The new College Football Playoff is supposed to encourage schools to schedule better nonconference games, as teams try to beef up their schedule strength to earn one of the playoff’s coveted four spots at season’s end.
On Thursday, Texas A&M and UCLA announced that they’ll play each other during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Other schools have announced future marquee nonconference opponents, including Texas A&M vs. USC, Notre Dame vs. Texas, Alabama vs. Michigan State and LSU vs. Oklahoma.
Here are five other nonconference games I’d like to see in the future:
When Meyer was still coaching at Florida, the Crimson Tide and Gators played in two of the most anticipated SEC championship games. The No. 2 Gators beat the No. 1 Tide 31-20 in 2008, and then the Tide turned the tables on No. 1 UF with a 32-13 win in 2009.
Alabama and Ohio State have played only three times in history, with the Tide winning each time, most recently in a 24-17 victory in the 1995 Citrus Bowl.
2. Texas vs. Texas A&M: Perhaps the biggest casualty in conference realignment, Texas and Texas A&M haven’t played each other since the Aggies bolted the Big 12 for the SEC after the 2011 season. Sadly, there are no plans for the in-state rivals to play again in future regular seasons.
The Aggies and Longhorns played each other 118 times from 1894 to 2011, with their annual meeting traditionally being played on Thanksgiving Day. UT won nearly twice as many games as the Aggies (76-37-5), including nine of the last 12 meetings.
With former Louisville coach Charlie Strong taking over at Texas, and Kevin Sumlin building the Aggies into an SEC powerhouse, the game would also pit two of the sport’s best African-American coaches against each other.
3. Oregon vs. Baylor: Two of the game’s most explosive offenses -- and two of its best-dressed teams -- would undoubtedly light up the scoreboard if they ever played. In fact, the contest would probably look more like a track meet.
Under coach Art Briles, the Bears have become the Ducks of the Southwest, with their hurry-up, spread offense and myriad flashy uniforms closely resembling what Chip Kelly and then Mark Helfrich built at Oregon. The Bears and Ducks follow the same blueprint on offense: play fast and score fast.
We hoped to see this matchup in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last season, but alas, it didn’t happen. Oregon and Baylor have never met on the gridiron.
4. Michigan vs. USC: Two of the sport’s traditional heavyweights have faced each other eight times in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio, but only twice during the regular season -- in 1957 and 1958.
The Trojans won the last three meetings in the Rose Bowl, 32-18 in 2007, 28-14 in 2004 and 17-10 in 1990. USC has won six of the past seven meetings overall and holds a 6-4 advantage all-time.
We might have seen this matchup during the regular season if a Big Ten/Pac-12 scheduling partnership hadn’t fallen apart in 2012.
5. Georgia vs. Florida State: UGA coach Mark Richt was a longtime assistant under legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden before taking over the Bulldogs, and he recently poached defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt off the Seminoles’ staff.
The Bulldogs and Seminoles go head-to-head for a lot of recruits every year, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher upgraded his roster by effectively recruiting South Georgia and Atlanta.
The Bulldogs and Seminoles have played 11 times and only once since 1984 -- UGA defeated FSU 26-13 in the 2003 Sugar Bowl. Georgia leads the all-time series, 6-4-1.
- The Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch answers five burning questions about Iowa State this spring.
- Texas Tech running Kenny Williams is playing both ways this spring, reports the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams. Redshirt freshman Josh Outlaw has been moved from guard to tackle this spring.
- Oklahoma State's Tyreek Hill chose the Cowboys because he could play football and run track, according to this profile by The Oklahoman's Cody Stavehagen.
- Ex-Oklahoma running back Roy Finch showed scouts he can be an NFL player by running a 4.44 time in the 40-yard dash at his pro day, the Oklahoman's Jason Kersey reports. Damien Williams has no hard feelings with the Sooners after being kicked off the team late last season. Williams was allowed to run in OU's pro day. Former OU cornerback Aaron Colvin, who tore his ACL at the Senior Bowl, is hoping to be sprinting again by April 23.
- Former Oklahoma State linebacker Shaun Lewis is ready to make an impression at his pro day, The Oklahoman's John Helsley writes.
- The Dallas Morning News' Rick Gosselin says former TCU QB Casey Pachall has as much mental toughness as any QB in the draft.
Assistant head coach/defensive line
Rumph must get this question a lot: What’s it like at Alabama?
Actually, the inquiry probably sounds more like this: No, what’s it really like at Alabama?
And it’s probably safe to say he gets lots of questions about Nick Saban, too.
“He has a method to his madness and you can’t knock it,” Rumph said. “Whatever you want to say about it, you can’t knock it. Because it works.”
What’s the secret to Bama’s success? This will sound cliché, of course, but Rumph believes much of what makes the difference comes down to two big things: Accountability and attention to detail.
At Alabama, those are the core standards. At Texas, it’s a must if you want to play for Rumph.
“If I tell you that you need to walk one mile,” Rumph said, “and you walk a half mile, I’ve got issues with that. I think that’s the difference for some programs.
“We say get behind the line. Everybody better be behind the line. We say run 10 yards. You better run 10 yards. Not eight, not nine. A lot of places that aren’t successful are that nine yards, that ‘He ran hard but he only ran nine yards, he didn’t run 10 yards.’ I see the same thing here. We tell those guys it’s attention to detail. It’s about the little things, about doing your job.”
It’s like a dam, he says. All it takes is one little crack that goes overlooked and, over time, the dam busts.
Crimson Tide players had to be dedicated to doing things the right way every single time. When you do a squat in the weight room, Rumph said, it better be the best squat ever. You better dominate that squat, and then do it again. That’s how you build toward big things.
“Stop being so result-oriented,” Rumph said. “I tell my guys, don’t worry about making 10 sacks. Don’t worry about 20 sacks. Just the process to get there.”
Even with Alabama’s gigantic turnaround under Saban, Rumph proudly says Texas is the “best university in the universe.” How quickly the Longhorns regain their national prestige will depend on how quickly the players buy into what Rumph and the coaches are demanding.
As he put it: “We want to make the most feared statement in college football: ‘We play Texas next.’”
Defensive backs/special teams
When you dedicate eight years of your career to being a recruiting coordinator in the SEC, you learn a few things along the way.
Four years of those duties at Arkansas and four more at Ole Miss gave Vaughn a wealth of knowledge about how to win a kid over. The key, he says, is knowing that convincing the recruit is a small piece of the pie.
Recruiting is a game of relationships, a lesson that Vaughn learned over and over and was reinforced by his 13 years of working with former head coach Houston Nutt.
“We all sound like car salesmen, of course, because we want to sell our university and what we believe in,” Vaughn said. “But it’s the mom and dad, the grandmother, the uncle, that when all the schools come in, they see through what’s on the side of the helmet or what type of shoes you’re wearing or the people sitting in the stadium.
“They just want to know somebody is going to take care of their baby. I think that’s one thing I really learned from Houston: You’ve got to build relationships with the family. At the end of the day, that young man is going to ask a family member close to them, ‘What do you think?’”
Vaughn, who will recruit southeast Texas and Louisiana for Texas, has ties all over the South from his past gigs. Those should pay dividends in the instances when the Longhorns staff looks outside the state for talent.
One talent Vaughn always likes to see when he’s out evaluating recruits: Wrestlers.
Back in his days at Godby High in Tallahassee, Fla., Vaughn was runner-up in the state wrestling championship. He was an undersized 195-pounder in the 220-pound class, and he didn’t lose often.
“If a guy is a good wrestler, as a football player, that carries a little weight with me,” he said. “If he’s good, I know he’s dedicated, know he’s a hard worker, know he loves to compete and doing the little things are important to him.”
And when it comes to recruiting, those little things can make all the difference.
As a result, Petty will go into his senior season as the clear-cut favorite to repeat.
But is there anyone else in the league capable of threatening his reign?
That receiver -- Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett -- could become Petty’s biggest challenger, especially if the Wildcats emerge as contenders for the Big 12 title. Despite missing two games because of injury, Lockett finished third in the conference in receiving yards (1,262) and receptions (81) last season. He led the league in receiving yards per game and became virtually uncoverable late in the season, when quarterback Jake Waters also found his passing stride. Lockett torched Oklahoma for 278 receiving yards and three touchdowns, then hauled in another three touchdowns two games later in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Michigan.
Lockett, however, isn’t the only player who could push for the award, especially if quarterbacks Trevor Knight and Davis Webb build on the way they played at the end of their freshman seasons.
In the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Knight shredded two-time defending national champ Alabama while leading Oklahoma to a stunning 45-31 victory. Knight threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns and finally performed the way the Sooners thought he would when he beat out favorite Blake Bell for the starting job before the season.
Webb was just as impressive in Texas Tech's victory over double-digit favorite Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Webb completed 28 of 41 passes and threw for four touchdowns, tying a Holiday Bowl record. He finished with the league’s third-best Adjusted QBR behind Petty and second-team All-Big 12 performer Clint Chelf.
The league’s top five rushers from last season are out of eligibility. But after taking over for injured starter Johnathan Gray, Texas' Malcolm Brown showed he could be a reliable workhorse running back able to move the chains. In his final three games last season, Brown rushed for 128, 131 and 130 yards. With Gray’s health in question as he attempts to return from a ruptured Achilles' tendon, Brown could open the 2014 season as the primary back again.
In addition to Petty, Baylor has two other big-time playmakers coming back in receiver Antwan Goodley, who led the Big 12 in receiving touchdowns last season with 13, and running back Shock Linwood, who was sixth in the Big 12 in rushing in 2013 with 881 yards despite being Baylor’s third-team running back.
There are several dark horses to watch as well, including Gray, Oklahoma running back Keith Ford and West Virginia running back Rushel Shell.
But we put the question to you via a poll: Who is the biggest threat to Petty repeating as Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year?
Fans and recruits could circle the date on their calendars, young players and new coaches saw it as the first opportunity to make a lasting impression.
This spring, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy raised eyebrows when the Cowboys announced their “Orange Blitz” open practice session would replace their traditional Orange-White spring game. TCU has rarely held a traditional spring game under Gary Patterson, with the Horned Frogs preferring intra-squad scrimmages.
Patterson values the opportunity to watch other team’s spring games on television but refuses to give other coaches that advantage over his team and doesn’t view the event as essential for the Horned Frogs program. TCU has not finalized its plan for this spring, but a traditional spring game seems unlikely.
Although his program normally holds an event, OSU opened the spring with a young, battered roster, which was the main reason for Gundy’s decision to shun a spring game this year. For Gundy, engaging fans with a spring game had to take a backseat to the overall development of the young players in the program during the 15 practices the Cowboys will hold in March and April.
“At some point I have to make a decision based on what's best for our team first and then our fans and people that follow us second,” Gundy said earlier this week.
Other Big 12 coaches point to health concerns as obstacles to holding a traditional spring game featuring two separate squads.
“Spring games are always a trying time due to depth at certain positions,” said Kansas coach Charlie Weis, who will hold KU’s spring game on April 12. “Concern for injuries is always an issue, not being able to field two entire competitive teams is a problem.”
Postponing the spring game can become a real option, particularly after losing a large class of seniors off the roster thus crippling the overall depth of the program until February signees arrive in the summer. Quarterbacks end up switching teams in the middle of the game, a lack of available linemen waters down the quality of the action and fears of a season-changing injury can cloud these spring finales.
“Everyone says, ‘Well I would love to have a draft and have my guys go on each side of the ball,’” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “You can’t, you don’t have the personnel. Sometimes you have so many injuries or you may be thin that you can’t afford to have a spring game and get somebody hurt. Some other years, when we are a little bit down, I don’t want to take a chance on it. It is all great until someone gets hurt and blows a knee out, and then it is, ‘Why did I do that?’”
The Sooners are one of the Big 12 programs that are all-in on the spring game, selling tickets to the event, televising the action and creating a game-like atmosphere at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. But even OU dumbs down the efficiency of the actual football in the game, sitting starters and simplifying schemesto avoid lurkers, such as Patterson, who are aiming to gain useful tidbits on the Sooners that they can use in the fall.
Even with all those drawbacks, the spring game remains valuable for the majority of the conference, with several Big 12 coaches pointing toward the game-like atmosphere, not to mention the recruiting value, of the traditional spring game as assets too useful to ignore.
“I think it's great for the fans,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “You only get six home games in the regular season, sometimes we only get five some years. So to have another game at Jones Stadium so that everyone can come back and tailgate, have some festivities, I think it's great for the university and great for the fan base. And I like to see our players when the lights come on. Anybody can do it in practice, but when the lights come on and there's some pressure and people are watching, let's see how you perform."
Kansas State won’t kick off its spring drills until April 2 but will hold its spring game on April 26. Head coach Bill Snyder believes the tradition of the spring game outweighs any cons.
“The positive attributes of having a spring game for us include tradition, for our young people and our fan base, the benefits it provides our local community and the experience our players get by playing in front of a large crowd,” he said.
Charlie Strong is convinced his team can still get quality work done with a traditional spring game. The Longhorns will hold their version on April 19, with UT’s new head coach convinced it will be just another day for his players to get better.
“The most important thing is that the spring game is another opportunity to get out on the field and coach your team,” Strong said. “It's another practice, more reps and more video to look at as you get ready for the season. It is the final spring practice and having a chance to go in the stadium with a great crowd gives you an opportunity to see how the team responds to that as well."
Realistically, while opinions about the spring game vary when it comes to its value in terms of developing the current roster for the upcoming season, its recruiting value cannot be understated. There is no better spring event to put all the positives of the program on full display and intrigue potential recruits to make a special trip to campus.
“When you can bring players in and see people in the stands cheering and excited, it really helps,” Kingsbury said.
- Texas will conduct a study examining the potential completion of south end zone of Darrell K Royal-Memorial Stadium. In other words, the Longhorns may be aiming to take back Texas A&M's title of "biggest stadium in Texas."
- Four anonymous Texas high school coaches ranked Baylor ahead of Texas in the pecking order of the state's best college football programs.
- Kansas is bringing back the spread under new offensive coordinator John Reagan, writes the Topeka Capital-Journal's Jeff Deters.
- Coach Paul Rhoads is raring to get going with his new Iowa State coaching faces after a "crazy" offseason, writes the Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch. Spring ball has allowed the Cyclones to move on from a rough 2013 season, according to the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse.
- Texas Tech Kliff Kingsbury said with a guaranteed 10-year contract, he'd never punt again. Red Raiders defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt gives the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams five players who have caught his eye so far this spring.
- The Oklahoma State coaches have begun the rebuilding process after being decimated by graduation, writes the Oklahoman's John Helsley. The Cowboys added several junior-college kickers to the roster, reports the Tulsa World's Kelly Hines.
- Former Oklahoma linebacker Corey Nelson tells The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey that he's 100 percent after suffering torn pectoral last season. OU's pro day was this morning. Kersey also caught up with former Sooner QB Drew Allen, who is also hoping to get a shot in the NFL.
- Former TCU cornerback Jason Verrett could be a value pick for the Dallas Cowboys if Verrett's shoulder injury causes him to drop in the draft, according to Nick Eatman of DallasCowboys.com. The Cowboys were at Verrett's pro day at TCU last week.
When Duane Akina announced in January that he wasn’t returning for a 14th season at Texas, the response from Longhorns fans and ex-players was understandable disappointment. He was, after all, the coach who helped make Texas “DBU.” Akina, who’s now coaching at Stanford, embraced that tradition like nobody else.
But when it comes to pride and passion for Longhorns defense backs, Bedford might be the perfect successor. He played cornerback at UT from 1977-81 and developed into a starter and a captain.
Get Bedford talking about Texas’ legacy in the secondary and he’ll go full-on historian, even mentioning that he caught up with two former “DBU” members -- Johnnie Johnson and William Graham -- while recruiting their sons at a recent junior day.
“‘DBU’ started with those guys. Raymond Clayborn, Johnnie Johnson, William Graham, Derrick Hatchett, Glenn Blackwood, Ricky Churchman, that’s when it started,” Bedford said. “Fred Akers came here and turned things around, said we’re going to play man-to-man, and almost every guy I played with went to the NFL. Jerry Gray, Mossy Cade, Craig Curry, Fred Acorn, Jitter Fields; the list goes on and on and on.”
Mack Brown and Akina kept it going, producing 14 All-Big 12 defensive backs and 11 who played in the NFL last season. They made sure today’s players knew and respected those DBs who came before them.
Bedford intends to keep that tradition going. This means an awful lot to him.
“We’re not just ‘DBU,’” he said. “We want to make it Linebacker U and D-Line U, whatever it takes to get the best players in the state of Texas to come here and get this program back to the top where it belongs.”
He felt like he’d won the lottery when he found out he was coming home to Texas, and it’s easy to see Bedford is excited about selling and signing the next generation of Texas defensive backs.
“This is the place to live in the state of Texas, just like this university is the best university in this state,” Bedford said. “Why would you not want to live in Austin, Texas, and go to the University of Texas? I just don’t know who would do something else.”
Believe it or not, Jean-Mary has more ties to the state of Texas than even he might’ve realized.
He played linebacker at Appalachian State for the legendary Jerry Moore, a Texas native who played at Baylor and was head coach at Texas Tech.
His defensive coordinator there was Ruffin McNeill, who went on to coach at Texas Tech for 10 years before becoming head coach at ECU. Jean-Mary’s position coach when he arrived at App State was George Edwards, who later coached linebackers for the Dallas Cowboys and is now the Vikings’ defensive coordinator.
And his roommate and best friend during those college years? Dexter Coakley, the future three-time Pro Bowler for the Cowboys.
So, yes, he’s picked up some knowledge about this state along the way thanks to those friendships.
“It almost feels like I was born and raised here,” Jean-Mary said.
A self-described college football junkie, Jean-Mary said following Strong and Bedford to Texas was a no-brainer because he understood the magnitude of coming to a program like this one.
He’s proud of what he accomplished in four years at Louisville. Jean-Mary knows he left a program that’s build to succeed in 2014 and beyond. But coaching at Texas -- and staying with Strong -- was too good to turn down.
“At the end of the day, you only get so many opportunities to really coach at a tradition-rich school like this and feel like you can take your next step in your career as an individual coach, but also helping a team take the next step as a program,” he said.
Jean-Mary inherits a group of linebackers that could return every contributor from 2013, though five of those players -- Jordan Hicks, Steve Edmond, Dalton Santos, Tevin Jackson and Timothy Cole -- are recovering from injuries. He likes this group’s potential and depth once everyone gets healthy, and his expectations are simple.
“We all come from the same school of defense: We want to have smart, tough and dependable guys,” Jean-Mary said. “We’re not going to be too complex, but we do want to have guys who can handle different situations.”
And whatever situations Jean-Mary finds himself in at Texas, he’s glad he has more than few Texans he can call for advice.
- Safety Lyndell Johnson, one of only five projected returning starters on the Oklahoma State defense, has left the team, coach Mike Gundy announced. The Cowboys also lost two centers, including starter Jake Jenkins, who decided to move on from football.
- Coach Paul Rhoads is leaving all the offensive decision making to new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, according to the Des Moines Register's Randy Peterson. The Cyclones are banged up for spring ball, reports the paper's Tommy Birch.
- Jonathan Kimble is enjoying his final days as 'The Mountaineer' mascot in this profile by The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey. Does he get to keep the musket?
- Former Texas DB coach Duane Akina landed at Stanford.
- After watching Kliff Kingsbury participate in a panel discussion in Austin, Texas, the USA TODAY's Laken Litman thinks the Texas Tech head man is the coolest coach in college football. The Red Raiders landed a juco offensive lineman.
- The Tulsa World's John Hoover writes that an overnight transformation from QB to tight end is unlikely for Oklahoma's Blake Bell.
- Baylor has sold out of season tickets for the opening season at McLane Stadium.
- Former TCU QB Andy Dalton was back in Fort Worth, Texas, for charity.
Robinson won’t tell this story to his new Texas running backs, but it’s one Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray, Joe Bergeron and the rest of the gang ought to know.
“I don’t know what to expect because, on purpose, I didn’t study them at all,” Robinson said. “I didn’t want to study them on tape. I want to go out and see these guys perform.”
He’s chatted with former running backs coach Larry Porter, but Robinson isn’t interested in analyzing what his players have done in the past. He wants a clean slate, a fresh start. He has a good reason why.
When Robinson arrived at USC last year, leaving his NFL gig with the Arizona Cardinals to return to the college game, he knew the expectations. Penn State transfer Silas Redd led the Trojans in rushing in 2012, and they’d signed ESPN 300 backs Justin Davis and Ty Isaac. Those were the options.
Robinson didn’t watch the film. He didn’t want any biases. He kept the competition going and used five different backs last fall. The standout of the group was a surprise: Javorius Allen.
When Robinson first joined the program, he says he was told he didn’t need to worry about Allen. The staff didn’t think the sophomore, a former ESPN 150 recruit with six career carries, would amount to much.
“They didn’t want him around, wanted to let him go,” Robinson said. “I learned a very valuable lesson: Had I listened to what I was told, that kid would’ve never got a chance to play football at USC. But I didn’t listen to what I was told about him. I wanted to formulate my own opinion about the kid, and the kid ended up leading us in rushing.
“This is a kid that wasn’t supposed to be on the team, that I was told, ‘Don’t worry about him, he won’t amount to anything,’ and he ended up leading the team in rushing. So who knows?”
That’s why, when Texas begins spring practice next week, Robinson intends to treat his rushers like true freshmen. They’ll have to convince him they’re his best option.
“I’ve made that point crystal clear,” Robinson said. “Everybody has an opportunity.”
Koenning and Vance Bedford both arrived at the University of Texas in 1977. They could tell you all sorts of stories about their college days, but they won’t.
“They might be R-rated,” Bedford said. “We had our day in the sun. It’s amazing some of the things we did, that we’re still here today. That’s all I can tell you.”
No doubt Koenning has done plenty of reminiscing during his first two months back on campus since joining Charlie Strong’s coaching staff. After more than three decades coaching elsewhere, this is his homecoming.
“The one thing that’s been really nice for myself is to come back and see what it’s like, having the opportunity to play in the stadium, going back through campus,” Koenning said. “Things have changed a little bit since I was last here. It’s gotten a lot nicer.”
Koenning’s 33-year career has seen him make stops at Alabama, Louisiana-Lafayette, Mississippi State, Rice, Duke, Texas A&M, the Miami Dolphins, back to Duke, Houston, TCU, back to Alabama, back to A&M, South Alabama and Mississippi State. Finally, the road led him back to Austin.
You won’t get him to talk badly about his time at Texas A&M, Alabama or anywhere else. Koenning says he’s been fortunate throughout and given the chance to coach at some great programs.
Getting back to Texas, at a time when the program is in transition and in need of coaches with Longhorns roots, was too good an opportunity to pass up.
“I’m excited about it, and I think also the opportunity to come with Coach Strong is really nice,” Koenning said. “His background and what he’s done in the past has been really impressive to me. It’s an opportunity to win.”
The son of a longtime Texas high school football coach, Koenning hit the road to recruit right when he was hired and ran into folks he knew all over the place. He’s looking forward to recruiting a state he knows well alongside coaches he trusts.
His offenses at Alabama and Mississippi State faced Strong’s South Carolina and Florida defenses. He knows what Texas is getting in its new head man, and Bedford is happy to vouch for what Koenning brings to the group.
“He’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever known,” Bedford said. “You watched him as a player, and the same tenacity you saw as a player, you see as a coach. He’s going to get the best out of his players.”
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.
- Over the weekend, Texas Tech landed a verbal commitment from Jarrett Stidham, the No. 1 dual-threat QB in the country for 2015.
- Texas coach Charlie Strong would welcome playing Texas A&M again. The Longhorns offered Jordan and Jaxon Shipley's a cousin a scholarship. Hanner Shipley is currently committed to LSU.
- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Stephen J. Nesbitt explores whether West Virginia is returning to a 3-3-5 defense under new coordinator Tony Gibson.
- The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel writes that Barry Switzer lacks a filter. The former Oklahoma coach made all sorts of headlines last week. The paper's Jason Kersey interviewed Sooners QB Trevor Knight, who is hoping to carry the Sugar Bowl momentum into next season.
- Iowa State picked up its first commitment for 2015.
- The Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton thinks TCU could have one of the best defenses in the country next season.
- Oklahoma State fullback Teddy Johnson, a former walk-on, is grateful to get a scholarship. Freshman Cowboys QB Mason Rudolph is adjusting to college life.
Offensive coordinator/offensive line
Mention to Wickline that he’s one of the nation’s best offensive line coaches, and you’ll get a shrug.
He’ll say his résumé of success was a byproduct of the Oklahoma State’s consistent offensive success. But the results -- seven All-Big 12 offensive linemen, three of them All-Americans -- are undisputable. Their success has to, in many ways, be a byproduct of his philosophy.
So let’s dig into that philosophy. What does he look for when recruiting linemen?
"As far as measurables, I like guys that are really athletic, smart and tough," Wickline said. "If they can get those three things, they’ve probably got a chance."
Once they get to campus, they quickly learn one of Wickline’s overarching beliefs about offensive linemen: You must be versatile, capable of playing nearly any role on a line. There are three reasons why he wholeheartedly believes in cross-training.
"No. 1, I want to make sure there’s always competition in the room and on the field," Wickline said. "If the second-team right tackle thinks at any given time the first-team right tackle can never lose his job, he just quits trying. If the first-team right tackle thinks he’ll never lose his job, he’ll just quit trying. It needs to be a day-to-day deal.
"Secondly, they need to be sure they can switch. The left guard needs to know the right guard can go take his place. So it’s all about competition, and it’s a daily deal. The other thing about switching guys, it forces them to learn the entire offense and entire scheme from a protection standpoint and running scheme. If you leave him locked it at one place the whole time, he can’t really feel how does this whole thing go together."
And part three? Injuries can force you to change the plan. Take Oklahoma State's Parker Graham for example.
Wickline planned to move his starting left tackle of 2012 to guard last offseason, with Devin Davis taking over left tackle. Then Davis was lost for the season in August. Graham went back to left tackle, started five games and then returned to right guard for the rest of the season. He finished with first-team All-Big 12 honors.
"Well, it worked out," Wickline said. "Because he moved around a bunch, it wasn’t a big deal to him."
That’s why, when Wickline surveys his roster of Texas linemen for 2014, absolutely nothing is set in stone. He wants to find five starters. And then he’ll keep tweaking the plan, moving new guys in and out, shifting some to other spots, until it works.
He’ll eventually find his starting five for the season opener, but Wickline won’t stop there. If you want to start, you better earn your job every single day.
"This will continue to game five, game eight," Wickline said. "It’s week-by-week. I understand chemistry and I understand continuity.
"But in my world, all that’s important is the quarterback doesn’t get hit, you can run the football and you win football games."
Assistant head coach/quarterbacks
The battle has been going on for more than a decade: Who is Shawn Watson’s favorite pupil?
You can credit Joel Klatt for starting the debate back in 2003 with his record-setting sophomore season at Colorado. By the time his days at CU were over, Watson swore Klatt was the best quarterback he’d coached.
"He was the greatest competitor I’ve ever been around and a great student of the game," Watson said.
So then he went to Nebraska, and another scrappy, underrated quarterback earned his affection. Joe Ganz went on to break 21 school records under Watson’s watch.
"Joe, at the end, he says, 'Wats, did I overcome Klatt?' Watson recalled. "I said, eh, I tell you what, flip a coin. He really chased Joel."
This is the standard Watson will hold his Longhorns quarterbacks to because these are the guys he covets: Gamers. Leaders. Passers with intangibles.
He’s trained the prototypical pocket passers such as Klatt and the explosive dual-threats such as Taylor Martinez. No matter who’s running the show at Texas, Watson will help tailor the offense to his signal-caller’s sensibilities.
"I’m a grinder. My first hobby is football,” Watson said. "I’m not kidding you. I’ve done this 33 years, and this is not a corny statement, but I’ve been Peter Pan. I’ve gotten to do what I love. I love the game of football, and I love to teach.
"The grinder part comes because I don’t want anybody to catch me. I want to be the best at what I do. I enjoy studying the game."
And his former quarterbacks have studied the game enough to know who’s now No. 1 on Watson’s list. Teddy Bridgewater can claim the title belt when he becomes a first-round draft pick in May.
Bridgewater has heard all of Watson’s stories about Klatt and Ganz. The Louisville star did eventually ask who’s the best. Watson has a new answer: All of them.
Watson chuckles when he tells these stories. He knows Klatt and Ganz won’t accept that non-answer.
"They’d say, 'Wats, we know who the best one is,'" Watson joked. "'Just remember us.'"
Akina confirmed Sunday night upon his arrival in San Jose, Calif. that will join the Cardinal program this week. Stanford began its spring practices on Feb. 24 without a defensive backs coach.
"I really appreciated Coach Shaw and the Stanford staff," Akina said in a text message. "Excited to join a university so rich in tradition academically and athletically, much like the one I just left. Looking forward to being part of a great staff and continue to grow in this profession."
Credited as the architect of the "DBU" tradition at Texas, Akina coached 14 All-Big 12 defensive backs and two Thorpe Award winners during his 13 seasons with the program. Ten of his former Longhorn defensive backs played in the NFL last season.
RB Coach Tommie Robinson Talks Tradition
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35