Florida State Seminoles: urban meyer

At this time last year, Texas A&M was the epicenter of college football during spring practice. The Aggies' 2013 spring game drew a record crowd. ESPN televised the game, "Johnny Football" was the face of the sport and it helped swing in-state recruiting momentum from the Longhorns.

It would only make sense that Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was ready to do it all again this spring.

“No, it’s not for me,” Sumlin said in March. “I’ll be honest with you, you guys know me, that second half [of spring games] goes real quick. I’m ready to get out of there.”

The spring game in many ways goes against the core belief of Sumlin, and really every coach, of using every practice to get better. So the Aggies went without a game this spring, and will do so again in 2015 as Kyle Field's renovations continue.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsOhio State coach Urban Meyer likes the opportunity to get young players, such as redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, some playing time in a spring game.
Spring games are at somewhat of a crossroads in college football. They’re hardly fighting off extinction as 54 FBS programs held games this past weekend. But the watered-down product is giving coaches reason for pause. The argument against holding the spring game is picking up steam, and coaches are questioning the value in using the final spring practice on a half-speed “dog-and-pony show,” as Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship puts it.

A handful of programs aren't holding spring games this year. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy did not plan a spring game, and Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst believed it wasn’t in the program’s best interest to have one, either.

Both Chryst and Gundy have young rosters. Only Utah State returns fewer starters than the Cowboys. Chryst is still trying to put his stamp on a program that has had more head coaches than winning seasons in the last decade, and he is breaking in a new quarterback. To Chryst and Gundy, it did not make sense to waste a practice day for a haphazard game.

“Truly looking at this from the inside of the program and what this group needs, it was, 'What’s the best use of the 15 opportunities we get in the spring,'” Chryst said. “I felt like we didn’t have a group where we’re going to take just one full day and scrimmage. Bottom line is we wanted to make sure we’re maximizing our opportunities.”

Two coaches not questioning a spring game finale are the leaders of programs with some of the best odds to win the first College Football Playoff. Both Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer are in favor of the model most programs still subscribe to: 14 practices, mix in a few scrimmages and hold a game at the end of camp. Fisher and Meyer believe it’s the only time in the spring to get an accurate read on how players react to a fall Saturday game atmosphere.

“What you get is the people in the stadium, you get pressure, you get outside people watching you get the lights on the scoreboard and [the game] matters,” Fisher told ESPN.com last week. “You get a game environment. It might not be the one in the fall, but it’s as close as you’ll ever get out in this practice field. To get a guy in front of 40,000 people and watch how they play in front of them, to me, I put more value in that.”

However, Meyer acknowledges the issues the modern-day spring game presents. Ohio State star quarterback Braxton Miller was out with an injury, but Joey Bosa, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington were healthy scratches. Fisher elected to sit starting running back Karlos Williams, leaving a fullback and a handful of walk-on running backs to carry the spring load Saturday. The sustainability of the spring game could come down to depth, but rosters are thinner with the 85 scholarship limit, and coaches are keeping their proven commodities out of harm’s way.

Fisher To get a guy in front of 40,000 people and watch how they play in front of them, to me, I put more value in that.

-- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, on the value of spring games
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said the lack of numbers at certain positions causes the few available players to “double dip” and play both sides, opening those few healthy players up to injury. The emphasis on preventing and identifying concussions has grown substantially in the last few years, and Blankenship added that “a lot more guys are missing practice today with concussion-related symptoms, and that’s been consistent across the board with other coaches I talk to.”

Meyer said spring games are often a “great opportunity to get scout-team guys a chance to play,” which in itself can be considered an indictment of the spring game’s inherent value.

“One time at Florida we had only five or six offensive linemen and they had to play both ways,” Meyer said, “but the experience of playing in front of [fans], if you want to have a practice but arrange how the receiver has to be the guy, to be in coverage and catch a pass and hear the crowd, that’s real.”

There are only so many programs that consistently draw 30,000 or more fans for a spring game, though. Those other programs don’t have the benefit of putting their players in a game-day atmosphere when only a few thousand fans fill the bleachers.

Blankenship understands he needs to promote his Tulsa program and bring in as many fans as possible. So last year, they tried a new spring game model. Instead of a traditional game of the roster being split, Blankenship operates on only 50 percent of the field and allows fans to sit on the other side of the 50 to get a more intimate view. The game resembles more of a practice as the team works on situations such as red zone and fourth down instead of keeping score.

A piece of him still wants a sound 15th practice, though.

“I do think [the spring game] is worth it from the fan standpoint,” he said, “but the coach in me would like to have another practice.”

[+] EnlargeVirginia Spring Game
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsThese Virginia students received a better-than-front-row view of the Cavaliers' spring game.
Fans and alumni are maybe the most overlooked part of the equation of whether it is realistic to ditch the spring game. Florida State director of marketing Jason Dennard said it would be nearly impossible to change the Seminoles’ spring game model, which begins with downtown events Friday. The school even receives grant dollars from the local economic development council to fortify the weekend lineup.

“It’s a complete home run,” Dennard said. “After what we’ve built, it’d be hard to scale it down. People have come to expect this to be a big deal. It’s an investment into the future of our program.”

While Pittsburgh has struggled to draw fans for its spring games in recent years, Chryst was still cognizant of the program’s fans when he decided to cancel the spring game. So Chryst met with the marketing department at Pitt and helped introduce a football clinic for young players and offensive and defensive breakdowns of the Panthers’ schemes for the Xs-and-Os fan.

“It was different at first and people said, ‘What, no spring game?’ But when Coach Chryst announced the Field Pass, the response was overwhelming,” said Chris Ferris, associate athletic director for external relations at Pitt.

Could that union of a standard 15th practice with an added day of fan interaction be the union that seals the fate of spring games? Maybe.

“I think it is,” Blankenship said. “We’re much closer to that in our part of the country. I think the tradition of the spring game is something we’re all kind of tied to, but we’re all figuring out there’s a better way.”

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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: With the first edition of this year’s BCS rankings released Sunday, we take a look at how the top five teams in are faring on the college football recruiting trail.

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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: The winner of Saturday’s Florida State-Clemson game will have something big to sell to recruits; one of Wisconsin’s earliest commitments is taking trips to other schools, including a trip to visit former Badgers coach Bret Bielema; and the nation’s No. 7 player and a top tight end are expected to announce this weekend.


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Gators and Noles back on national stage

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You really have to dig deep to find the last time Florida-Florida State really meant something in the grand scheme of college football.

People were using MSN Messenger and thought Fred Durst was actually cool. TRL and trucker hats were all the craze.

It was the year 2000 and college football fans were probably carrying around a Ja Rule CD in their cars. (It’s OK. We all have our faults.)

It was also the last time Florida and Florida State met as top-10 BCS opponents.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher and Will Muschamp
AP Photo/John RaouxIf Jimbo Fisher's or Will Muschamp's team loses on Saturday, it will be eliminated from consideration for the BCS title game.
This was one of college football’s true gems. Thanks to Steve Spurrier and Bobby Bowden, from 1990 to 2000 these two teams met 13 times when both were ranked in the top 10, including the 1996 Sugar Bowl for the national championship. These two programs were mammoths and are Nos. 1 and 2 nationally when it comes to consecutive bowl streaks. Florida State is No. 1 (30) and Florida is second (21).

The rivalry took a bit of a nosedive when Bowden and his Noles teams fell off during the 2000s and Urban Meyer arrived at Florida. Under Meyer, the Gators won five straight, as they stayed nationally relevant, while FSU flirted with mediocrity until Jimbo Fisher took over in 2010.

But this rivalry is back, as No. 4 Florida (10-1, 7-1 SEC) heads to Tallahassee to face No. 10 Florida State (10-1) in a game that has major BCS implications on the line.

If Florida wins, the Gators are likely BCS-bound. With some help from USC, they could back their way into the national championship game. Florida State is very much on the outside when it comes to the BCS title game, but a win and a ton of help could move the Noles closer to Miami.

The magnitude of Saturday's matchup hit the Gators well before they returned to the locker room after beating Jacksonville State.

“As soon as that clock hit zero, you couldn’t help but think about Florida State,” fifth-year senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. "If you’re a Gator, you grow up not liking Florida State. I’m sure it’s the same way with them. That’s just what you’re taught. When you go to Florida State, you’re anti-Gators. That’s just what it is.”

Outside of the BCS implications, major pride is on the line for both teams. There’s real bad blood here. Players on both sides know each other, but they refuse to talk during the regular season and usually hurl barbs at each other when they do speak during the offseason.

The hatred is still there, even if the success isn't.

The Gators are also hurting after back-to-back losses to the Noles. After winning six straight over FSU, Florida dropped the last two, getting outscored 52-14. Florida enters this weekend with an offense going backward, and quarterback Jeff Driskel is hobbled. He sprained his ankle two weeks ago.

That’s not good when you consider how good the Noles have been on defense, even without star defensive end Brandon Jenkins for basically the entire season. FSU ranks first nationally in total defense (236.3 yards per game) and rushing defense (70.6). The Noles are allowing 2.3 yards per rush and 3.7 yards per play.

In the past five games -- two of them against Louisiana-Lafayette and Jacksonville State -- Florida has averaged just 278.4 yards. The Gators are near the bottom of the SEC in total offense (332.9) and are last in passing (143.4).

That doesn’t bode well for Florida, but as coach Will Muschamp continues to point out, it's all about wins, and somehow the Gators have 10 of those.

“Like I said Saturday, understand who you are and where you are, and it may not be where you want to be at times and it's frustrating at times, but at the end of the day, you've got to do what it takes to win football games and that's what we're judged on at the end of that,” Muschamp said.

While the offense has sputtered, the defense has been terrific, ranking near the top with the Noles. It can be irritating to see the offense fail, but Florida’s defenders love putting the game in their hands.

“That’s how you go into every day if you’re a great defense,” Hunter said. “You want to put everything on your shoulders. You don’t want to go into the game relying on the offense to score. You want to score on the defense. That’s what we’re taught here at Florida and that’s what we try to win by -- defense and special teams.”

Offensive issues aside, a lot is riding on Saturday. The BCS might be at the forefront of the conversation, but as far as the Gators are concerned, the only letters they’re focused on are F-S-U.

“It’s Florida-Florida State. It’s more than what’s just going on in the BCS,” Hunter said. “It’s bragging rights for the state of Florida. It’s going to be a very big game and it’s one of my favorite games to play in.”
An early recruit from the Class of 2014 with a very familiar name could be making his way to Ohio State.

Haden.

As in Jonathan Haden, the brother of Cleveland Browns cornerback and former Florida Gator Joe Haden.

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