Florida Gators: Kliff Kingsbury

SEC's lunchtime links

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
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Hard-working reporters put in some long hours for the NFL's first day of free agency. It was so packed with news, it was almost like a mini national signing day.

What we learned in the SEC bowls

January, 9, 2013
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Now that the bowl season is over, it's time to take a look back at what we learned in the SEC during the postseason:

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesNick Saban and Alabama will be among the favorites to win the national title again next season.
1. It really is Alabama's world: For the second straight year and for the third time in four years, Alabama took home college football's crystal hardware. After the first 15 minutes of the Discover BCS National Championship, it didn't even look like No. 1 Notre Dame deserved to be on the same field as the Crimson Tide. Alabama wore down the Irish defense in the first half, and its defense tormented Notre Dame's offense for about 90 percent of Monday night's game. Nick Saban didn't have his most talented team, but he had his squad way more prepared than Brian Kelly did. Saban's way of making sure his players approach every game the same way proved to be excellent again. Notre Dame was completely overmatched, and with the talent coming back in 2013, Alabama should again be the favorite to win it all. Three-peat?

2. The SEC's dominance is still being challenged: Even though Alabama brought home the SEC's seventh straight BCS title, the SEC's perception is still being challenged. Social media has been buzzing with chants of "overrated" directed toward the SEC because Mississippi State, LSU and Florida all fell flat in their bowl games. Mississippi State lost by 14 to Northwestern, LSU lost to Clemson on a last-second field goal and Florida was run ragged by Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Heading into bowl season, Florida and LSU weren't expected to lose, but they got away from their ground games and paid for it dearly. Still, the SEC went 6-3 (.667) in bowl games, including Texas A&M's 41-13 rout of Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, and Georgia and South Carolina downing Big Ten teams. Only the WAC (2-0) and C-USA (4-1) had better winning percentages, and neither had nearly as many bowl teams. So is the SEC down? Well, while the SEC took a couple of bad losses in bowl season, seven teams finished the year in the Associated Press Top 25, including five in the top 10. The Big Ten and Big 12 had losing bowl records, the Pac-12 went 4-4 and the ACC was 4-2. So, if the SEC is overrated, what are the other conferences?

3. Florida's offensive issues are still a major problem: All season, we wondered what we'd see from Florida's offense. However, for 11 games, even if the offense came up short, the Gators found ways to win. Against Louisville, the Gators went in reverse and never got right again. Jeff Driskel threw a pick-six on the first possession, and the offense imploded from there. Mike Gillislee, who was easily Florida's best offensive weapon, carried the ball just nine times. The Gators panicked, but when they had to pass, they couldn't.

This has to be a major concern for the Gators going forward, because Gillislee is graduating and tight end Jordan Reed declared for the NFL draft. Driskel has to find some major help in the passing game this spring/summer, or Florida's offense will get pummeled again. Driskel's health is now a major concern because backup Jacoby Brissett is transferring, leaving the Gators with no experience behind Driskel.

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Ranking the SEC's bowls

December, 13, 2012
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The bowl season is getting closer and closer, and as we all prepare for what truly is the most wonderful time of year, it's time to rank the nine bowl games that involve SEC teams.

This month, ESPN colleague Mark Schlabach took the time to rank all 35 bowl games. We only have nine to discuss here, but some are very intriguing matchups.

Here's how the SEC's slate of bowls ranks from top to bottom:

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesAJ McCarron and Alabama are one win away from another national title.
1. Discover BCS National Championship: No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama (Jan. 7: ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET, Sun Life Stadium, Miami) -- Two quintessential blue-collar football teams will smash into each other for the national championship. This game also features two of the most respected/hated football programs of all-time. People from all over will be disgusted with themselves for having to root for either squad in a game where some big hits and bruises will be given out.

2. AT&T Cotton Bowl: No. 9 Texas A&M vs. No. 11 Oklahoma (Jan. 4: Fox, 8 p.m. ET, Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas) -- The scoreboard inside Jerry's World better have brand new bulbs, because there are going to be a lot of points in this one. The Aggies will be without offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who accepted the head-coaching job at Texas Tech, but Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and his group of playmakers will be ready -- and rested. Both teams are averaging more than 500 yards and 40 points a game.

3. Chick-fil-A Bowl: No. 8 LSU vs. No. 14 Clemson (Dec. 31: ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET, Georgia Dome, Atlanta) -- One stout defense takes on one of the nation's flashiest offenses. The only thing is that LSU currently has some real bite on offense, so that Clemson defense better make adjustments after giving up 444 yards and 27 points in a home loss to South Carolina. Oh, and if Tajh Boyd thought Jadeveon Clowney was a handful, he now has to face Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo coming at him from the outside.

4. Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 21 Louisville vs. No. 3 Florida (Jan. 2: ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans) -- Some people are turning their noses up at this game, but there are a lot of fun storylines. This is a huge bowl for the Cardinals, and coach Charlie Strong was once the Gators' defensive coordinator. Teddy Bridgewater was also recruited by Florida. We've also learned that Florida's offense can be pretty tough when healthy, and a month off should have the Gators in proper form.

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SEC's 'Dandy Dozen' of assistant coaches

December, 12, 2012
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The head coaches are the ones who make the big money in the SEC.

But without a quality staff, a head coach isn’t going to survive very long in this league.

So as we look back on the 2012 regular season, let’s pay tribute to 12 assistant coaches who separated themselves from the rest. Each of these guys made a huge difference in their development of players and units.

We’ll call it our “Dandy Dozen” of SEC assistant coaches, and they’re listed in alphabetical order:

Mike Bobo, Georgia, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks: A finalist for the Broyles Award, Bobo has the Bulldogs ranked in the top four in the SEC in both rushing and passing offense. They scored 28 or more points in 11 of their 13 games, and did it with an offensive line that was both young and unproven when the season began.

Burton Burns, Alabama, associate head coach/running backs: Despite injuries to Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler, Alabama didn’t miss a beat in its running game. In fact, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon became the first two players in school history to each rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.

John Chavis, LSU, defensive coordinator/linebackers: Like clockwork, Chavis just keeps on churning out rock-solid defenses at LSU. The Tigers are No. 8 nationally in total defense and No. 11 in scoring defense, and that’s despite losing their top playmaker on defense (Tyrann Mathieu) in the preseason.

D.J. Durkin, Florida, special teams coordinator/linebackers: When you play as many close games as the Gators did this season, you better be good on special teams. They weren’t just good. They were excellent in all facets, which is a credit to Durkin and the job he did in coordinating the entire kicking game.

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- One of the biggest on-field changes for this year's Texas A&M squad is the installation of head coach Kevin Sumlin's and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury's up-tempo, wide-open, high-powered offense.

In the first half of the Aggies' season-opening loss to no. 24 Florida before 87,114 on Saturday at Kyle Field, the transition appeared smooth. The offense ran efficiently, redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel appeared confident and fearless, the pace was accelerated and the Gators had issues trying to stop the Aggies, who displayed a good mix of run and pass.

But in the final two quarters, things changed. Three-and-outs became the norm, rather than the exception, the running game became unproductive and Manziel -- who made several plays with his legs in the first half -- was bottled up. The final result looked like many the Aggies had last year, when they surrendered six games that they led by double-digits, even if it was arrived at in a different fashion.

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Aggies trust new QB 'Johnny Football'

September, 7, 2012
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Johnny Manziel doesn't run from the big moments. He craves them.

Those expecting the redshirt freshman to be overcome by the gravity of the moment when he steps on the field for the first time as Texas A&M's starting quarterback as the Aggies host No. 24 Florida in their first Southeastern Conference game might be surprised.

Confidence, swagger -- whatever you call it -- Manziel has it, according to those around him.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Sam Khan Jr./ESPN.comRedshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel had a total of 75 touchdowns -- passing and rushing -- his senior year of high school.
"He has the feel of a kid that has always expected this moment," offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said. "I think he’s just one of those kids that has that type of vibe about him that nothing’s too big for him."

As the Aggies prepare to make their SEC debut at 2:30 p.m. CT on Saturday at Kyle Field, there will be a lot of new: a new head coach (Kevin Sumlin) and coaching staff, a new offense, a new defense and even new uniforms. Add Manziel to that list; the Kerrville (Texas) Tivy product is the new starting quarterback for Texas A&M, winning a competition in fall training camp.

Listen to teammates, coaches and former coaches talk about Manziel, and the same words continue to pop up: competitor, confident, leader, winner.

"Probably one of the greatest competitors I've ever been around," said Mark Smith, his coach at Tivy who is now coaching at Converse (Texas) Judson. "I mean the boy wants to compete and he wants to excel and do well. And he made everybody else around him better. Those things have always stood out to me."

Manziel's leadership already has been seen during practices after Sumlin and Kingsbury named him the starting quarterback in August. Whether it's correcting mistakes or ensuring that everyone is on the same page, Manziel is getting it done.

"He's doing a real good job of stepping up and being real vocal," said Texas A&M senior center Patrick Lewis, one of the team's four captains. "Quarterbacks are normally in charge of the offense and he tells us what he wants and what he expects. For him to be so young and to demand that attention from us so early, it's really impressive to me.

"He'll come out there and give his little speech to the offense before we start practice and he demands perfection already. I'm proud of him; I'm happy for him. I can't wait to see what he can do once we start playing games."

At Tivy, Manziel -- sometimes called by his nickname, "Johnny Football" -- was a bona fide superstar. He was a Parade All-American and was named the Texas Class 4A Offensive Player of the Year by The Associated Press as a senior. He broke the San Antonio area's single-season record with 3,609 passing yards and tied an area record with 45 touchdown passes. Not only that, he ran for 1,674 yards and 30 touchdowns while leading the Antlers to a 10-2 record. As a junior, Manziel carried his team to the Class 4A Division II state semifinals.

Throughout his high school career, in which he threw for more than 12,000 yards, Manziel would cause jaws to drop by making plays with either his arm or his feet.

"I don't know if I can count them all," Smith said. "He found ways to do stuff. ... He made some throws sometimes that you just don't know how he made them. And he did it. Or he made a run that made you go 'Holy cow.'"



I'd take him in a heartbeat. I wouldn't even blink. I think he has all the tools that are necessary for him to be successful and to lead a football team.


-- Mark Smith, who coached Manziel at Kerrville (Texas) Tivy.


He originally committed to Oregon the summer before his senior season. The distance from home was a concern for Manziel, who wanted his family and friends to be able to see him play. When Texas A&M extended him an offer and he had an opportunity to see what the Aggies had to offer, he switched his commitment.

"When he sat down and made the decision to go to A&M, he came into my office on a Sunday night ... we came in and just sat down and talked and put down what's important," Smith said. "And family is important to him. Being close to his family so that his mom and dad are able to see him [was important], and when you got down to it, that was the underlying factor to him going to A&M."

Manziel isn't perfect. Kingsbury said that in the spring the 6-foot-1, 200-pound quarterback was "reckless with the football." Manziel operates with the confidence that he can make any throw or any play at any time. Kingsbury and Sumlin's high-powered, up-tempo offense, which is rooted in Air Raid principles, functions effectively only if the quarterback is taking care of the ball and distributing it to the playmakers around him.

When Manziel arrived for fall camp in August, the coaches could see significant improvement from him, particularly in that area.

"With Johnny, it's probably that he thinks he's the best player out there every time he steps out," Kingsbury said. "So he wants the ball in his hands and wants to do everything with it. He has a great cast around him, he's got to get it to those guys and let them make plays. Like I said, just reeling him back in from the spring, he showed up and was making the routine play and that's what we want from him."

Off the field, Manziel had a hiccup in the summer. He was arrested in the Northgate bar district and charged with disorderly conduct, failure to identify and possessing a false identification card, all misdemeanors.

Sumlin set forth parameters that Manziel had to meet to have a chance to remain part of the team. Sumlin said Manziel met all of them and got back in good graces. Not only that, he won the staff over enough that they felt comfortable tabbing him as the quarterback who will lead the Aggies in their first SEC season.

"No doubt, like everybody else, I was disappointed, because you expect more of him," Smith said. "And I think once you understand the whole story and get down to it, really he probably got caught at the wrong time, doing the wrong things. And he's just like any other 19-year-old kid on a college campus. We'd like these guys to be model citizens and do all the right things and they don't always do [that]. He made a decision, but he owned up and that's the first thing he said, 'I was wrong.' And I think that's the first mark of a man, to be able to hold yourself accountable and say 'I made a mistake.'

"For him to come back out and overcome the adversity he's had, shows his perseverance and his willingness to be committed to Texas A&M and make them a better program and make himself a better player."

Texas A&M senior receiver Ryan Swope took it upon himself to speak with Manziel over the summer to help him adapt to the college game and learn the ins and outs of what it takes to play at this level. They didn't just talk about football. They talked about life as well.

Swope said the team believes in Manziel.

"I've got trust in him," Swope said. "I feel like our whole team does, and that's important. As a senior coming back, I've talked to all the receivers, and a guy like Johnny, we have full trust in. We're very excited for him and we just can't get complacent, and that's what we tell him. He's got to work every day because we've got three guys [Jameill Showers, Matt Joeckel and Matt Davis] right behind him that are wanting that spot, so it's important that he goes out and works hard every single day."

Sumlin said he's relying on the veteran offensive players around Manziel to help ease the transition as he gains game experience.

"Until you’re in a game with game speed and the intensity level, that’s where your experience comes from," Sumlin said. "He’s an inexperienced player and because of that, our surrounding cast of our offensive line or our running backs or our skill people on the perimeter who have experience, have to play well and create a quarterback-friendly atmosphere for him. Fortunately we’ve got experienced players in those positions.”

Smith, who was one of the first people Manziel called when he was officially named the starter in August, has no doubt that "Johnny Football" will succeed.

"I'd take him in a heartbeat," Smith said. "I wouldn't even blink. I think he has all the tools that are necessary for him to be successful and to lead a football team."

Five storylines: Texas A&M Aggies 

September, 6, 2012
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Texas A&M hosts no. 24 Florida on Saturday at Kyle Field in the Aggies' first Southeastern Conference game. Let's take a look at five storylines for each team as they head into their SEC tilt:

1. The Kevin Sumlin era begins
There's a lot of "new" around Texas A&M football and that includes a new coaching staff, led by Sumlin, the new head coach who spent the last four years at Houston. It also includes new coordinators and assistants and new offensive and defensive schemes. All of those things will be unveiled for the first time on Saturday.
We're always looking for the next best thing. The coaching world isn't any different.

Who's the next Urban Meyer? The next Chris Petersen? What about another Brady Hoke?

Who's that next great assistant who rises up the ranks and takes over a major program ... and succeeds?

I'm not completely sure, but I have a few ideas. Here are some coaches lurking in the SEC who could be on their way to bigger and better things or are ready to take the next step with their current teams:

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ESPN’s GatorNation brings you the 30 things you need to know about Florida’s upcoming 2012 season. For 30 weekdays we’ll preview games, talk about trends, spotlight players and positions, and give you pretty much everything you need to know to be ready for the season before the Sept. 1 opener against Bowling Green.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- GatorNation is previewing each of Florida’s 2012 opponents. Today is Texas A&M (Sept. 8 in Gainesville).

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M Aggies
Brett Davis/US PresswireWide receiver Ryan Swope is the Aggies' top target.
TEXAS A&M

2011 record: 7-6 (4-5 Big 12), beat Northwestern 33-22 in Meineke Car Care Bowl.

Coach: Kevin Sumlin, first season; fifth season overall (35-17).

Series record: Tied 1-1.

Top returners: WR Ryan Swope (89 catches for 1,207 yards and 11 TDs); OL Luke Joeckel; LB Sean Porter (9.5 sacks); DE Damontre Moore (17.5 tackles for loss).

Did you know? The Aggies’ schedule includes the last six national champions (Florida twice, Alabama twice, LSU and Auburn).

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