Florida State Seminoles: 3-point stance

1. The disparity of opinion regarding the linemen on the consensus All-America team and what NFL teams thought of them is large. Of the eight offensive and defensive linemen from the All-America team, five were drafted in the fourth round or later. Meanwhile, the two receivers and four defensive backs on the All-American team went in the first 41 picks. It could be that different offenses in colleges call for different skills in line play. But the ability to run and move in space, on offense and defense, is valuable in any scheme.

2. The two best quarterbacks in college football, Jameis Winston of Florida State and Marcus Mariota of Oregon, had best stay healthy. Winston’s backup, Jacob Coker, will play at Alabama. Mariota’s backup, Jake Rodrigues, announced Monday that he will transfer. Mariota got hurt last season, and Winston’s off-field problems are well-documented. And yet the one-play-away mantra of coaches that applies to every other position doesn’t apply at quarterback. What’s different? The demands of the position or the egos of the guys playing it?

3. Now that the ACC athletic directors have voted in favor of keeping the status quo of eight conference games, the circle is complete. The ACC and SEC point to each other and say, but we’re playing them! Yes, four schools are. And Notre Dame will be on five ACC schedules a year. Nine ACC games is doable. Asking fans to pay retail prices for bad opponents -– and with four non-ACC games, there are plenty –- is not right.
1. One of the more interesting stories in college football this fall will be the fate of Oregon senior Johnathan Loyd, who showed up for spring practice to play wide receiver after four seasons playing point guard for the Ducks. Loyd stands all of 5-8, so if he survived a Pac-12 basketball career, he is tough by definition. Loyd has also shown his ability to operate in space. The Eugene Register-Guard reported how Loyd got lit up the first time he caught a punt, which should teach him the wisdom of the fair catch.

2. I found the ranking system announced by the College Football Playoff selection committee last week to be so painstaking that you want to shout, “Get on with it!” The members vote, and the three teams getting the most votes are ranked the highest. And then the committee basically parses three teams at a time until it reaches 25. Why bother? Why not do what the basketball committee does: announce the field and run for the airport? The CFP committee believes this method will be more open. It also might prime the public to accept the legitimacy of the committee’s final poll.

3. On the football field, Jameis Winston performs with a maturity beyond his years. He continues to do the reverse off the field, embarrassing himself, his family, his teammates and his coaches. Winston evaded prosecution for sexual assault because the police botched the investigation. Handed that second chance, he got busted for shoplifting. Winston combines once-a-generation athleticism and magnetism in a way that few people ever have. That doesn’t excuse him from knowing right from wrong. His quick apology last week indicates that he’s aware of society’s rules, at least until the next incident.

3-point stance: FSU still loaded

March, 25, 2014
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1. As well as national champion Florida State played last season, the biggest surprise is how many of the Seminoles came back. The Seminoles are returning five first-team All-ACC players. That’s as many as the other 13 ACC teams have on the first and second All-ACC teams combined. Not to mention that Florida State has 113 returning starts on the offensive line. None of that includes tight end Nick O'Leary (second team All-ACC) or defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. (third team). The Seminoles are loaded -- still.

2. West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson leaned on his old friend Tom Bradley to coach the Mountaineers’ defensive line, even though that’s the only position on that side of the ball Bradley didn’t coach in his 33 seasons at Penn State. West Virginia needs the help; its three-man line lost two starters, and the returnees have a total of 13 starts among them. When you’re coming off a 4-8 record, you don’t have a full cupboard. Bradley makes the Mountaineers a more interesting story than they would be otherwise.

3. It would be easy to unleash the snark about Jim Tressel applying for the presidency of the University of Akron. I will leave that to Twitter. Tressel pointed out that he has 35 years of administration in higher education. He works at Akron now, so he and the school know each other. All Akron must do is come to terms with Tressel lying to the NCAA and covering up his players’ transgressions. Is three years in coaching purgatory a sufficient sentence? Auburn decided so in the case of Bruce Pearl. But Akron is hiring a president, not a basketball coach.
1. Tennessee last won an SEC championship in 1998, the same year that the Vols won the national title as well. In the next nine seasons, the Vols averaged a 9-4 record. Beginning in that 10th year, 2008, the Vols have hovered between 5-7 and 7-6. I thought of the Vols as Chantel Jennings, Adam Rittenberg and I discussed Michigan on the ESPN College Football Podcast yesterday. This is the 10th anniversary of the Wolverines’ last Big Ten title. Coach Brady Hoke’s teams have gone from 11-2 to 8-5 to 7-6. Spring football began Tuesday in Ann Arbor, and the Wolverines have a lot of work to do.

2. Jameis Winston’s two at-bats against the Yankees on Tuesday equaled the number of plate appearances he had in Florida State’s first six games. Winston started 22 games in the outfield and 10 as a DH as a freshman a year ago. Now he is the Seminoles’ closer, and hasn’t allowed a run in three games. In our haste to anoint Winston as the next Bo Jackson, all of us overlooked the fact that he played so much last year as a fill-in because of injuries. Winston said Tuesday, “I probably have more success in football.” Maybe he loves baseball more than it loves him. That would make him the next Michael Jordan.

3. Ask my readers, and I shall receive. When I wrote earlier this week that my research of coaches who left the SEC for the Big Ten was incomplete, two of you wrote to remind me that Murray Warmath left Mississippi State after the 1953 season for Minnesota, where he led the Gophers to the most recent national championship (1960). Mississippi State had a nose for coaches back then. The Bulldogs replaced Warmath with 29-year-old Darrell Royal. He stayed two seasons.
1. Back to football on Michael Sam for a moment. Even as SEC Defensive Player of the Year, the Missouri defensive end is projected as a middle-round pick because he hasn’t shown the flexibility or the lateral movement that NFL scouts want at that position. From what I am told of his work at the Senior Bowl, he had trouble changing direction. Sam’s strengths: good hands, which are critical to his demonstrated ability to get off blocks.

2. What a year the California Golden Bears have had: a new coach and a new coaching staff, a 1-11 record, with the victory coming against an FCS team, an average losing margin of 28 points in the Pac-12, a revamped coaching staff, massive debt, dwindling crowds, and all of that pales in comparison to the death of defensive end Ted Agu after he collapsed during conditioning on Friday. It simply has to start getting better.

3. The graduate-and-transfer rule that Jacob Coker (Florida State to Alabama) and Max Wittek (USC to …?) are using is eight years old, and it seems to me that football coaches are finally accepting it. I like what North Carolina State head coach Dave Doeren said when graduate quarterback Pete Thomas decided to transfer. “I have really enjoyed coaching him and want him to be successful as a player and in life. Going forward I will do anything I can to help him through his transition as a transfer.” Here’s hoping Thomas has as much success as the last Wolfpack quarterback to use the rule: Russell Wilson.
1. Local recruits might be a program’s bread and butter, but it sure seems as if more schools are looking outside their geographic comfort zone. UCLA signed five players east of the Rockies. National champion Florida State reached beyond the local bounty to sign players from 11 other states. Alabama signed recruits from 14 states, not to mention linebacker Rashaan Evans from enemy country (Auburn [Ala.] High). Evans narrowed it down to Alabama, Auburn … and UCLA.

2. Here’s another way of making the same point: Jake Trotter, our Big 12 reporter, said on Paul Finebaum’s radio show Wednesday that the best players in the conference states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa signed with SEC schools. Texas A&M’s move into the SEC opened the doors of the state to the conference. Ten SEC schools, including every Western Division program, signed at least one Texas recruit.

3. It’s great to see Ralph Friedgen return to coaching. The 66-year-old Fridge, after three years of golf and hanging around, will help Rutgers move into the Big Ten as the offensive coordinator for head coach Kyle Flood. Friedgen, who went 75-50 in 10 seasons at Maryland, returned for the same reason that Dennis Erickson and Tom O’Brien are now assistants: to coach young men. That’s why these guys got in the business. After all the years and the money and the fame, that’s why they’re still here.

3-point stance: Notre Dame luxuries

January, 31, 2014
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1. It took Notre Dame 67 years to perform its first facelift on Notre Dame Stadium in 1996. It took 17 years for the university to announce plans for a new iteration of The House That Rockne Built. The new construction will give Notre Dame the club seating and the suites that every other major stadium has. My favorite part of the news release: Father John I. Jenkins, the university president, said that he didn’t think raising $400 million to fund the construction would be an issue. With that fan base, he’s dead right.

2. The good and bad of Twitter: the travel nightmare endured by Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman in Atlanta, when he spent 19 hours stuck on an icy interstate, is only a slight exaggeration of the road-warrior sagas that FBS recruiters go through every January. Herman used Twitter as lifeline and diary during his overnight stay. Then there’s Syracuse coach Scott Shafer, who, unaware of how serious conditions were, tweeted that Atlantans were “softnosed.” Shafer meant it as a chain-jerk, but it was a classic ready-fire-aim use of the medium. We’ve all been there.

3. Alabama has a commitment from kicker J.K. Scott of Denver Mullen High, which rings a bell for anyone who remembers Wide Right I and II. After Florida State lost to Miami in consecutive seasons, knocking itself out of the race for No. 1, Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden had enough. In Feb. 1993, he signed the best high school kicker in the nation, Scott Bentley, also from the Denver area. Less than a year later, Bentley kicked the field goal that gave Bowden the 1993 national championship.

3-point stance: Super Bowl coaches

January, 23, 2014
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1. In four consecutive seasons, from 1992-95, the Super Bowl featured a coach who had won a college football national championship. Jimmy Johnson won Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII (1992-93) with Dallas. Barry Switzer won Super Bowl XXX with the Cowboys, too. Between Jimmy and Barry, Bobby Ross lost SB XXIX with San Diego. No national championship winners before Johnson, and none after Ross -- until this season. Pete Carroll gets his shot with Seattle next week.

2. Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher almost sounded frustrated over the course of last season as he would tell reporters that Jacob Coker almost beat out Jameis Winston to be the Seminoles’ starting quarterback. Yeah, right. But Fisher continued to say it all the way through the BCS Championship Game. Now it seems Coker, who followed AJ McCarron at St. Paul’s in Mobile, now will follow him at Alabama, once he graduates from FSU this spring. He will be a godsend for the Crimson Tide.

3. The ACC released its 2014 schedule Wednesday, and Florida State got the NFL treatment. The defending national champion’s schedule is harder. Pittsburgh and Maryland are gone. In come new members Louisville and Notre Dame, which begins its ACC semi-schedule. The Cardinals have quite the league initiation. They are the only ACC team to play four road games in five weeks. That doesn’t include playing in the two northernmost ACC outdoor stadiums, Boston College and Notre Dame, in November.
1. With raises to head coach Dabo Swinney and his staff, Clemson now will pay its football coaches $7.6 million, the sixth-highest amount in the FBS and tops in the ACC. The most impressive aspect of this commitment is that Clemson’s annual athletic revenue of $70 million is dwarfed by the five programs ahead of it (Alabama, LSU, Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma), which average $126 million in annual revenue.

2. Swinney’s staff still is the highest paid ($4.48 million) in the FBS, receiving about $1.1 million more than Florida State pays the staff of Jimbo Fisher. The Seminoles won the FBS at the lower price point. But what resonated with me about defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt leaving for Georgia is the Seminoles being several steps behind the top of the market in coaching salaries. Florida State tried to match Georgia’s offer to Pruitt ($850,000 per year), but still lost Pruitt. Will Florida State try to close the gap?

3. When was the last time Vanderbilt targeted a nationally prominent coaching candidate and then hired him? That might be the greatest legacy left by James Franklin. Stanford’s Derek Mason, one of the hottest commodities among coordinators, leapt at the chance to go to Vandy. He knows how to recruit the player who can make grades and run a 40. It’s a finite pool, however. Vandy’s gain figures to be literally Stanford’s loss.
1. As of last Monday, Florida State had closed the gap between itself and the SEC. As of Tuesday, the gap opened again, with defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt leaving the Seminoles for the same job at Georgia. The reason why? S-E-C (Serious Extraordinary Cash): a three-year, $2.55 million deal, about half again as much as Pruitt made in Tallahassee. As they say down there, it’s just bidness, and that’s a huge illustration of the catch-up that Florida State has to play at that level.

2. Two other points re the Pruitt hire: One, the fact that Georgia gave him a three-year deal is a good indication that head coach Mark Richt plans to stay at least that long, a good sign for the Dawgs; two, if Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher wants to continue playing the Alabama-style defense, then I don’t know where else he turns other than his defensive ends coach, Sal Sunseri, who has worked for Nick Saban for four seasons, most recently from 2009-11.

3. Given that Oregon has had success promoting from within, it’s no surprise that the Ducks’ longtime linebackers coach, Don Pellum, succeeds Nick Aliotti as defensive coordinator. Pellum has spent 25 years of his 29-year career on the Oregon staff. He is a good teacher, a good communicator, and surely will be the best-dressed defensive coordinator on the West Coast (if not the East). Pellum’s promotion will minimize the disruption at Oregon, which promoted Mark Helfrich to head coach a year ago.

3-point stance: Too many trophies

January, 8, 2014
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1. One of the many political minefields that the College Football Playoff must find its way through is all the national championship trophies. The Football Writers Association, Associated Press, American Football Coaches Association and National Football Foundation all “name” a champion and present their trophy on the morning after. It’s a nod to tradition, and as one who loves tradition more than most, it’s time to stop. Those trophies are about the people who present them, not the school that wins them.

2. Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher warned about how the College Football Playoff will lengthen the season to 15 games. “These guys don't get to go play in an NFL season,” Fisher said. “They don't get to go rehab all day. They got school. They got study halls. They got things to do. Those bodies at that age aren't developed like a man is. And they say, ‘Well, the lower divisions do it.’ Well, I'm going to tell you something. Just like the NFL is a much more physical game than Division I football, Division I football is significantly different than I-AA, Division II and Division III.”

3. The video of Fisher “sprinting” down the sideline yelling “Go! Go! Go!” as Kermit Whitfield returned a kickoff 100 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown should be included in any Florida State highlight reel of its victory Monday night in the VIZIO BCS National Championship. Fisher said he came out of that fine but pulled a hamstring when Auburn defensive back Ryan White horse-collared Rashad Greene at the Auburn 23-yard-line on the final scoring drive. “It wasn't called, badly, and I was running down yelling at the referee,” Fisher said. “I did pull a hamstring. I was hopping on that one. I was running on the other one.”
1. Auburn tailback Tre Mason ran for 195 yards on 34 carries, which is impressive enough. But the Heisman finalist rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries in the fourth quarter alone. The Tigers have prided themselves on winning like Stanford, with a running game that just pounds away until the defense wears down. That didn’t happen Monday night because the Auburn defense and special teams faltered. But Mason held up his end of the deal.

2. Over the years, as ticket prices have risen and colleges have looked for more pricey inventory, press boxes have been shifted toward the end zone, or up so high that oxygen masks will drop in case of emergency. The Rose Bowl built two new press boxes, one on each end of the west side of the stadium, much higher than the old stadium. Yet somehow, the seats are better. Maybe because they provide a better view of the San Gabriel Mountains. From where I sit, anyway, the prettiest venue in American sports somehow got prettier.

3. In the final championship game of the BCS era, did you notice how Florida State scored the winning touchdown on a drive that reprised two of the greatest hits of the past 16 years: there was the pass interference call (Miami, 2003); the winning touchdown in the same end zone where Vince Young won the race to the pylon (Texas, 2006). The playoff is next, and after a veerrrry slow start, the BCS set a high standard for the playoff to meet.
1. Tigers coach Gus Malzahn said Sunday that he expected a feeling-out period in the first quarter against Florida State, largely because of the 30-day layoff. Alabama scored touchdowns on its first two possessions a year ago, but those were the first first-quarter touchdowns in the BCS Championship Game in five years, since Beanie Wells of Ohio State broke for a 65-yard score against LSU.

2. Auburn has won with more than its share of improbabilities, but the fact that Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher replaced six assistant coaches after the 2012 season and the team improved is, to say the least, unusual. “A lot of those guys I’ve known in the past,” Fisher said. “There were a lot of guys who philosophically believe a lot of the same things I do. … We get along. There’s a bunch of guys there that truly like each other and hang out together and it’s been a tremendous group.”

3. Mama called and Al Golden didn’t answer. The Miami head coach released a statement Sunday that he will not be leaving for Penn State, his alma mater. To be fair, I don’t know if Penn State wanted to hire Golden or not. But it should be pointed out that after three seasons of living in the shadow of an NCAA investigation, Golden may be excused for not returning to the Nittany Lions and their NCAA problems.

3-point stance: Stoops' bowl success

December, 26, 2013
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1. With great fanfare 19 years ago, Joe Paterno of Penn State became the first coach to win every major bowl (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta and, for you oldsters, the Cotton). With a lot less fanfare, Bob Stoops of Oklahoma has a chance to match Paterno if the No. 11 Sooners can figure out a way to knock off No. 3 Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Stoops is 0-1 in the Sugar; Oklahoma lost to LSU a decade ago in the BCS Championship Game.

2. Speaking of Paterno, one of his favorite methods of scouting recruits was to watch them play basketball. It gave him a different measure of their athleticism and competitive spirit. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, in discussing Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston’s prowess as a pitcher, told the Associated Press recently that he loves seeing recruits play another sport. This flies in the face of the 12-month-a-year commitment that is expected of most kids today. Here’s hoping Fisher’s message breaks through.

3. Watch the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl Thursday night when Northern Illinois has the ball. The Huskies have Heisman third-place finisher Jordan Lynch at quarterback and led the Mid-American Conference in every major offensive statistic. Utah State led the Mountain West in every major defensive statistic. In fact, the Aggies are the only MWC team to win by shutout this season. Utah State defeated Colorado State, 13-0, on Nov. 23.

3-point stance: Big boost for CSU

December, 23, 2013
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1. Colorado State scoring 11 points in the last 33 seconds to upend Washington State, 48-45 is a testament to the idea of playing for 60 minutes. The Rams trailed the Cougars 35-13 in the second quarter and 45-30 with 3:00 to play. Not only did the win make Colorado State 8-6, the Rams’ most successful season since 2002, but the boost it will provide during the offseason is immeasurable. Those early-morning mat drills don’t seem quite so onerous when you finish like the Rams did.

2. Among the most impressive statistics produced by Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston as he played his way to the 2013 Heisman Trophy are the numbers that aren’t there. Winston threw for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns while playing only 59 percent of the Seminoles’ second-half snaps. In fact, Winston threw a total of 25 passes in the fourth quarter. That’s what happens when you win all 13 games by at least 14 points.

3. It makes complete sense for USC coach Steve Sarkisian to retain quarterback coach Clay Helton and to try and lure Ed Orgeron back for what would be his third stint as a Trojans assistant. Orgeron might be trolling for a head coaching job, and who could blame him after the job he did leading the Trojans in 2013? But if that doesn’t happen, the only thing stopping him from being a success on Sarkisian’s staff would be pride and ego.

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