Penn State Nittany Lions: 3-point stance

1. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley watches the video of the Bruins’ losses to Oregon (42-14) and Stanford (24-10) “countless times,” more than he does any of the team’s 10 wins. “As a quarterback, it comes to the point where, honestly, I don’t even have to watch the film. I can go back in my head and go over all the plays. It’s certain things like that that give you that edge to want to be so much better.”

2. I am sorry to see the Pac-12 is looking at a neutral site for its fourth conference championship game. Rewarding the team with the best record is the model nearly every major professional postseason uses. I thought one of the reasons the league went to campuses centered on a concern that Pac-12 fans might not attend a neutral site the way that Big Ten and SEC fans do. Nothing has changed there.

3. Penn State coach James Franklin said the other day he ran into a Wegmans grocery store in State College to buy four apples, and it took him 90 minutes to leave. Every shopper wanted to chat with him, and Franklin didn’t feel like he could say no. That made me think of a conversation I had a few years ago with Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who has remained in Norman for 15 seasons in part because Sooners fans allow him to live his life, up to and including grocery shopping. Give it time, Coach Franklin. Give it time.

3-point stance: Pac-12 QB talent

April, 24, 2014
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1. According to ESPN Insider and Reese’s Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, it’s a thin year for veteran quarterbacks everywhere but the Pac-12. Listing the top pro prospects for the 2015 NFL draft, Savage, speaking with me on the ESPNU College Football Podcast on Wednesday, started with Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Brett Hundley of UCLA, then tossed in Sean Mannion of Oregon State. Not to mention the league has Kevin Hogan of Stanford, Taylor Kelly of Arizona State and Cody Kessler of USC.

2. Dabo Swinney is a good man and a stand-up guy. He is proud of his Christianity and believes it can help others as much as it has helped him. As the coach of Clemson, a public university in a religious state, he is preaching to the choir. I’d bet it never occurred to Swinney that he stepped over the line between church and state, perhaps because the line is blurrier in South Carolina than in Madison, Wis., where the Freedom From Religion Foundation is based. If the foundation’s complaint makes Swinney realize again that everyone is not Christian, then the foundation’s complaint is a success.

3. The town of State College is crowdsourcing a statue to honor the late Joe Paterno, and it’s wonderful that the planned site is not far from Old Main, the home of the Penn State administration that removed the original Paterno statue from outside of Beaver Stadium in July 2012. What are the university administrators thinking? Do they understand they never should have made the removal of the statue permanent? Do they understand how much they rushed to judgment to vilify Paterno? When will they do their part to restore Paterno’s place of honor in Penn State history? The locals are doing their part.
1. Reading USC’s spring prospectus, this nugget stopped me: In six games last season, the Trojans used a total of 14 or fewer players on defense. That’s a stark illustration of the effect of the NCAA scholarship penalties. USC has eight starters returning on each side of the ball. But of the 49 returning lettermen, 18 were either walk-ons, injured or scholarship guys who just didn’t play. That’s a reminder of the work that Steve Sarkisian has cut out for him, and of how well the Trojans did to go 10-4 last season.

2. Former Penn State assistant coach Jay Paterno entered the race for the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor late, and now he has withdrawn early. Another candidate challenged the legitimacy of the signatures on Paterno’s nomination petitions. The legal battle would have consumed considerable time and money leading up to the May 20 primary. Too bad, because as news stories go, it would have been interesting to see if Paterno could use his name recognition to make voters take him seriously. He seemed to be making headway.

3. If you love writing and you love college football history, make sure you read “His Ownself,” the just-published autobiography of legendary sportswriter Dan Jenkins. He saw TCU play for the 1936 Rose Bowl, and he saw TCU play in the 2011 Rose Bowl. No one covered the 1960s, the decade of Bear Bryant, John McKay and Darrell Royal, better. You also get Jenkins on the last 60 years of golf, from Hogan to Woods. It’s like standing in the corner of a bar with Jenkins holding court. It is great, great fun.

3-point stance: Texas two-step

March, 11, 2014
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1. Duane Akina became the seventh assistant from Mack Brown’s staff at Texas to get another job when Stanford hired him as secondary coach. Co-offensive coordinators Major Applewhite and Darrell Wyatt, the two highest-paid assistants, remain on the market. One interesting note: Most coaching contracts see to it that a fired coach gets the agreed-upon amount. If he is hired elsewhere for less than that amount, the first school makes up the difference. Not Texas. If you take another job, Texas is done.

2. Dr. Joab Thomas, the former president of the University of Alabama and Penn State University, died last week at age 81. While at Alabama, Thomas endured the controversy of hiring Ray Perkins and Bill Curry to replace the legendary Paul Bryant. In 1990, Thomas went to State College, Pa., where the equally legendary Joe Paterno turned 65 the following year. When someone asked him about Paterno retiring, Thomas said, “You can't ask one man to replace both Bear Bryant and Joe Paterno.”

3. Jake Trotter’s post Monday described the desire of West Virginia players to turn the program around after a 4-8 record last season. Injuries contributed a great deal to the Mountaineers’ troubles. But the physical and mental burden of traveling to the Big 12 footprint will be an annual drag on West Virginia football. The good news is that in this season’s nine-game conference schedule, the 5/4 split tips to Milan Puskar Stadium. The bad news is that the season opens with a neutral-site game against Alabama in Atlanta.
1. West Virginia hired Tom Bradley as assistant head coach, and for the first time since the Penn State scandal erupted, a majority of Joe Paterno’s assistants are working again. Has it been the taint of the scandal or a commentary on Paterno’s staff? The two assistants Bill O’Brien kept -- Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden -- have moved to Ohio State and Air Force, respectively. Galen Hall and Dick Anderson retired. Jay Paterno is running for lieutenant governor in Pennsylvania. Mike McQueary, a big witness in the Jerry Sandusky trial, has yet to resurface.

2. Speaking of Penn State, new head coach James Franklin might be the first sitting SEC head coach to leave the conference for a Big Ten school since the SEC began playing football in 1933. I say “may” because I haven’t found one in my research, but I am not positive I have run down every single lead. In recent years, two prominent head coaches, Nick Saban (Michigan State to LSU) and Bret Bielema (Wisconsin to Arkansas), have left the Big Ten for an SEC school.

3. Jerry Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys 25 years ago today, catapulting his University of Arkansas teammate Jimmy Johnson out of college football after a three-year run in which Johnson’s Miami Hurricanes went 34-2, winning one national championship (1987) and losing to the eventual No. 1 team in the other two years (Penn State, 1986; Notre Dame, 1988). Another of Jones’ Razorbacks teammates, Barry Switzer, came out of retirement and joined Johnson as the only head coaches to win a college football national championship and a Super Bowl (until Pete Carroll joined them earlier this month).

3-point stance: State of the union

January, 29, 2014
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1. Regardless of which side you come down upon in the debate over whether student-athletes should be allowed to unionize, there’s no question that the NCAA and its member schools brought this upon themselves. They have dismissed the student-athletes’ concerns, if they ever listened. The industry needs to find an answer beyond “Shut up and look how much we’re spending on you.” That isn’t working.

2. Penn State head coach James Franklin planned to attend the State of the Union Address on Tuesday night at the United States Capitol. Franklin isn’t the first head coach to attend the annual event -- College Football Hall of Famer Tom Osborne, the former U.S. Congressman, comes to mind. Whatever Franklin’s interest, be it in the government or in the attention he’s attracting, it’s refreshing to see a head coach who sees a world beyond his practice field.

3. Coaches will identify players as “coaches on the field,” and look what happens. As Jeff Lockridge wrote in The Tennessean, Karl Dorrell was an assistant coach at Northern Arizona in 1990-91 when Derek Mason played cornerback. Last week, Mason, the new Vanderbilt head coach, hired Dorrell as offensive coordinator. And this week, Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly hired his former Oregon linebacker, Michael Clay, as a defensive quality control assistant. Keep an eye on Clay.
1. It will be weird to see Larry Johnson wearing scarlet and gray. The last coaching connection to Joe Paterno at Penn State has left for Ohio State. Like Ed Orgeron at USC, Johnson auditioned for the head coaching job, didn’t get it, and refused to stay and work for the guy who did. It’s hard to believe that Johnson would set aside 18 years, but egos can be slow to heal. Penn State will pay a price for his departure. Defensive tackle Thomas Holley of Brooklyn already has decommitted from Penn State for Florida.

2. NCAA President Mark Emmert will deliver his State of the Association address Thursday, and the title of the speech alone speaks to the pomposity that the NCAA needs to reduce. How Emmert survived the mess his administration made of things at Penn State and Miami is beyond belief; his inability to push through the increase in benefits to student-athletes he has championed for three years is another poor grade on his report card. Perhaps his remarks Thursday can begin to turn around a disappointing tenure.

3. The first thing to leap out about the Pac-12 schedule announced last week is how well things set up for Oregon. Three of the Ducks’ toughest opponents -- Michigan State, Washington and Stanford -- come to Eugene; the Pac-12 South teams that Oregon skips are defending division champ Arizona State and USC; and the toughest road games are at UCLA and at Oregon State. The intersectional game against the Spartans in Week 2 will serve as a national stage for quarterback Marcus Mariota. Let the Heisman talk begin.

3-point stance: Petrino's do-over

January, 13, 2014
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1. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino told Mike and Mike on ESPN Radio last week that he never should have left the university. Since he went to work at Louisville the first time, Petrino almost went to Auburn, then went to the Atlanta Falcons (a disaster), Arkansas (ended in disaster) and Western Kentucky. Petrino isn’t the only one to realize what he once had is worth having again. UMass rehired Mark Whipple, the coach who took the Minutemen to the 1998 FCS championship.

2. James Franklin, speaking at his introductory press conference Saturday at Penn State, made a point of acknowledging “the great Joe Paterno.” He also thanked Joe’s widow, Sue. All of which served as a cleansing wind after the last two years, up to and including Bill O’Brien’s exit rant. Joe Paterno wasn’t perfect. He would be the first to say so. But he didn’t deserve the blame shoveled on his grave. Here’s hoping Franklin kickstarted a belated recognition that Paterno never stopped being great.

3. No one at Stanford believes two-time All-America guard David Yankey will return to the Farm for a fifth year. Yankey is on track to graduate this spring and is expected to go in the second round. The jury is still out on Yankey’s classmate, three-year starting tackle Cameron Fleming. The aeronautics and astronautics major is leaning toward coming out. Another year of experience would push Fleming up the draft ladder. Over a career, it could mean a lot more money. But it’s tough to argue with a dream.

3-point stance: Franklin's future

January, 10, 2014
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1. James Franklin can recruit. He has an electric personality. He likes people. And if he led Vanderbilt to consecutive nine-win seasons, then it’s self-evident that he has the football chops. Franklin’s salesmanship may be the glue that can unite a fractured Penn State fan base. Given the university’s need to be cleaner than clean, we must assume that Penn State looked and found no skeletons in his closet. Good for him. Good for Penn State.

2. Tailback Ameer Abdullah's eloquent statement regarding why he decided to remain at Nebraska for his senior season should be required reading for anyone considering leaving early for the NFL. “I have come to realize that life is bigger than football,” Abdullah said, “and that my chances of long-term success in life will be greatly enhanced by completing my college education. … If playing in the NFL is truly in God’s plans for me, then God will again present this opportunity to me after I complete my college education.”

3. You don’t need a forensic accountant or a marketing consultant to understand that UAB is cash-starved and attention-starved. The university in Tuscaloosa makes sure that UAB is starved of cash, and the lack of resources makes it difficult to attract attention. Anyone who didn’t understand that before Thursday knows it now. Blazers head coach Garrick McGee resigned to rejoin the staff of Bobby Petrino, now at Louisville. When your FBS head coach resigns to become an FBS assistant, you’ve got issues.
1. I am willing to give Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich a pass on Bobby Petrino. Jurich hired Petrino at Louisville 11 years ago, the first head coaching position Petrino had at any level. Jurich knows the man and Jurich knows what he is getting into. I don’t think it’s a gamble at all. But here’s the unusual part of the story: how many bosses give a guy his first chance at the big time and, no disrespect to Western Kentucky, his second chance at the big time?

2. Michigan hired away Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, and here’s betting both Nussmeier and Tide head coach Nick Saban were ready to move on. There was talk in Newport Beach over the weekend that former USC coach Lane Kiffin may end up running the Crimson Tide offense. It may be an ideal job for Kiffin -- Saban doesn’t allow his assistants to speak to the media. Whoever it is better know how to convert a fourth down in the red zone. Alabama’s last two losses in the SEC (Texas A&M in ’12, Auburn in ’13) hinged on the failure to do so.

3. Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Penn State must be interested in each other. The university interviewed him Monday even as San Francisco began its preparation for the NFC semifinal Sunday at Carolina. Roman has no connection to Penn State, other than being a Jersey guy, which means he may be able to recruit the neighborhood. Bill O’Brien didn’t have a connection, either, and that worked out well.


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: Brown in good company

December, 11, 2013
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1. Mack Brown has won 158 games and one national championship in 16 seasons at Texas. That’s two more victories than the three coaches who preceded him (Fred Akers, David McWilliams and John Mackovic) combined to win in 22 seasons. It’s nine fewer than Brown’s mentor and role model, the late Darrell Royal, won in Austin. Brown might not want to resign, but I’d bet he’s fine with being second to Royal.

2. Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi won the 2013 Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach. Narduzzi said recently that he is ready to be a head coach, and he will get the opportunity. Eight of the previous 15 Broyles winners have become head coaches, including Gus Malzahn at Auburn. Five have had at least one 10-win season. But four of the eight (Ralph Friedgen, Mark Mangino, Gene Chizik, and Randy Shannon) have come and gone in the head coaching business. 50-50? Sounds about right.

3. I interviewed senior guard John Urschel at Penn State last spring for a piece on replacing the senior leadership that helped the Nittany Lions get through the last year’s scandal. Urschel is not only a good player and an eloquent spokesman; he’s a grad student in math with a 4.0 and teaches undergraduate engineering students. In other words, he was a slam dunk to win the Campbell Trophy (the Academic Heisman), awarded by the National Football Foundation last night in New York.
1. Keith Price, the fifth-year senior quarterback for No. 15 Washington, has matured enough to no longer try to force the big play. Price has learned to love the third receiver. Against Illinois, “he checked it down twice on third-and-long and we got the first down,” Huskies quarterback coach Marques Tuiasosopo said. “So we talk about, ‘Hey, it’s not sexy, but guess what? We’re still on the field. Coach Sark [head coach Steve Sarkisian] gets to call more plays, and we have a chance to score another touchdown.’”

2. Among the 170 semifinalists for the National Football Foundation’s Campbell Trophy -- the Academic Heisman -- are prominent FBS players such as quarterbacks Aaron Murray of Georgia and Nathan Scheelhaase of Illinois; offensive linemen Spencer Long of Nebraska, Gabe Ikard of Oklahoma and linebacker Max Bullough of Michigan State. But if any of them beats out Penn State center John Urschel, who’s teaching undergraduate math, then he’s one smart cookie. The NFF will whittle the candidates down to 16 finalists, each of whom will receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship, on Oct. 31.

3. The Little Brown Jug may not be important at Michigan, which has lost it only three times in 44 years. But that’s exactly why Minnesota cherishes the Jug. The last time the Gophers won it, in 2005, then-head coach Glen Mason got off the plane from Ann Arbor and drove the Jug straight to dinner at Manny’s, the best steakhouse in Minneapolis. Patrons gave Mason and the Jug a standing O, then oohed and aahed and took photos with it all night. That’s what a trophy game should be all about.

3-point stance: Scoreboard watching

September, 5, 2013
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1. You probably knew this already, but inflation has struck the scoreboard. Of the 10 longest scoring streaks in the history of the game, four are current: Michigan, which has scored in 353 consecutive games, is eight short of the record set by BYU (1975-2003). There’s also No. 3 Florida (309 games), No. 9 TCU (255) and No. 10 Air Force (247). The Wolverines were last shut out, 26-0, by Iowa in 1984, one of only two shutouts that Hall of Fame coach Bo Schembechler suffered in 21 seasons in Ann Arbor.

2. Frank Fina, one of the prosecutors in the Jerry Sandusky case, told 60 Minutes Sports that he found no evidence that the late Joe Paterno took part in any effort to conceal Sandusky’s child sexual abuse. “I’m viewing this strictly on the evidence,” Fina said, “not any kind of fealty to anybody. I did not find that evidence.” Fina agreed, using Paterno’s own words, that the coach should have done more. That’s a long way from the Freeh Report. So someone with subpoenas exonerated Paterno. Maybe now NCAA president Mark Emmert will realize that he overreached. Probably not.

3. With the commitment of West Monroe, La., offensive tackle Cameron Robinson to Alabama, the Crimson Tide has 14 players in the 2014 ESPN 300, including 10 in the top 120. However, only two of those prospects are from the state of Alabama. Head coach Nick Saban has commitments from players as far away as California, Oklahoma, and Iowa. That’s a long way from 2008, when Saban found three future first-round draft picks in Alabama alone: Julio Jones, Mark Barron, and Marcell Dareus.


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