USC Trojans: 3-point stance

1. When USC finished practice Tuesday, center Max Tuerk and quarterback Cody Kessler stayed behind to work on snaps. Tuerk, a junior, has started 14 games at guard and six at tackle. But the Trojans need a center, so he’s learning the position this spring. He learned to tape his fingers -- two rings of tape on two fingers, one ring of tape on the other two -- and to carry a towel, all to keep sweat off the ball. He has learned to stay lower and, as he put it, get his feet in the ground faster. “The more reps you take, you don’t have to think about the snap as much,” Tuerk said. “You can think about the blocks.”

2. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is working more under center this spring. “It’s different,” the redshirt junior said. “Being under center and being in the shotgun are two different views. When you are under center, you are right there….You have to take your seven-step drop, push up in the pocket while keeping your shoulders (level).” If Hundley has a peccadillo, it is maintaining the balance of his shoulders. UCLA coach Jim Mora said he wants to work Hundley under center to expand the offense. If it helps Hundley in the 2015 NFL Draft, even better.

3. Stanford wide receiver Jordan Pratt will be 29 years old when the football season begins. He enrolled after spending eight seasons pitching in the Dodgers’ minor-league system. “I’ll make a comment, ‘Yeah, I remember, Sept. 11, 2001, I got called out of my high school class,’” Pratt said. His teammates respond, “‘High school? I don’t even remember that. I was in preschool.’ There is this time gap. Sometimes I relate better to the TAs in my class than I do the other students. It’s a lot easier for me to talk to the professors. It’s a little easier for them to relate, too.”
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Jay Paterno entered the race for the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor late, and now he has withdrawn early.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.
1. Let me stipulate that Steve Sarkisian is a talented coach who didn’t get sufficient credit for the resurrection of Washington football. But the expectations that Sark will pick up USC and deposit it into the top 10 are shortsighted. The coach might be new, but the Trojans are still operating under NCAA scholarship reductions. USC still has fewer players than the other contenders, and more of the Trojans are young and inexperienced. A team with one quarterback who has taken a college snap (sophomore Cody Kessler) is headed for the playoffs? USC’s margin of error remains too thin.

2. Hard as it is to believe with a school that has sent Johnny Unitas, Brian Brohm, Stefan LeFors, Dave Ragone, Browning Nagle and Chris Redman to the NFL, but Teddy Bridgewater will likely be the first Louisville quarterback to be drafted in the first round. Blake Bortles of UCF can’t claim that -- Daunte Culpepper went in the first round in 1999. Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M almost could, but Ryan Tannehill became the first Aggie to go in the first round two years ago. Of course the Aggies were a team that ran first and threw later forever.

3. If you love college football, I shouldn’t have to tell you to read Dan Jenkins’ autobiography, “His Ownself,” published last week. Dan’s 80-year love affair with the game shines throughout. My favorite nugget: Dan recounting how 1938 Heisman winner Davey O’Brien once explained to him that two rules adopted in 1934 made way for the passing game we love today. One reduced the circumference of the ball one inch, making it easier to grasp. The other rescinded the five-yard penalty for throwing more than one incompletion in a series of downs.
1. Back to football on Michael Sam for a moment. Even as SEC Defensive Player of the Year, the Missouri defensive end is projected as a middle-round pick because he hasn’t shown the flexibility or the lateral movement that NFL scouts want at that position. From what I am told of his work at the Senior Bowl, he had trouble changing direction. Sam’s strengths: good hands, which are critical to his demonstrated ability to get off blocks.

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

3. The graduate-and-transfer rule that Jacob Coker (Florida State to Alabama) and Max Wittek (USC to …?) are using is eight years old, and it seems to me that football coaches are finally accepting it. I like what North Carolina State head coach Dave Doeren said when graduate quarterback Pete Thomas decided to transfer. “I have really enjoyed coaching him and want him to be successful as a player and in life. Going forward I will do anything I can to help him through his transition as a transfer.” Here’s hoping Thomas has as much success as the last Wolfpack quarterback to use the rule: Russell Wilson.
1. Pete Carroll joined Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer as the only coaches to win a national championship and a Super Bowl. But he is the fourth head coach to win a national championship and an NFL title. Paul Brown finished No. 1 at Ohio State in 1942, and won three NFL Championships with the Cleveland Browns in the 1950s (and four titles in the All-America Football Conference right after World War II).

2. What strikes me about Carroll’s double is how few men who won a national championship even tried to coach in the NFL. Beginning in 1936, when the Associated Press began its poll, I counted 15: in addition to the four coaches above, add Dan Devine, Dennis Erickson, Lou Holtz, John McKay, John Robinson, Bobby Ross, Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Gene Stallings, Jock Sutherland and Bud Wilkinson.

3. It’s early, I know, but Notre Dame is already shaping up as one of the most interesting stories going into the 2014 season. Quarterback Everett Golson is back, but the anchor of the defensive line, nose tackle Louis Nix III left early for the NFL, and coach Brian Kelly has new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Not to mention slipping from 12-1 in 2012 to 9-4 last season. This will be Kelly’s fifth season in South Bend. The last coach employed at Notre Dame for more than five seasons? Lou Holtz (1986-96).

3-point stance: Tide adjusts at QB

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
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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.

3-point stance: Mariota puts on a show

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
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1. The Marcus Mariota we saw for two-and-a-half quarters Monday evening before cramps took away his running game is the Oregon quarterback who made it deep into October as the Heisman Trophy favorite. Mariota is a good passer who can improve. Mariota on healthy wheels makes the Duck offense lethal. He and Jameis Winston will get the bulk of the offseason attention. With good reason.

2. The Pac-12 went into the National University Holiday Bowl on Monday night with a 4-1 bowl record, which means the league was a Washington State last-minute meltdown in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl away from a perfect record. You can argue that the matchups favored the Pac-12 teams and you would be correct. But that shouldn’t diminish what an outstanding year the league had. And with the hiring of Chris Petersen at Washington, the Pac-12 just got tougher.

3. The Seattle Times reports that Petersen asked Marques Tuiasosopo to stay at Washington, where he had been quarterback coach, where he remains the last quarterback to win a Rose Bowl. And Tuiasosopo wants to go with Steve Sarkisian to be USC’s tight ends coach. Maybe Tuiasosopo wants to flesh out his resume and show he will coach anywhere. Maybe Sarkisian knows how to keep a staff together. It wouldn’t be a long-term blow to Petersen. But it underlines the change that has come to U-Dub.

3-point stance: Big boost for CSU

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
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1. Colorado State scoring 11 points in the last 33 seconds to upend Washington State, 48-45 is a testament to the idea of playing for 60 minutes. The Rams trailed the Cougars 35-13 in the second quarter and 45-30 with 3:00 to play. Not only did the win make Colorado State 8-6, the Rams’ most successful season since 2002, but the boost it will provide during the offseason is immeasurable. Those early-morning mat drills don’t seem quite so onerous when you finish like the Rams did.

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

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

3-point stance: Bridgewater's future

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
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1. It has been a foregone conclusion that Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will leave a year early to go to the NFL. That Bridgewater said he has made no decision is interesting. He has already gotten his degree. The reasons to stay would be loyalty to friends and to coaches, or to enjoy a last year of college, or to become more football-mature. History is pretty clear: quarterbacks benefit from playing that extra year in college. I hope that Bridgewater withstands the pull of the NFL for one more year. But that’s hard to do.

2. The grumbling about Kirk Ferentz at Iowa has quieted again, now that the Hawkeyes went 8-4 and finished tied for second in the Big Ten Legends. Ferentz’s teams are almost metronomic in the way they swing from mediocre to good and back again. That’s maddening to fans in this day and age. But Ferentz re-established Iowa as a program that plays sound, fundamental football. Ferentz and Bob Stoops of Oklahoma began the same season, 1999, at their current jobs and had the same kind of 15th season: overachieving, with big finishes.

3. The rise of USC redshirt sophomore tailback Javorious Allen is fascinating when juxtaposed against the injury struggles of his teammate, senior Silas Redd. Allen came on strong in the back half of the season and finished with 699 yards and the team MVP award. Redd left Penn State on the cusp of the 2012 season, in what appeared to be an escape from Penn State’s NCAA sanctions. In two seasons at USC, Redd rushed 248 times for 1,281 yards. As a sophomore at Penn State in 2011, Redd rushed 244 times for 1,241 yards.

3-point stance: Wake Forest starts over

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
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1. Jim Grobe is an old-school guy, a nice man who always wanted the attention to go to his players instead of himself. His 13-year career at Wake Forest ended Monday with Grobe tied for the most wins (77) in school history. Wake AD Ron Wellman spoke for a lot of people in extolling Grobe’s tenure. But it has been seven seasons since Wake won the ACC and five since the Demon Deacons had a winning record. In a season when Duke won the ACC Coastal, it’s time for Wake to start anew.

2. You don’t have to search very hard on the Washington Huskies football website to find a page with a photo of Steve Sarkisian and one of his favorite sayings: “a relentless pursuit of a competitive edge.” In the end, that may be why Sark returned to USC. He has seen USC’s built-in advantages of tradition and proximity to talent and the positive attention that can envelop a good Trojans team. Meanwhile, he built a foundation -- and Washington built a new football complex and stadium -- that will give his successor a leg up as well.

3. So Duke and Stanford have 10-2 records and are division champions, and Vandy went 8-4 for the second consecutive year. But don’t forget what David Bailiff has done at Rice, which is 9-3 and won the C-USA West. Rice will host Marshall for the league title on Saturday. The Owls last won an outright league (Southwest Conference, RIP) championship in 1957, about six months before Bailiff was born.

3-point stance: Suggestion for the ACC

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
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1. No knock on Duke or Miami or Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech, all of whom could still win the ACC Coastal. But it’s worth noting that Clemson, which is far and away better than any of them, will not be playing in the ACC Championship Game because the Tigers have the misfortune of playing in the ACC Atlantic with Florida State. Don’t California elections put the top two vote-getters in a runoff regardless of party? Hey ACC, it’s something to think about.

2. USC, 4-1 under interim head coach Ed Orgeron, is primed to beat a Stanford team that has won four straight in a rivalry that’s usually one-sided in the other direction. But as the geeks at ESPN Stats & Info point out, USC has played 10 games this season without playing a ranked team. The Trojans, with about 50 scholarship players, will take on the most physical team they play this year. If USC pulls off the upset, it should make athletic director Pat Haden seriously consider removing “interim” from Orgeron’s title. It may be tough to lure a top coach when USC won’t have 85 scholarship players until 2017.

3. No. 7 Auburn (9-1, 5-1) has been the surprise of the 2013 season, rebounding from a 3-9 disaster to challenge No. 1 Alabama in the SEC West. The Tigers have only two games left, against their biggest rivals, No. 25 Georgia and the Crimson Tide. The Tigers are confident, and no matter what coaches say about focusing on the task before them, you have to believe they remember the last two years. Auburn lost the last two to Georgia by a combined 83-7, and to Alabama by a combined 91-14.

3-point stance: Big-time turnarounds

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
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1. Turnaround I: A year ago this week, Baylor had a 4-5 record and stood last -- last! -- in FBS total defense. That Saturday, the Bears stunned No. 1 Kansas State, 52-24, and they haven’t lost since. The 12-game winning streak is a school record. And Baylor is ninth – ninth! – in total defense, allowing only 306.1 yards per game. No. 7 Auburn is getting credit for what has been a remarkable turnaround. But the 5th-ranked Bears have done a pretty nice 180 themselves.

2. Turnaround II: After a 6-1 start last season, USC finished 1-5, then started this season 3-2. Goodbye, Lane Kiffin. Hello, interim head coach Ed Orgeron. The Trojans have gone 4-1 under Orgeron. They have played better defense. The offense put up 62 points against Cal last Saturday, two more than USC scored in its previous three games combined. The Trojans host No. 4 Stanford Saturday night. The Cardinal defense will serve as a benchmark for the level of the Trojans offense. The game also might serve as Turnaround III: the last USC head coach to beat Stanford was Pete Carroll (2008).

3. In the meantime, Turnaround III: Duke is 7-2 and looking to win eight games for the first time since 1994, when the Blue Devils began the season 7-0. That team finished the season 8-4, thanks to a pair of one-point losses to neighbors North Carolina State and North Carolina. This Duke team seems different. These Blue Devils are 3-0 on the road, and they have won five straight for the first time since, yep, ’94. The last Duke team to win nine? 1941, which ended with the Blue Devils playing in the Rose Bowl on the Duke campus.
1. BYU is 6-2, has an invitation to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco, and after a bye week will play at No. 24 Wisconsin. Two weeks after that comes a road trip to No. 25 Notre Dame. In pointing out the home games the Cougars have played (and won) against Texas, Georgia Tech and Boise State, BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said, “It’s really what we were hoping when we became independent.” That’s rough scheduling for the Badgers, who must take their focus away from the Big Ten for a non-conference game that will be no pushover.

2. The last two times Boston and St. Louis faced one another in the World Series -- 1967 and 2004 -- USC won the national championship a few weeks later. So much for an omen this year. However, in 1946, when the Red Sox and Cardinals first played in the Fall Classic, USC finished 6-4. Right now, the Trojans are 5-3 and have consecutive road games at Oregon State and California. They very easily could be 6-4 after those two games.

3. Ohio State pointed out over the weekend that Urban Meyer is the first FBS head coach to have three 20-game winning streaks in his career. Meyer is 19-0 with the Buckeyes and won his final game at Florida in 2010. Over 28 seasons at Ohio State, the legendary Woody Hayes won 20 consecutive games only once. From 1967 through the next-to-last game of 1969, Ohio State won 22 straight, but Hayes’ winning streak stopped at Michigan. If Meyer is to break Hayes’ school record, victory No. 23 will come, yes, at Michigan.

3-point stance: Buckeyes’ tough task

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
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1. The new BCS standings illustrate how difficult it’s going to be for No. 4 Ohio State to move up in the ratings. No. 5 Stanford’s next game is against No. 2 Oregon. No. 6 Baylor’s next game is against No. 10 Oklahoma. No. 7 Miami’s next game is against No. 3 Florida State. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, are the only Big Ten team in the top 20. Their strength of schedule isn’t going to provide the fuel they need to keep up with their competitors.

2. Oregon State leads the FBS in passing offense with 420.8 yards per game, even after Stanford limited the Beavers to 271 passing yards and one touchdown in a 20-12 defeat on Saturday. What’s amazing though, is that the next four places in passing offense are Texas schools: Baylor, Texas Tech, SMU and Texas A&M. And yes, we know, every other NFL team has a Texas native at quarterback. But still, just a generation ago, all Texas high schools played was option football. It’s a startling shift.

3. When USC appointed defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron to replace Lane Kiffin as interim head coach, that left an opening. Orgeron called fellow southerner Pete Jenkins, generally recognized as one of the best defensive line coaches in pro or college ball of this generation. Jenkins, 72, who has been retired for three years, does contract work with potential draftees, although don’t call him a consultant. With the Trojans, he said, “I am a substitute teacher for the rest of the year.”

3-point stance: Game of numbers

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
5:00
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1. The NCAA gave SMU the death penalty and the toll was such that the NCAA has never given it again. The toll that the 10 scholarships per year has taken on USC makes me think the NCAA won’t do that again, either. The Trojans are down to 58 scholarship players. They are redshirting five freshmen. The lack of depth means more plays per player, and more reps in practice. Three players have suffered season-ending injuries in practice this week. In an era of heightened safety awareness, 15 signees per year isn’t enough.

2. College football officials have pointed to fewer targeting fouls this season as evidence that the new, stricter rule is having the desired effect. Maybe so. But the fact that of the 52 fouls, 15 have been reversed upon review speaks to the difficulty of the task foisted upon the officials. And there’s still no good answer as to why, if a replay determines the targeting is not worthy of a suspension -- i.e., there was no targeting, why the penalty shouldn’t be overturned, too.

3. Never mind the calendar. The Third Saturday in October arrives a week late in Tuscaloosa, where Tennessee and No. 1 Alabama will renew one of the SEC’s best rivalries. The Vols have showed signs of life, taking Georgia into overtime and then upsetting South Carolina. But Tennessee played both those games in Neyland Stadium. Tennessee hasn’t won a road game outside the state of Tennessee since 2009, and it hasn’t beaten Alabama anywhere since 2006.

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