Texas Longhorns: 3-point stance

1. Texas athletic director Steve Patterson made a compelling case Tuesday for the value of participating in college athletics, echoing Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. They both said, in so many words, if you want to go pro, go pro; let college athletics be college athletics. I hope the difference is maintained, too. There is room to provide more benefits to college athletes without professionalizing them. But once an employer-employee relationship is established, the rules will change. Whether they can change without rendering college athletics unrecognizable, ay, there’s the rub.

2. Oregon has won 60 consecutive games when leading at the half, the longest streak in the FBS. Oklahoma is second at 42. Both are perennial national contenders with explosive offenses that can quickly make a game one-sided. But here’s the surprise: Kansas State is third on the list at 39 games. In the five seasons since Bill Snyder returned to the sideline, Kansas State (42-22, .656) has been good, but not dominant. Without dominance, I’d guess the streak has a lot to do with Snyder, mental toughness and a lack of mistakes.

3. Speaking of Oklahoma, did you see the Sooners’ April Fool’s tweet that Blake Bell had returned to quarterback? The surprise is that Bell actually finished last season with a higher efficiency rating (132.20) than the player replacing him, freshman Trevor Knight (125.00). What that tells you is how much Knight improved over the course of the year. He shredded Alabama for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. In the last three games, Knight went 49-of-71 for 547 yards with 2 interceptions and 5 touchdowns for an efficiency of 151.34. That’s why Bell is a tight end.
1. Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo coached as young assistants at Michigan State in the 1980s. They both became head coaches there in 1995. They remain good friends. Saban this week on Izzo: "He believes in all the same stuff that a football coach believes in: toughness, discipline, relentless competitor, the intangible things that we pride ourselves (on having) as football players and football coaches, because it's a tough game. That's how he coaches basketball. I think it reflects how his team plays."

2. Texas coach Charlie Strong said Tuesday that assistants Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline will be able to work together "because those two guys have been around too long for the egos." I expect Strong is right. But the whole business of job titles in coaching is nothing if not a reflection of ego. Watson is assistant head coach of the offense, which is different, somehow, from Wickline's position as offensive coordinator. Is that really necessary?

3. Coaches love spring practice because they get to teach without having to prepare the team for Saturday. Players don't feel the love. Younger ones endure the drudgery until they figure out it's the time to learn and sharpen skills. By then, they are upperclassmen who know not to look ahead. "If you sit here and think the spring game is on Apr. 19, it will kill you," Auburn senior defensive tackle Gabe Wright said. "You just go into it , 'O.K., 13 more (practices). Let's see what I can get better on.' And there is so much we can get better on."

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.

3-point stance: Tide adjusts at QB

January, 27, 2014
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1. With the signing of Florida State transfer quarterback Jacob Coker, Alabama head coach Nick Saban papered over a recruiting misstep. Without Coker, the Crimson Tide had no experienced quarterback to follow AJ McCarron. Phillip Sims, who had been the next in line, left Tuscaloosa nearly two years ago for Virginia. As Coker signed, 2015 recruit Ricky Town switched his commitment from Alabama to USC. But clearly that’s only a coincidence. Coker’s eligibility expires after 2015.

2. Once the NCAA put a black mark on Louisville assistant Clint Hurtt dating to his days at Miami and the Nevin Shapiro case, it was a matter of time before Hurtt shifted his career to the pro game. My colleague Brett McMurphy reported that Hurtt is going to the Chicago Bears. It was clear that Texas wasn’t going to welcome his arrival with Charlie Strong. History has shown that NFL teams don’t care about NCAA sanctions. The pro game has a lot fewer recruiting rules.

3. Adam Rittenberg’s analysis of the Big Ten’s issues at quarterback in 2014 reminded me of the lack of experience at quarterback in the Big 12 last season. David Ash of Texas began the season with 18 starts, the most of any quarterback in the league. It didn’t take long to see the Big 12’s offensive problems. But by the end of the season, the young talent began to grow up. If you saw Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight and Texas Tech’s Davis Webb, you know what I mean.
1. Stanford outgained Michigan State on the ground, 162-65, and won the turnover battle, 2-1. Forget the stats. The Spartans won the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl presented by VIZIO, 24-20, because they controlled the line of scrimmage when the Cardinal had the ball. Take away Tyler Gaffney's 47-yard rush in the first quarter, and he gained 44 yards on 23 carries. The Cardinal defense committed two penalties inside its 10-yard line and dropped two picks. Simply put, the better team won.

2. The state of Texas has a rich history of playing physical football. You line up and you hit the guy in front of you and you see who’s best. That’s how it went until the state’s schools fell in love with the uptempo spread. Texas A&M gave up 48 points and won. Baylor surrendered 52 and lost. Rice allowed 44 to Mississippi State and lost. Texas gave up 30 to Oregon and got embarrassed. You would think with all that talent in Lone Star State, someone could play defense.

3. Nebraska beat Georgia, 24-19, in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl and extended to six seasons head coach Bo Pelini’s streak of finishing either 9-4 or 10-4. Given the emotional highs and lows that Pelini has endured in Lincoln -- this week he’s popular -- the notion that he has become the model of consistency is a headscratcher. Here’s another one -- only three head coaches in the Big Ten (Kirk Ferentz of Iowa, Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern and Mark Dantonio of Michigan State) have longer tenures than Pelini.

3-point stance: Coach shopping in Texas

December, 17, 2013
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1. If Texas wants a college coach who has won in the big time: Over the last five seasons, 12 men have taken teams to at least two BCS bowls. Nick Saban (1), Bob Stoops (2), Urban Meyer (3), Bret Bielema (4), Frank Beamer (5) and David Shaw (6) are unavailable/uninterested. Jim Tressel (7) is untouchable. Jimbo Fisher (8), Chip Kelly (9), Gary Patterson (10), the timing is wrong. That leaves Brian Kelly (11) and Dabo Swinney (12). Any takers?

2. The SuperBowlification of the College Football Playoff is here, now that the Metroplex and Tampa Bay, two non-BCS bowl sites, have secured two of the first three championship games. That’s not a bad thing. It stands to reason that the commissioners will take the championship game to domes in the snow belt, like Indianapolis or Detroit, to name two in the Big Ten footprint. It’s healthy for the game to move it around, and if it comes off looking like a mini-Super Bowl, so what?

3. In case you thought the end of Mack Brown’s coaching career at Texas is a sign of how much pressure is placed on the modern-day football coach: When Oklahoma hired Bud Wilkinson in 1947, his father told him, “No matter how successful he may be, every coach eventually reaches a point where a lot of people want somebody else.” It is a price that nearly every coach pays, and it can be a harsh one.

3-point stance: Confusing end for Mack

December, 16, 2013
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1. Mack Brown conducted his retirement press conference at the University of Texas on Sunday with the same charm and straightforwardness that he conducted so many of his big-stage moments. Brown said he began this season convinced that the Longhorns would return to national prominence. So did a lot of writers. It doesn’t surprise me that the writers had no inkling that the Longhorns wouldn’t be able to stop anyone. But Brown sounded just as surprised as the rest of us that his team stumbled. That’s a head-scratcher.

2. Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, trying to explain what sets apart his Heisman trophy winner, quarterback Jameis Winston, from other redshirt freshmen. “He throws a touchdown, he has to understand why he did it so he can repeat it. … He always wanted to know why he had success, or why he had failure, so he could repeat it or fix it. And that’s very rare in a young player.”

3. Will Texas thrive under a new head coach? The cautionary tale is Tennessee, which forced out Phillip Fulmer, a future Hall of Famer, five years ago. Since then, the Volunteers have floundered under three head coaches (cumulative record: 28-34. Then there’s Army, which fired Rich Ellerson on Sunday after a 12th consecutive loss to archrival Navy. Ellerson is the third Black Knights head coach to be relieved of his duty without beating the Midshipmen. Army never should have run off Bob Sutton, now the Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator.

3-point stance: Heisman secrecy

December, 12, 2013
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1. The Heisman Trust dictated that when we voted this year, we pledge not to reveal it to the media or our spouses or our bartenders. To which I say, control freak who? All right, have it your way. I read the police report regarding Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, and I didn’t like what I read about him. But I sighed, held my nose and cast my vote, and the guy I voted for is going to win. Whoever that might be.

2. The secrecy pledge is a study in chutzpah, asking media members that do nothing but beat the drum for the Heisman 12 months a year not to talk about their individual vote. The Heisman people also just shoved the pledge under the voter’s nose as he/she cast the electronic ballot: sign this or else, pal. That’s what bullies do. Oh yeah, my second-place vote went to a tattooed quarterback who didn’t win a third national championship this year. And if you led the FBS in rushing, I might have voted you third.

3. I have tried very hard not to get sucked into the Nick-Saban-to-Texas vortex, because I think it’s a case of Texas people saying what they want to hear, combined with Saban’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, roiling the waters on behalf of his client. And did Texas really say that they want to hire a head coach who has won a Super Bowl or a BCS title? If nothing else, that shows a lack of imagination. How many coaches who have won either had done so before that team/school hired them? One: Saban.

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.

3-point stance: Filling the schedule

December, 4, 2013
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1. Just as the 12-game schedule separates pretenders from contenders, so does the nine-game conference schedule. A reader pointed out to me that the top five in the BCS all play only eight conference games. The Pac-12 and the Big 12, which play nine league games, fill five of the next seven spots. The Big Ten is moving to nine games in a few years. The ACC dropped its plans for a ninth game when it made the deal with Notre Dame to play five league teams a year. The SEC has no such excuse.

2. When the Big 12 season began, the league drew attention because of its inexperience at quarterback. David Ash of Texas, with 18 starts, led the league. As the Big 12 heads into its final Saturday, only Bryce Petty of Baylor and Jake Waters of Kansas State have started every game. The 10 teams have started 19 different quarterbacks, six of them freshmen. That explains why only three Big 12 guys rank in the top 20 of the QBR: Petty (third), Clint Chelf of Oklahoma State (fifth) and Davis Webb of Texas Tech (18th).

3. Did Chris Petersen wait too long to leave Boise State? He has averaged almost 12 wins a year with the Broncos, taken them to two BCS bowls, and made them a national player. Boise State has gone from 12-1 to 11-2 to 8-4 in its three years in the Mountain West. He also has put his name into a few coaching hats, only to either back off or be passed over, as was the case at USC (assuming that’s why he “withdrew his name” from the search). Petersen seems as if he would fit at Washington. If that gets serious, I hope he takes it.

3-point stance: Change coming at Texas

November, 6, 2013
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1. Everybody knows it’s tough to follow a legendary coach. We’re about to find out how tough it is to follow a legendary athletic director. But when Steve Patterson takes over for DeLoss Dodds at Texas, he will be changing the way that Texas has operated for 32 years. He will have to replace legendary football (Mack Brown) and baseball (Augie Garrido) coaches sooner rather than later. And Patterson will be expected to make every decision correctly from the day he sets foot on the 40 Acres. No pressure there at all.

2. Among the four AQ conferences split into divisions, who are the only two coaches undefeated in their own divisions since the beginning of the 2012 season? Urban Meyer at Ohio State, obviously, since he is unbeaten against everyone. The other is UCLA’s Jim Mora, who takes a 7-0 record in the Pac-12 South to Arizona on Saturday night. Mora is 1-6 against the Pac-12 North, which is a reflection of both the relative strength of the two divisions and the fact that UCLA has played Stanford three times and Oregon once.

3. Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema is still looking for his first SEC victory and is one loss away from his first losing record after seven seasons at Wisconsin. But according to Bielema, the honeymoon continues. “If we weren’t doing things right, if we didn’t have kids believing in what we were saying, we’d be having problems right now,” Bielema said Monday. “We’d have kids that would be erupting on the sidelines. We’d have kids that are being problems in the classroom or doing some things that are just really disruptive to what’s going on and everybody just keeps humming, everybody just keeps sawing wood, everybody just keeps moving themselves in the right path.”

3-point stance: Oregon’s road test

October, 10, 2013
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1. Oregon plays its first ranked opponent this season when it goes to play its biggest out-of-state rival, No. 16 Washington. Duck quarterback Marcus Mariota is in the middle of setting a school record, having thrown 202 consecutive passes without an interception dating back to the 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford. Here’s a streak that may end Saturday: Mariota has yet to throw a pass in the fourth quarter in five games this season.

2. The story broke Thursday that Tennessee and Virginia Tech will play in 2016 somewhere within the 160,000-seat Bristol Motor Speedway. It’s safe to say that the game will set the modern attendance record, which Michigan raised to 115,109 earlier this season when Notre Dame made its last scheduled Big House appearance. However, the all-time record remains the estimated 120,000 who jammed into Soldier Field in Chicago for the first Notre Dame-USC game in the Midwest. The Irish won, 7-6, in 1927.

3. A lot of Texas fans date the beginning of the Longhorns’ woes to Colt McCoy’s shoulder injury early in 2009 BCS Championship Game. Austin native Garrett Gilbert replaced McCoy and acquitted himself well for a true freshman in that setting. But Gilbert proved prone to the big mistake, and he transferred last season to SMU. Last Saturday, Gilbert completed 45-of-70 passes for 484 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in the three-overtime loss to Rutgers. That’s the type of game everyone thought was in him.

3-point stance: Life after UConn

October, 1, 2013
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1. George DeLeone hired Paul Pasqualoni as an assistant coach at Southern Connecticut State in 1976, and the two have coached together for most of the seasons since, from Division III to FBS to the NFL. When UConn fired Pasqualoni on Monday after two-plus seasons as head coach, the school fired DeLeone, the associate head coach and offensive line coach, too. The Huskies are 0-4, scoring 18 points and gaining 272.5 yards of total offense per game. Pasqualoni has a solid record (151-94-1, .616) in 22 years as a head coach. Something tells me he and DeLeone aren’t done coaching -- together -- just yet.

2. Oregon has won its last 15 road conference games, the longest such FBS winning streak. The Ducks have won their last game at every Pac-12 opponent save Utah (in 2003, when Utes were in MWC. Does that count?) Alabama has won nine straight road SEC games. Stanford and Texas A&M each have won their last five road conference games. The Cardinal lost to Washington in 2012 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. However, with the victory at that stadium Saturday over Washington State, Stanford has won its last game at every opposing venue in the Pac-12.


3. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds will announce today that he is retiring next August after 32 years. All Dodds, a former track coach, has done is transform Texas into the premier sports program in the nation. It took him three coaching hires to find Mack Brown, but 150 wins and one BCS championship in 16 seasons indicate Dodds got that one right. It’s a measure of the resources and the expectations that Dodds has raised that fans wonder why the Longhorns don’t dominate every sport in which they compete.

3-point stance: Limits on loyalty

September, 9, 2013
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1. Loyalty is an admirable quality. Loyalty to a fault will get you in trouble. In Manny Diaz’s first two seasons as defensive coordinator at Texas, the Longhorns lost games by the score of 55-17, 48-24, 48-45, and 63-21. They won one, 56-50. Texas head coach Mack Brown stuck with Diaz. On Saturday night, the Longhorns lost at BYU, 40-21, allowing 550 rushing yards. Brown fired Diaz on Sunday. If that solves the Longhorns’ issues, Brown will be fine. But by sticking with Diaz, Brown used up a lot of goodwill.

2. That said, USC athletic director Pat Haden is not in the same predicament as Brown. When Haden gave Trojans coach Lane Kiffin a preseason vote of confidence, he well may have meant it. It was interpreted, however, as campaign rhetoric, something Haden had to say. Haden didn’t hire Kiffin, so he doesn’t own him -- yet. USC’s 10-7 loss at home to Washington State on Saturday night puts Kiffin in a deep hole. He can still dig out. But he needs a quarterback, not a shovel.

3. Oregon freshman tailback Thomas Tyner made his collegiate debut Saturday. The high school All-American rushed four times for 51 yards, including touchdowns of 3 and 31 yards, in the mop-up fourth quarter of the Ducks’ 59-10 victory at Virginia. “I’ve wanted to play for the Ducks for the majority of my childhood,” Tyner said, wearing a permagrin. “My first carry being a touchdown, everything just lights up inside of you. Words can’t even explain how exciting it is. Today has been awesome.”

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