff are most likely happy with the camp, overall.
The one issue that might have coach Petersen and his crew a bit nervous is depth—especially on the defensive line.
Of course, that is the same thing that was said at this time last year.
Let's take a look at the Week 2 fall practice stock report and discover which players are raising their game and which players need to step it up.
The college football season is just weeks away, and we can't wait to watch ESPN's College GameDay to help us get riled up for another Saturday full of glorious games. Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, Lee Corso and his famous headgear are ready to travel to the hottest games each week of the upcoming season.
But what if all college football outside of the SEC simply ceased to exist?
Of course, SEC fans already think they're the only ones who know college football, and it's getting harder to argue with them since they've won the last seven national championships.
So, what if College GameDay ignored every game that didn't have at least one SEC team in the mix?
“We bow to no man, we bow to no program. We are going to build a bully.” — Jim Harbaugh
In the winter of 2006, on the heels of their fifth straight losing season and an embarrassing 1-11 record, belief that the Stanford Cardinal could put a competitive team on the field was wavering. There were even rumblings that Stanford should drop down a division, presumably to compete against its brainy Ivy League brethren, or drop football altogether.
Cue the fiery Harbaugh and his young staff. They recognized that while Stanford could not lower their academic standards to broaden their talent pool, they could take advantage of THE Stanford student-athlete’s unique psychology and ‘inherent competitiveness’ to build a winner.
Before that process could start on the football field in spring practice, it would be introduced by the Kissick Family Director of Football Sports Performance, Shannon Turley, in summer conditioning. He was, and still is, responsible for planting the seeds of belief in the Cardinal freshmen and getting the upperclassmen to buy into the philosophy the Harbaugh regime was selling and David Shaw continues to sell.
“When you are losing and you are 1-11, there are people that are frustrated,” said Turley. “They know that there are things that are unacceptable being accepted and they want a change.’’
To begin, Turley said the Stanford Player Development team enlisted the aid or upperclassmen who were “borderline obsessed” with change. “Then we empowered them so they could impose their own expectations on the roster, which is so much more effective than any coach talking.”Year Rushing Yards Attempts YPC National Ranking 2006 781 367 2.1 115th 2007 1334 446 3.0 103rd 2008 2395 490 4.9 31st 2009 2837 536 5.3 10th 2010 2779 535 5.2 18th 2011 2738 518 5.3 20th 2012 2440 549 4.4 39th
If there were a way to statistically quantify a team’s bully factor, it would be rushing yards and rushing yards allowed. These stats are heavily dependent on a team’s ability to control the trenches and impose its will on the opposing offense or defense. Classic bully characteristics.Year Rushing Yards Allowed Attempts YPC National Ranking 2006 2526 519 4.9 118th 2007 2032 480 4.2 73rd 2008 1835 475 4.0 76th 2009 1734 386 4.5 62nd 2010 1515 372 4.1 23rd 2011 1084 349 3.1 4th 2012 1140 400 2.8 4th
In the six years since Turley brought his strength and conditioning program to the farm, the defense has cut the number yards allowed per carry in half, and the offense has more than tripled its production on the ground.
A bully was born. Here’s how they did it.
"I DON’T CARE HOW MUCH YOU CAN BENCH"
There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles on the farm; the Stanford program focuses on simplicity and execution. “I don’t have a lot of secrets or gimmicks,” said Turley. “There is an old school way that probably works. It’s been working for a long time.”
Turley does not have some sort of magical formula, nor are his players putting up Zeus-like numbers in the weight room.
“I don’t care how much guys can bench squat or power clean. It has nothing to do with playing football. Football is blocking and tackling. It’s creating contact, avoiding contact and gaining separation if you are a skill guy on the perimeter. That’s football."
What they are doing is building one of the most comprehensive and successful player development programs in the country through highly specialized training, personalized by position and player.
Stanford’s player development team focuses their efforts on injury prevention, athletic performance and mental discipline—in that order. Basically, the Stanford weight program doesn’t worry about having the ‘‘strongest’’ guys in college football. It focuses on football strength, technique and making sure the best Cardinal players stay on the field all season.
“This is an unusual and forward-thinking focus,” said Will Carroll, the Sports Medicine Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. “I guess we should expect that from Stanford. Most teams use the weight room and even advanced tools like Alter-G treadmills, SwimEx pools and the like in a caveman fashion. It’s all: get bigger, get faster—which is easily measured. Injury prevention is more subtle.”
The guiding principle is “do no harm,” and Stanford has been wildly successful in doing so. In the six years since Turley took over the Stanford strength program, games missed due to injury has decreased 87 percent.
“That kind of drop is stunning,” Carroll explained. “I think most programs would be happy with 10 percent. For an NFL team, that kind of drop would be worth a win or more, as well as about 20 million in lost payroll.”
For those who say numbers in the weight room are important measure of success on the field, Turley would counter with the example of Stanford’s 6’5”, 313-pound All-American guard David Yankey, who Turley says can barely bench his own body weight.
‘‘He’s got to have some pop, I get it,” said Turley. “But isn’t the rate at which you strike more important than moving a bunch of weight around really slow?”
Turely explains that bench press and squat goals don’t even factor into his thinking when he designs a workout for a player. He is concerned only with a player’s ability to move as he needs to on the football field.
For an offensive lineman like Yankey, this means the mobility and stability of his shoulder, the stability of his core and the mobility of his lower body. Optimizing those characteristics allows him to get low and quickly apply force in the direction he intends to move, thus fulfilling his role as a blocker.
Stanford’s focus on injury prevention over athletic performance, along with the absence of the almighty record board in the weight room, sets its program apart from other powerhouse programs (yes, Stanford is a modern-day powerhouse).
“This functional focus, with less emphasis on big muscles and gallons of sweat, is brilliant,” Carroll said. “Each player has a function and certain movements and patterns that help him fulfill that function. Stanford is way ahead of the curve on this.”
“Our numbers are very unimpressive,” said Turley. “But we’re not chasing numbers. We are chasing lean muscle, reducing body fat and making guys functionally strong for football.”
CAN’T STOP, WON’T STOP
Stanford football is a year-long commitment. Between the season, spring practice, fall camp and three six-to-seven week offseason training sessions, the Cardinal players are participating in football-related activities for 43 week out of the year. Of those weeks, 19 are spent exclusively in the weight room and on the track under Turley’s supervision.
The winter program is focused on recovery from the season, while the spring offseason program is the only time the Cardinal focuses on speed and power development.
Things heat up in the summer when conditioning is the main focus. From late June through the first week of August, Turley will run his players through a variety of position-specific exercises that focus on the movements they are going to execute repeatedly in fall practice and throughout the season.
During the season, the Stanford program focuses on recovery and restoring mobility to sore bodies that have performed the same action over and over again on the field.
The stated goal of Turley’s strength program is to “develop lean, athletic players that can play with low pads and leverage and exert force in the direction that they intend to move.” Turley is building football players, not weightlifters or track athletes. “We are not training for a 40 because you don’t run a 40 in football,” he said.
All of Stanford’s workouts are grounded in the SAID (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands) principle which he has carried with him since his days as a student assistant working under Mike Gentry at Virginia Tech.
Turley “fundamentally and firmly” believes that the best way to train for football is to practice and repeat the specific movements a player is required to make on the field and designs personalized workouts for each player accordingly.
Turley and his staff start with separate workout templates designed for each of the six player groups (skill, big skill, linemen, quarterbacks, specialists, freshmen) and personalize based on a player’s injury history and predetermined movement patterns, which usually stem from experience playing other sports or previous injury. As the players’ bodies mature throughout their careers, the workouts change.
“I think the more specialized you can be, the more things you can influence in the physical and mental development of your players,” said Turley.
All-American tight end Coby Fleener is a great example of a player who came in with a pre-existing injury—a herniated disc—which Turley was able to work around.
During Fleener’s five years at Stanford, Turley said he modified the tight end’s workout based on his injury and his individual needs. “It was a lot different when he was a 219-pound freshman and a 250-pound senior,” he said.
Don’t be mistaken, Turley does not take it easy on a player because he has a pre-existing weakness from an injury, poor training or overuse on the field. His challenge is to find a way to offset that weakness to allow the player to reach optimal performance on the field.
For example, Stanford senior right tackle Cameron Fleming’s right hip is “locked up” due to overuse. This is a “very predictable” situation for a right tackle, according to Turley.
Fleming plants and drives off of his right leg on virtually every rep he takes in practice or a game. At Stanford’s average of 69.1 offensive plays per game, that’s 967 plays per year, in addition to countless practice reps. That’s a lot of wear and tear.
“We are going to train him as a right tackle because that’s what he is and that’s what he’s got to be good at,” Turley said. “But with that comes a certain overdeveloped musculature and firing pattern [in his hip and leg]. I can’t take it easy on him, per se, but we’ve got to do more mobility work to address his risk.”
The most unique aspect of the Stanford strength program is its focus on isometric and eccentric exercises. While other college football programs and weekend warrior weightlifters focus on the force delivering or concentric aspect of a lift or exercise (rising out of a squat or pushing up the bench press bar), Turley is preaching the control of the weight. This increases stability and durability of the muscle.
Concentric-focused training is power focused and creates great numbers in the gym, but puts athletes in a greater danger of injury.
“While some programs do similar things, it’s seldom the focus,” explained Carroll. “It’s secondary or worse. Anyone who’s been in a weight room has done ‘negative reps’ or ‘slo-mo reps,' but this kind of program built around those things is unique.”
Turley starts all the players—upperclassmen and freshmen alike—with body weight movements or accentuated eccentrics (the lowering phase of a pull-up) and isometrics (holding a push-up or squat in position for an extended period of time). These exercises teach players how to control their bodies and learn how to have the endurance to do it correctly when they get fatigued.
SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM
In their first summer in the program, freshmen work pretty much exclusively on conditioning, flexibility and core strength through the use of accentuated eccentrics and isometrics. They do your gym teacher’s favorite exercises: pull-ups, push-ups, body weight squats and lunges. They even climb rope “like old school gym class,” said Turley.
The bright-eyed rookies face a big shock when they first first show up at the weight room. They don’t get to touch the weights, at least for the first three weeks. “They want to go lift weights, but I’m not gonna let ‘em,” said Turley.
“It’s pretty frustrating. But it’s part of the mental discipline. You find out who can concentrate, who can take coaching, block out the noise and keep grinding through it and find a way to meet the standard and get it done. Somebody is going to break, it’s inevitable.”
An 18-year-old’s first few weeks on a college campus are tough enough without the pressure that comes with playing football at a Division I school, so Turley is careful to ease his new players into the program. These guys are used to being big fish in small ponds. But when the arrive on the farm, the pond expands and the fish get bigger and stronger.
“The initial shock is the productivity and the amount of work we are going to compress into a run,” said Turley. "That volume and intensity of the conditioning is overwhelming. We get done with the first 15 minutes of warm-ups some days and these kids are already spent. The stress of having to compete when they’re already fatigued is almost emotionally traumatic."
ALIGN YOUR CHOICES WITH YOUR GOALS
Turley’s mental development program kicks into high gear immediately when a new group of freshmen arrive on campus. “The shock factor is an opportunity for you to impact their first learning,” Turley said.
He firmly believes that what Stanford football players “learn first, they are going to learn best,” which makes a player’s buy-in during those trying first three weeks all the more important to their eventual success in the Stanford program.
The first summer is all about getting the newbies “to invest in the process and develop the right habits” in football, training, diet and lifestyle. For Stanford players, investment in the process means consistently making choices that align with a player’s goals for himself and the team. Turley calls this buy-in “fundamentally important.”
Turley uses accountability and personal challenges as the major tools of mental development. He describes his program as “process focused,” which means he sets effort and improvement goals for his players rather than chasing result-oriented goals. “I don’t care [about] the number, I care about their ability to improve it.”
The team code of conduct is simple: technique, effort, attitude and mental discipline. “Four things you have complete and total control over, that take absolutely no talent and no ability. That’s where we want to invest ourselves. In every situation they are in with us, they have complete and total control over that.”
Ownership is of paramount importance to the psychology of Stanford teams. Every summer the seniors draw up a team covenant with Turley. The seniors use the covenant to set the goals for the season and an action plan for how to achieve them. They take ownership of the covenant and self-police the underclassmen.
“Now they can impose their own expectations on the roster, which is so much more effective than any coach talking,” said Turley.
As you can imagine, the 2007 version looks a lot different than the 2012 version. The 2007 version is cluttered, unfocused and reflects a losing culture. The mission and goals are very outcome-focused, and there are a ton of rules that might fall under the common sense umbrella. At the bottom are a few statements basically begging players to buy in.
“That’s a pretty awful team covenant,” said Turley. “It was great for what we needed at the time, but that shows you where the culture was.”
The 2012 team covenant only lists one goal: Win the Pac-12 championship.
All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise noted. Follow Max Rausch on Twitter @MaxHRausch.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The road to fall rolls on for the Ohio State Buckeyes as they are about two weeks away from the start of the 2013 season.
Fall camp is in its second week as the depth chart starts to shake out ever so slowly. Different names continue to emerge as others suffer difficult setbacks.
It's all part of the nature of college football and something every program goes through, no matter how big or small.
Two weeks into fall camp, here is the latest stock report for the Buckeyes.