As is the cyclical nature of college football, the dawn of each new season arrives with fresh challenges and kinks to be ironed out.
No team carries with it an identical resemblance from season to season, contributing to the belief that a head coach must possess an intimate familiarity with his roster, so as to trot a high-quality product onto the field each and every fall Saturday.
Such is the life for Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, who put the finishing touches on his fourth round of spring practices since accepting the position in Dec. 2009.
And while those spring practice sessions—which culminated in the annual Blue-Gold Game—knocked off any rust accumulated since January's BCS National Championship Game, they weren't sufficient to solve the more pressing issues at hand.
Perhaps the most burning question in need of answers is at the running back position.
Distribution of Carries
The addition of the pair of 4-star recruits (per 247sports.com) to the roster has given way to rampant discussion surrounding the distribution of carries during the 2013 season.
The consensus belief is that George Atkinson III will be the Irish's starting running back, but as Kelly has shown in the past, the label of "starter" is not a translation for receiving the lion's share of the carries.
In each of his three seasons on campus, Kelly has employed a committee approach at the position—Robert Hughes and Armando Allen in 2010, Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood in 2011 and Theo Riddick and Wood in 2012.
Gone are Riddick and Wood, leaving just 74 carries and 486 yards worth of experience remaining on the depth chart from Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel.
Add in redshirt freshman Will Mahone and redshirt sophomore Amir Carlisle, and Kelly has himself quite a fiasco to work out during fall camp.
My early prediction on the rotation at running back is in the following order: Atkinson III, Mahone and Carlisle.
Solidifying the Secondary
As recently as one year ago, the Irish secondary was considered a liability.
After cornerback Lo Wood suffered a season-ending foot injury, Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco were forced to insert then freshman KeiVarae Russell—a player recruited as a running back—into Wood's vacant starting position.
One year later, Wood is fully healthy and competing for his former job.
Whether he will usurp Russell remains to be seen, but the fact that competition within the ranks exists is a positive sign.
Opposite Wood/Russell will be Bennett Jackson, who is entering his third season at cornerback, after playing his freshman season at receiver.
Yet the most pressing issue within the secondary exists at the free safety position, where Elijah Shumate is widely expected to earn the starting job. However, Nick Baratti won't go down without a fight, setting up for what could potentially be quite an entertaining position battle in fall camp.
Kelly's 2013 squad may require a more lengthy time frame to establish a set group of leaders.
On the offensive side of the ball, left tackle Zack Martin—a captain in 2012—returns for a fifth season, though gone is tight end Tyler Eifert, who was selected 21st overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in last month's NFL draft.
Also gone are center Braxston Cave and right guard Mike Golic, Jr.
While the departures of those veterans are obstacles to overcome, incumbent starting quarterback Everett Golson has developed into a highly respected voice both on and off the field, per Kelly.
“I’ve seen a maturity level. He benefits from smelling the air on Notre Dame’s campus. Just growing up, seeing that maturation take place. We know he has talent. It’s never been an issue of that. But it’s how he deals with the game and all of the demands.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Irish will miss the leadership provided by safety Zeke Motta, linebacker Manti Te'o and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore.
While there isn't an immediate answer to those leadership vacancies, Kelly believes it's simply a matter of time before individual leaders emerge.
“Leadership is the area that we’ve been working on from a defensive standpoint. I think it’s letting that leadership develop and guys stepping up.”
The only member of the coaching staff who will have a direct influence upon that dynamic is strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo, who will be guiding the players through the throes of summer conditioning.
It is during those grueling sessions that the true leaders of a team emerge.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
In a few short months, Gus Malzahn will walk the sidelines of Jordan-Hare Stadium as the head coach of the Auburn Tigers.
He has taken over the Tigers as they come off of their worst season in the modern era of college football. Auburn went 3-9 last year and was not able to record a win in the conference. After only a few months on the job, Malzahn has rejuvenated the proud program and fan base—proven by Auburn leading the country in spring game attendance (83,401).
Malzahn and Auburn have a few advantages in their corner—a manageable schedule, experience and talented personnel. Still, there is a lot of work that remains to be done to get Auburn back to the top of the SEC and college football. Three of the biggest challenges that Malzahn will have to overcome in Year 1 are managing expectations, overcoming SEC defenses familiar with the offense and instilling a winning attitude back into Auburn players.
As already noted, Malzahn has done a superb job of re-energizing the Auburn football program and the Auburn fan base. It's a fine line for Malzahn, who must also keep expectations among the fan base at a manageable level.
Fans of the Auburn Tigers are as rabid as they come. That is saying a lot for a team in the SEC. It is what happens when winning has become the norm over a long period of time. Over the past 30 years, Auburn has the 10th-best winning percentage in all of college football. The Tigers only trail Florida and Tennessee for the best winning percentage among SEC teams in that span.
The early part of the schedule for Auburn sets up so that expectations could sky rocket among fans after the first three weeks of the season. The Tigers open up with Washington State, Arkansas State and Mississippi State at home to begin the season. There is a very strong possibility that the Tigers could be 3-0 heading into Baton Rouge the last weekend of September.
It is important for Auburn fans to remember that although the Tigers lifted the crystal football just a couple of years ago, this current Auburn team is much closer to the team that went 3-9 last season than the one that tore through the SEC and went 14-0 on the way to a national championship.
The offensive system that Malzahn ran as Auburn's offensive coordinator a couple of years and the one that the Tigers will employ in 2013 has been successful at every single stop Malzahn has been. It has crushed school and conference records, it has helped nine running backs reach 1,000 yards in only seven seasons and helped Auburn turn things around offensively in 2009 after a disastrous offensive output in 2008.
Still, Malzahn will have to insert new wrinkles into his system for it to continue to be effective.
In 2009, the breakneck speed of Malzahn's offense was brand new to the SEC. Many head coaches and defensive coordinators had trouble handling it. Auburn averaged 25 points per conference game. It had one of the best Alabama defenses in the school's rich history on the ropes for 58 minutes and nearly upset the eventual national champions in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
In 2010, it was a perfect storm for Malzahn. Eventual Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, along with a veteran offensive line and a breakout freshman RB helped the offense to average 40.2 points per game against conference opponents.
It has been well-documented that former head coach Gene Chizik decided that it was best to slow down the offensive tempo after a few weeks into the 2011 season. That resulted in the Auburn offense ranking 100th in the nation in total offense and Gus Malzahn bolting to become Arkansas State head coach (via Kevin Scarbinsky, al.com):
On the field in 2011, Chizik began to assert himself more in the game plans, especially on offense, where he wanted Malzahn to slow down the offense to protect the defense. Chizik’s meddling combined with Malzahn’s desire to be a head coach led to Malzahn taking a pay cut to take over at Arkansas State.
The Auburn offense will be unbridled in 2013, but SEC coaches are now familiar with how Malzahn likes to attack opposing defenses. The tempo will help, but Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee must find new ways to move the ball down the field against the league's top teams.
Winning is a choice and a mindset. It was obvious that this Auburn team did not have it in 2012. Malzahn will have a challenge making sure that the winning attitude is back in 2013.
Last fall, Auburn entered the fourth quarter with a chance to win games on numerous occasions—games against Clemson, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Arkansas come to mind. A play here or there in those games could have easily swung Auburn's season in a different direction.
It was as if the Tigers played the fourth quarter not to lose instead of attempting to win.
The veterans on the 2010 championship team knew how to win. Other than 2008, that group of upperclassmen had grown accustomed to wins. It showed in all of the come from behind wins that team had.
The upperclassmen on the 2013 team will not have that experience of consistent winning. That quality only comes after winning close games, winning games you aren't supposed to and making the game-changing plays that are needed to win.
Malzahn will only be in his second year as a college head coach in 2013. So far, he has made all the right moves and said all the right things.
Still, his biggest challenges are ahead of him.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
In order for a college football team to win a conference and national championship, they have to play consistent football and be able to come together as one.
They also have to fight through adversity and no matter how good a team is, they will face challenges that will test their will to win throughout a season.
For the Georgia Bulldogs, it’s almost understood that they will have to go through some tough challenges in order to win the SEC title and have a chance to play in the BCS National Championship because of the conference they play in.
But at the same time, they also will have some obstacles within their own team that they will have to fight through as well.
Here are Mark Richt’s five biggest challenges for the Bulldogs in 2013.
The Texas A&M Football team turned in a surprising 11-2 record during their inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference in 2012. There are a number of challenges facing Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin as he and his team prepare for the 2013 season.
Sumlin led the Aggies to a top five finish in his first season at A&M. There is not much room for improvement after a season like that.
The Aggies' coach has repeatedly pointed out that the team finished third in the SEC West. The A&M football team will have to make great strides in all phases of the game in order to meed or exceed their performance in 2012.
Texas A&M lost a very talented group of seniors to graduation from the 2012 team. The key to success in the 2013 season is replacing the leadership and play from that group.
This is a look at the various challenges facing Sumlin as the Aggies approach the 2013 season.
College football has been around for over 140 years, and there are now 125 FBS schools. While some programs are more storied than others, each program has had a coach that stood out from the rest.
Even though some schools have only had college football programs at the FBS level for a few years, while others have been around for far longer than a century, there is at least one excellent coach to choose from at each school.
With so much history and tradition at certain schools, there have also been dozens of coaches at certain programs.
Here is the best coach of all time at each college football program.
Mack Brown and his Texas Longhorns program have been climbing ever since the collapse in 2010.
It is an old tale by now—the 5-7 pitfall to the positive 8-5 campaign to the two-sided 9-4 season a year ago. But in a 2013 season where Texas returns 19 starters, the Longhorns have high hopes for a down year in the Big 12.
At the forefront of all of that is Brown, who has executed change after change to bring his program to the brink of a true resurgence. Entering spring ball, his team was coming off a momentous Alamo Bowl victory, and there was some light at the end of a tunnel that has been dark for a while now.
Atop the list of challenges for Brown this season are beating Oklahoma, winning the Big 12 and finalizing his 2014 recruiting class with a bang. What else stands in Brown's way this year?
Whether you love him or hate him—or are somewhere in between—one thing is for certain: 2013 is a "make or break" year for USC head coach Lane Kiffin.
Coming off of the resounding disappointment of 2012, Kiffin has used up whatever goodwill he may have had, and now only a return to past glory for USC will garner a return gig for the embattled head man.
But it won't be easy.
USC is far from the dominant program that was widely considered elite in the last decade when former head coach Pete Carroll was perched atop of the college football world.
For Kiffin to return to USC in 2014, he will have had to remedy a variety of issues that many perceive as shortcomings for this year's version of the men of Troy.
This slideshow will look at some of the challenges Kiffin faces in his effort to return USC to the pinnacle of college football world.
If he is successful, the Kiffin naysayers will be hating life for at least one more year, but if not, it will likely be time to welcome a new leader to the program.
Either way, here are the obstacles he is facing in 2013...
Last week, Sports Illustrated published a story that took a deeper look at the medical staff changes that Penn State made this offseason.
The story was hyped and teased with the question of whether or not athletics still hold too much influence at Penn State approximately 18 months after the startling revelations of the Jerry Sandusky fiasco.
While there may be some juicy tidbits worth exploring, the changes made to Penn State's medical staff have been blown out of proportion.The problem with the Sports Illustrated story may not be in how the content was reported but in how it was sold.
Sports Illustrated points out that newly appointed athletics director David Joyner has strong ties to the school's board of trustees, previously being a member, and that the timing of the staff changes are worthy of some further examination. Questions are being raised as to whether the hiring of Joyne and the running of the medical department are being handled properly. If players are being treated inappropriately, there should be a cause for concern.
One of the examples used by Sports Illustrated to paint the picture of diminished medical treatment involved a former walk-on player, Garrett Lerner. Lerner reportedly was burned while receiving treatment and sought treatment by a hospital closer to his home. After the story was published, Lerner told his local newspaper that he was unaware of the overall scope of the Sports Illustrated story, and he came to the defense of athletic trainer Tim Bream, who was responsible for the burn.
"I didn't want him or anybody to paint a bad picture," Lerner said to The Morning Call. "Tim didn't do anything intentionally, and I don't think he was negligent because even after it happened, he took care of me afterward."
Penn State was quick to share data that suggests Penn State's medical staff availability for players is on par with a number of other programs in and outside of the Big Ten. But the face of the program had the strongest of responses to offer.
Bill O'Brien's reaction to the story spoke volumes. As I noted on Awful Announcing last week, I have covered O'Brien since the day he was introduced as head coach, and I do not believe any particular moment stood out the same way his media responses to the Sports Illustrated story have.
O'Brien was assertive in his defense of the program's medical care and staff. He was clearly annoyed with the story's angle and adamant in stating the health and safety of his players is of the utmost importance.
One question not answered by the Sports Illustrated story is highlighted by O'Brien's response. Why would any program, let alone Penn State, make medical staff changes at the expense of their players? Penn State is already focused on medical concerns coming out of the spring game, and entering the 2013 season with 67 (64 on-field) scholarships means Penn State is at a great disadvantage when it comes to depth. If anything it would be more logical to think Penn State would go out of their way to provide the best available medical aid to their players.
Sports Illustrated failed to answer that key question. There may be a rocky relationship between the athletics director and the former team physician, who, by the way, remains the head of medicine at Penn State, but that was not the big issue raised by the magazine.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The beginning of the football season is just over three short months away for the Iowa Hawkeyes and their head coach Kirk Ferentz.
Ferentz faces a number of challenges following a disastrous 2012 that saw Iowa go 4-8 on the back of a talent-poor defense and an incompetent new offense.
Therefore, Ferentz's biggest challenge will be getting to a bowl and showing that he can still coach up a team in the world of up-tempo spread offenses and hybrid-heavy defenses.
Nevertheless, the following will rank the specific challenges the head coach faces in order to make sure that the climb back to respectability happens.
The order of the following is based on how crucial each one is in terms of insuring the Hawkeyes take positive steps this season.
The college football season will be here before you know it. There are so many games that will be played we won't know what to do with ourselves. Whether they are conference rivalries or out-of-conference games that spice things up, there are hundreds of games to choose from and a bundle of them will have great importance.
Some matchups become more important and exciting as the standings change and teams overachieve. But, for the most part, we have a good idea of the games that should be circled on your calendar. These are the most anticipated contests of the year that everybody is talking about and that should not be missed for the world.
Let's take a look at the games that we are most looking forward to.
The 2014 class of football recruits in the state of Virginia is arguably the best ever. Led by the No. 1 overall prospect in the country, Da’Shawn Hand of Woodbridge, the state boasts three of the top 10 players overall, according to 247Sports.
Unfortunately for Virginia Tech and Virginia, many of the nation’s top schools have noticed the unusually high level of talent in the Old Dominion State.
Mike London’s future at Virginia could be dependent on how well he continues to recruit within the state. In a year like 2014, London has an opportunity to stock his talent-deficient roster with several top-rated players. London can offer these players something many of the top schools can’t—the chance to play as true freshmen.
Legendary Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer’s job is not in jeopardy, nor should it be. However, with each passing season he is getting further away from filling that empty trophy case on the school’s campus.
In 2013, the state's top two players, Christian Hackenberg and Jonathan Allen, bolted Virginia for Penn State and Alabama, respectively. In recent years, Michigan, North Carolina and Stanford, in particular, have consistently raided Virginia for top talent. London and Beamer can’t afford to see this happen again.
Derrick Green, the state’s No. 5-ranked player in 2013, signed with Michigan in February and didn’t even have the Hokies or Cavaliers in his final three. The Hokies have long had a tradition of signing the state’s top running backs.
Both schools got an early jump on the Class of 2014. The Cavaliers landed a commitment from 5-star safety Quin Blanding of Virginia Beach, and the Hokies received a commitment from 4-star running back Marshawn Williams of Hampton. The No. 9 player in the state, offensive lineman Steven Moss, also committed to Virginia.
Hand, the state’s prized recruit, is a 6’5”, 245-pound defensive end who currently has offers from 39 schools, including the Cavs and Hokies. Hand’s size, athleticism and overall game are reminiscent of 2011’s top high school player, Jadeveon Clowney.
The competition to sign Hand will be fierce. As noted by 247Sports, Hand has said that Michigan, Alabama and a few other schools are "warm," but Hokies’ defensive coordinator Bud Foster is his favorite recruiter.
For whatever it is worth at this point, 247Sports’ Director of Recruiting, J.C. Shurburtt, has the Hokies landing Hand.
While Hand is not seriously considering Virginia, not all is lost for the Cavaliers. The state’s No. 2 ranked player, defensive tackle Andrew Brown of Chesapeake, has the Cavaliers as one of his favorites. 247Sports has Brown as the nation’s No. 4 overall prospect.
If Virginia lands Brown, that would be three of the top 10 players in the state for Cavaliers, giving them arguably their best recruiting class of all time. The 1989 class featuring Terry Kirby and Chris Slade is tough to beat.
With so much premier talent in the state in 2014, do the Hokies and Cavaliers have a legitimate shot at keeping the majority in state?
In the past several years, the state’s top talent often went elsewhere. In 2006, Percy Harvin of Virginia Beach was the top-ranked player in the Commonwealth. Harvin chose to attend the University of Florida. The Hokies or Cavaliers weren’t even in Harvin’s final five.
While the Cavaliers are off to a good start for 2014, will it be enough to save London’s job? In three seasons at Virginia, London has an overall record of 16-21. He has one 8-5 season sandwiched between two 4-8 campaigns.
London needs progress in 2013. He made several coaching changes this offseason, undoubtedly feeling the heat after a miserable 2012. The Cavaliers have struggled to fill Scott Stadium in recent seasons despite some noteworthy opponents. The easiest way to get fans to attend the games is to win. Acquiring the top talent in a talent-rich state is a good place to begin.
The great programs keep the top talent in state. Miami built its program in the 1980s by keeping the top players home. Sure, Alabama doesn’t build its roster with only homegrown talent; however, they rarely let the best players in the state leave.
Texas is perennially one of the top programs in the country. Its spring roster featured just 12 players from the outside the state. Since Mack Brown took over as head coach of the Longhorns in 1998, he made signing the top players in Texas a priority each season. He has competed for national titles and kept Texas in the top 25 for the better part of the last 15 years by prioritizing in-state talent.
So, if London’s job is on the line, what does this mean for Beamer?
Beamer has often resisted change with his offensive coaching staff for years. However, after a mediocre 2012 season in which the Hokies finished 7-6, their worst record in 20 years, Beamer finally made changes to his staff. Was it panic, or did Beamer truly feel it was time for a change? Nonetheless, the timing was interesting.
The Hokies’ current athletic director, Jim Weaver, is set to retire at the end of 2015. Does Beamer feel the pressure to win now before Weaver leaves his post? A new athletic director will likely not feel the same loyalty to Beamer that Weaver does.
Firing Beamer is out of the question—he built the program—but would it be outside the realm of possibility for a new administration to try to force Beamer into an early retirement?
In assessing the last 10 years of recruiting data for Virginia’s top 25 players, Virginia Tech has scored well. The Hokies have averaged signing nine of the top 25 per year. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, have averaged just over five per season.
The “757," aka the Tidewater region of Virginia, is the state’s most fertile recruiting ground, and the Hokies have traditionally fared well there. But since London assumed the reins in Charlottesville, the momentum has shifted a bit.
As the 2013 season gets closer, look for more head coaches, like Nick Saban and Brady Hoke, to make frequent visits to the state. A head coach often stays out of the recruiting process until the end, unless the player possesses elite talent. The state of Virginia has several elite talents in 2014.
Can the Hokies and Cavaliers both sign double-digit numbers of players from within the state in 2014? The Cavaliers look primed to do so. The Hokies, however, are focusing on specific players, such as Hand and defensive end Jalyn Holmes of Virginia Beach.
Over the last several years the Hokies have focused on other states such as North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. With the recent influx of talent on the home front, perhaps they’d be wise to get more involved with the uncommitted players inside their own state in 2014.
2014 could be a make-or-break year for both schools for different reasons. If the Cavaliers can sign a top-10 class, London likely buys himself a few more years at the helm of the Cavaliers. Beamer likely cares chiefly about landing Hand. If he can, it would be the first time in school history the school signed 5-star recruits in successive seasons.
The battle for recruiting supremacy in the state of Virginia will be fun to watch in the next nine months. Sadly for Beamer and London, they will be competing with coaches from across the entire country.
Will the Class of 2014 pay close attention to what was a dreadful 2012 for both schools? If so, Saban will be smiling again next February while London and Beamer ponder what could have been.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
All of Notre Dame's 12 wins last season required a full-team effort, but when looking back on each of the Irish's victories in 2012, often times a specific player comes to mind for a certain game.
Against Michigan, it was Manti Te'o and his two interceptions of Denard Robinson. At Oklahoma, it was Louis Nix's domination of the Oklahoma offensive line that swung the game in the Irish's favor. A week later against Pittsburgh, Everett Golson's unflappable poise was imperative in leading a late rally against Pittsburgh.
I've identified a key player for each of Notre Dame's 12 games in 2013. If you want to argue that player is Golson for all 12 games, that's a rational viewpoint, but doesn't make for an interesting article. Therefore, there are no repeats.
There isn't necessarily a right answer for any game, but different styles of play and opponents' various strengths and weaknesses will place different players or position groups in the spotlight from week to week.
Let's look at the key player each week for the 2013 Fighting Irish.
College football has a number of unique traditions, but the one that drives the conversation year-round are the in-state rivalry games.
There are a number of in-state contests that are played every year, but these 10 catch the spotlight no matter the records entering the game.
Matchups like the Iron Bowl and the battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy are among college football’s best.
What other showdowns make the cut?
At this time last year, no one knew who was going to be the quarterback of the Texas A&M Aggies as they prepared for their first season in the SEC.
Since then, “Johnny Football” has taken over the college football landscape in a Heisman trophy-winning, extra point-missing campaign. His innate ability to make terrific scrambles out of broken plays allowed him to become the first freshman-eligible player to win the Heisman since its inception in 1935.
At the ripe age of 20, Manziel has reached unimaginable heights that most players can only dream of before he can legally drink.
None of this, however, suggests that Manziel has what it takes to cut it in the NFL.
Johnny Manziel can make all of the crazy mad-lib plays he wants in the college ranks, but ultimately, his future as an NFL player will depend on his ability to hang in the pocket and make stick throws into tight windows—not running around in circles like he’s playing two-hand touch.
One of the most important elements of quarterback play that is extremely difficult to teach is the ability to move about the pocket and avoid the rush with subtle movements. Without looking directly at oncoming rushers, a quarterback must know when and where to step up into the pocket and deliver the football on time and with accuracy.
Johnny Manziel’s style of playing “kill the man with the ball” in the backfield until there is a coverage breakdown sure is fun to watch, but such a style is no way to run a consistent, effective offense in the NFL.
As great as Manziel was as a freshman, he was put in an ideal position to succeed. Both of his tackles, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, were among the best in college football: Joeckel was selected second overall by the Jaguars, and Matthews—who elected to return to College Station—would not have been taken much later.
Simply put, Manziel spent most of his Heisman-winning campaign in a seven-on-seven environment.
Despite this luxury of great edge protection, Manziel did not take full advantage of it. Too often, he abandoned a quality pocket in favor of trying to make a play with his legs—this makes for exciting television but is an inefficient way to move the football.
Here, Manziel has a perfect pocket to work with. He has plenty of room to step up, but the edge protection is so good he won’t have to.
For comparison, check out how much room Andrew Luck had before he stepped up to deliver a strike down the field:
Still, for some inexplicable reason, Manziel abandons his protection almost as soon as his back foot hits the turf in his drop back, and he takes off.
Whether or not Manziel was successful scrambling afterwards is irrelevant—when making improvisational plays, the results are mostly random; there is no way to organize and build an offense around it.
Here is another example of Manziel failing to take full advantage of a situation that NFL quarterbacks dream of.
Because of his mobility, the defense keeps in a linebacker as a spy, giving him a ton of single coverage to throw against. In the NFL, throwing against single coverage is virtually throwing to an open receiver. Additionally, he is sitting in a beautiful pocket with room to step into his throw.
Yet, once again, Manziel takes off and does not even try to push the ball down the field.
Whether or not the ensuing scrambles are irrelevant—as we saw with RGIII last year—asking your quarterback to use his running as a driving force of an offense will just shorten his career. Ultimately, NFL quarterbacks need to stand tall in the pocket, go through progressions and make accurate throws with velocity—which happen to be two other areas where Manziel comes up short.
Going Through Progressions
When Johnny Manziel did manage to stay in the pocket, it was because his first read was wide open—or else he likely would have taken off on his own.
Manziel was asked to do very little as a passer in terms of reading coverages and going through progressions. If his first read was not open, he looked to run. This type of offense is very common in the college ranks, especially with young, athletic quarterbacks with limited experience under their belt.
However, as effective as this elementary offense was for the Aggies, such an approach has no chance of working on a consistent basis in the NFL. Defenses are far too quick and adept in coverage to let receivers run free or allow a quarterback to run wild on a consistent basis.
Take a look at these two successive plays below. In the first play, Manziel looks at his first read, doesn’t like what he sees and decides to take off and run.
The very next play, Manziel’s first read is open and an easy completion is made.
Of course, this simplistic offense is not Manziel’s fault, and he could certainly get better in a pro-style system with some time and coaching. Still, as of now, Manziel has not shown the ability to make the fast, complex reads that are necessary to run an NFL offense.
Lack of Arm Talent
As difficult as it may be, Manziel has a chance to learn how to go through progressions and work a pocket like a seasoned NFL veteran, but there is one element of Manziel's game that will limit his NFL potential—his arm strength.
While Manziel does flash the ability to make downfield throws, those throws are normally completed because of his accuracy and timing rather than his arm strength. As a thrower, Manziel compares well to Matt Barkley as someone who has to make up for his average arm strength with tremendous accuracy and anticipation.
Accuracy and anticipation are two very important qualities for a quarterback, but without at least an above-average arm, Manziel’s pro potential will always be limited.
Take a look at this shallow-out pattern that Manziel completes. The ball is thrown before the receiver is open (anticipation) and with tremendous accuracy, right on the receiver’s hands.
However, Manziel does not quite drive the ball to the outside. He was able to easily get away with this “casual” pass to the sideline in this situation, but aggressive NFL cornerbacks are going to eat those kinds of passes alive.
With a few rare exceptions like Drew Brees, increasing arm strength in the NFL is a near-impossibility. Generally, arm strength is a product of rapid muscle movement that is largely determined by genetics—which is why you don’t see Joe Flacco—one of the strongest arms in the NFL—with huge, muscular arms.
The Next Russell Wilson? Not Quite
It will be tempting to compare Manziel to players like Russell Wilson because they both have the ability to scramble and make extended plays outside the pocket, but these two players are much different in how they use their scrambling ability.
However, despite Russell Wilson's rousing NFL success, we must temper our expectations for Manziel. Just because both players are short and athletic does not mean they will share the same success in the NFL.
For one, Wilson does not abandon the pocket until he runs out of time. He extends plays with his feet and is much more capable of delivering a ball with velocity. While he will need to learn how to get rid of the ball sooner as he loses speed with time, Wilson is not going to run around in circles unless he has to.
Manziel, on the other hand, scrambles long before the pocket collapses around him. Watching him, it almost looks as if he is actively trying to make plays with his legs before trusting his eyes and turning a ball loose.
Of course, none of this is to say that Manziel can never be a successful NFL quarterback; after all, he is just 20 years old and has just one year of starting experience under his belt.
However, Manziel is a classic case of a college player who will dominate draft talk among the media next season—assuming he decides to turn pro—because of his spectacular play at the college level rather than his great traits as a prospect.
Manziel does have a lot of tools to work with as a terrific athlete with a knack for making plays, but just as we saw with Tim Tebow, being able to “win” or “make plays” does not always translate to the next level. At all positions, the players who translate well into the professional ranks do so because they carry specific, rare traits that cannot be taught or duplicated easily.
For Manziel to succeed in the NFL, he will have to go to the right system, preferably a "West Coast" system that is predicated on timing and accuracy with some mobility to complement the offense.
Manziel is as entertaining of a player as any to watch, but what he does so well on the college field simply does not translate well in a league that demands precision and consistency.
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In 2012, it was easy to identify the top offensive playmakers on the West Virginia football team. Receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey were both locks to post 1,000-plus yards and of course quarterback Geno Smith could be considered a top playmaker, as well.
But in 2013, that isn't the case. The Mountaineers still have no idea who will be taking their snaps this season or even whom that signal-caller will be targeting.
WVU returns the most experience at running back, where a pair of runners each with starting experience will be joined by a physically imposing junior college transfer to form a formidable ground attack.
However, it remains to be seen which of those three will earn the most carries this fall.
With all the uncertainty, this list will serve as more of a prediction for which players will end up as the go-to weapons in this 2013 Mountaineer offense, rather than a ranking based on past performance.
So, let's take a look at who will be making the most plays and producing the most points on the WVU offense in 2013.
A recent Sports Illustrated report has questioned the alleged decision by Penn State athletic director David Joyner to relieve Wayne Sebastianelli of his duties. Sebastianelli was the team's director of athletic medicine and orthopedic surgeon-head physician.
Is this really a big deal?
The report indicates that both former and current players are concerned about the school's health care program.
Instead of having an orthopedic surgeon who attends every practice, Penn State now employs a primary care physician in State College and an orthopedic consultant who commutes about two hours each way from Hershey, Pa., at least once a week.
O'Brien called the report a "character assassination," according to the The Philadelphia Inquirer:
"The players' health and safety is the No. 1 priority to me," O'Brien said. "For anyone to suggest, or perhaps outright accuse, that anyone within Penn State's athletic program would do otherwise is irresponsible, reckless, and wrong.
"We have a deep connection with our players. We are battling an uphill battle. We have 65 scholarships, 67 scholarships. Do you think for one second I would jeopardize the health and safety of this football team with 65 kids on scholarships? That's preposterous."
O'Brien said that a doctor will be present at every practice, and that an orthopedic surgeon, while not at practice every day, "will be there in the office, in the training room . . . they'll be around."
Politics appear to have played a part in this drama.
The SI report implies a contentious relationship between Joyner and Sebastianelli saying that "there is a deep history and a rivalry between Joyner and Sebastianelli." Joyner is an orthopedic surgeon and "once wanted to work with the football team," the report states.
This could be just two egos clashing with inevitable fallout. Would a school under intense NCAA and media scrutiny really put its football players' health and safety in jeopardy? Doubtful.
Could the players and alumni's concerns be nothing more than a sign of protest over change? Recent school history suggests exactly that.
The Joe Paterno apologists are still out there. They refuse to believe that the face of Penn State football knowingly looked the other way while sexual assaults on young boys occurred. They're not changing their opinion of Paterno. Here's more from Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle:
Jay Paterno, Joe's son, calls the scandal a "very, very small chapter" of his father's career. Joe coached Penn State for 46 seasons. He ignored Jerry Sandusky for at least 14 years. That's nearly one-third of Paterno's Penn State career. As chapters go, that one is huge.
The school rallied to protest the dismissal of Paterno while the rest of the nation recoiled in horror over the allegations facing former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Many students rioted.
Students also voluntarily guarded the statue of Paterno at Beaver Stadium after a plane with the banner, "Take the statue down or we will" flew over the campus last July. The statue was eventually taken down on July 22.
More angst ensued when Penn State changed its uniforms before its 2012 season opener with Ohio. O'Brien oversaw the addition of players' names on the jerseys as well as blue ribbons symbolizing the support for victims of child abuse.
Keep in mind, 2011 saw some uniform tweaks that eliminated the contrasting trim on the jersey's neck and arm cuffs. Many fans complained that the changes made the uniforms too bland, as if they weren't before. After the 2012 uniform changes, fans appeared to voice their displeasure that they didn't represent the Penn State tradition of generic-looking uniforms.
It's change that gets many Penn State alumni and fans' dander up.
Change is inevitable. But outrage over change can become the bigger story. As it has here, it appears.
Penn State issued a statement in response to the SI report:
Contrary to the reporter's assertions, Dr. Sebastianelli remains the doctor in charge of the University's entire medical program for intercollegiate athletics, including football. Further, there has been no change in the support provided by State College-based Penn State orthopedic surgeons, including Dr. Sebastianelli.
Much ado about nothing? Much ado about nothing.
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While Matthew Thomas and Florida State continue to try and settle their differences, the Seminoles finally received some good news regarding a completely different player.
Well, I guess that's great news for the Seminoles, bad news for the rest of the ACC.
One of the top recruits of the 2013 class, Walker originally committed to Alabama but changed his commitment at the last minute. He enrolled to school early in hopes of participating in spring practice, but that never happened.
Spending much of his time on the sidelines, Walker wasn't allowed to participate due to an issue with the NCAA Clearinghouse—the body responsible for determining the eligibility for incoming high school athletes.
There seemed to be an issue with Walker's academics that was preventing him from taking the field.
This was eating at Walker over the last several months, as he voiced his frustration in a polite way on Twitter just a couple of months ago:
Although it was a little later than expected, his wish has finally been granted.
Walker is a player who will help contribute right away defensively. His size at 6'3", 265 pounds makes him college-ready and his explosion off the football is superb. He can line up at either defensive tackle or defensive end and is an absolute force at clogging up running lanes.
Florida State has a lot of young defenders on the line already, but Walker is truly as good as it gets and will have no problem making a name for himself in fall camp.
There are still issues to take care of when it comes to Thomas, but Florida State will gladly accept this good news.
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Bars is a 4-star offensive tackle from Nashville, Tenn., and he's ranked as the No. 9 player at the position, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
He announced, via Twitter, that he had made his decision in favor of Notre Dame:
At 6'6'', 287 pounds, Bars has the size and potential to be an impact player for the Fighting Irish in the future. He's an athletic offensive tackle with good agility and quickness, especially considering his size.
He's adept at getting to the second level and walling off defenders, and he can also pull down the line and kick the defender outside, creating a running lane underneath him. Bars could also be an effective lead blocker in those pulling situations, getting upfield quickly and having the skill to engage and drive.
To make Bars' commitment even sweeter for Notre Dame fans, most experts considered him a Michigan lean. All nine experts who predicted in the 247Sports Crystal Ball for Bars chose Michigan as his eventual destination.
To be fair, he did take two unofficial visits to Michigan in a short timespan, so it did seem as if the offensive tackle could have been favoring the Wolverines. Also, don't expect Michigan to just give up now that he has committed. This is recruiting after all.
Nonetheless, Bars is committed to Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish, and Notre Dame's 2014 class continues to grow—especially on the offensive line. Notre Dame now has four offensive linemen commitments, all four checking in with 4-stars, according to their respective 247Sports composite rankings.
Knowing that football games are won or lost at the line of scrimmage, Notre Dame fans have to be feeling good about the makeup of their 2014 recruiting class.
Note: All scouting and analysis of Bars done via tape study of video provided on his 247Sports profile page.
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While Johnny Manziel lives the good life this season—playing Pebble Beach, taking batting practice with the San Diego Padres and hanging out on Bourbon Street—the biggest question heading into the 2013 season is what he will do for an encore.
Fair or not, Manziel raised the bar for himself after passing for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushing for 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman last season. His accolades last season—which resulted in the Heisman Trophy—are big reason why Texas A&M finds itself squarely in the mix to be in the preseason Top Five of most major polls and a legitimate threat to intra-division foe Alabama.
So, what should we expect from "Johnny Football" in 2013? Fewer rushing yards would be a good start.
Manziel was simply magical on both designed runs and scrambles last season, but if he tops the 1,400-yard mark on the ground in 2013, something probably went terribly wrong for the Aggies.
Outside of Tuscaloosa, Texas A&M boasts the deepest and most talented backfield in the SEC. Ben Malena returns to lead a stable that includes Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams, the lightning-fast Trey Williams and Oregon transfer Tra Carson.
But it isn't just raw talent that makes this group so dangerous. The best part for Aggies fans is that they all bring a little something different to the table.
Malena, who rushed for 808 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago, will be the feature back. The 5'8", 195-pound senior led Aggie running backs in rushing last season and possesses the versatility it takes to be a star in the SEC. In addition to his work as a running back, he caught 18 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown out of the backfield a year ago.
But it isn't just his work with the football that makes him so effective. Malena's work in pass protection is what makes him a weapon for the Aggies.
"What Ben has given us is a steady guy who understands everything, who is a potent threat with the ball in his hand and also a pass-catcher and a protector," head coach Kevin Sumlin told ESPN.com last season.
In the video above at the 3:42 mark, Malena—who is lined up next to Manziel in the shotgun—steps up in the pocket and picks up the blitzing linebacker, allowing Manziel to find Thomas Johnson in the end zone in the third quarter of the Aggies' win over Louisiana Tech.
While Malena may be the unquestioned starter, Brandon Williams may be the rising star.
The Oklahoma transfer rushed for 219 yards with the Sooners in 2011 before sitting out last season after transferring to Texas A&M. You saw a glimpse of what Williams was capable of during the Aggies' spring game, when the 6'0", 192-pounder rushed for 59 yards and a touchdown and caught three passes for 29 yards and another touchdown.
"He's impressive," Manziel told the Associated Press (via AggieAthletics.com) after the Aggies' spring game. "He works hard and he's one of my favorite people on the entire team."
In the highlights from A&M's spring game above, take a look at the first play. Brandon Williams flashes his speed and shows quickness, exposing the bad angle taken by the safety.
While Brandon Williams is the rising star, Trey Williams epitomizes the definition of a "changeup back."
The 5'8", 185-pounder rushed for 376 yards and five touchdowns last season, averaging a whopping 5.78 yards per carry in the process. He's incredibly dangerous in space and has breakaway speed when he gets to the second level.
Whether it's as a running back or out of the backfield as a receiver on screen passes, Trey Williams adds a different dimension to the Aggies offense and can be in the lineup along with one of the other running backs, giving head coach Kevin Sumlin options and flexibility with play-calling.
At 6'0", 227 pounds, Carson will likely find the majority of his work as a short-yardage and goal-line specialist. Not a bad gig. But don't be fooled by his size, Carson is every bit as versatile as the his mates in the backfield and could evolve into a bigger role as his career in College Station develops.
Four players, all of whom are talented but possess slightly different traits. Texas A&M may have lost some key pieces on the offensive line, but the four-headed monster at running back will allow the coaching staff plenty of options offensively, even if the offensive line struggles to gel.
Manziel will get his share of yardage on the ground. But he visited quarterback coach George Whitfield, Jr. this month with the stated goal of becoming a better pocket passer. Part of what makes a pocket passer good is faith in the running game.
With the four running backs lining up alongside him this season, that trust should be on display early and often. If it's not, something's wrong.
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