Posted on: October 28, 2011 1:12 pm

Friday Mailbag: WVU's transition to Big 12

Here is this week's mailbag. As always, you can send me questions via Twitter at BFeldmanCBS.

From @JoeStier How well does WVU do in the Big12, when they're 4 Freshmen R/B's are going to be Juniors / Seniors?

The school announced it is joining the Big 12 in 2012, which means they should have a good transition since Geno Smith, unless he opts to bolt for the NFL, will be a four-year starter and have great grasp of this system. That'd be huge for them. This will be a dangerous team right away because of the firepower. Smith is one of the better QBs in the country and he'll have great skill guys around him. Tavon Austin, Steadman Bailey and Ivan McCarthy will all be back along with freshman RB Dustin Garrison. Most of the O-line returns as well, and keep in mind Josh Jenkins, a three-year starter on the line who has had to redshirt this season because of injury, also will return. With Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden moving on, WVU may come into the Big 12 with the best offense in the league.

The big concerns will be on D, where they'll have to replace CB Keith Tandy, LB Najee Goode and DE Bruce Irvin. The other challenge will be ramping up their depth. In terms of front-line talent, WVU will be more than adequate, but it's the depth where they'll need help. They've been able to get away with it in the Big East because it's not a strong conference, but upping the competition on a weekly basis, especially when facing more physically talented teams such as OU, Texas and Oklahoma State will take a toll.

Going forward, WVU is set up well to take advantage of the Big 12 connection since this staff has a lot of guys with Southwest roots. Not only did Dana Holgorsen spend a lot of time in Texas, but so did O-line coach Bill Bedenbaugh and WR coach Shannon Dawson. WR/ST coach Daron Roberts is a Texas native. RB coach Robert Gillespie coached at Oklahoma State and QB coach Jake Spavital is the son of a prominent Oklahoma high school coach. The school, though, must upgrade its commitment to football when it comes to its indoor practice facility, practice field and getting private planes for recruiting as well as the signage stuff of making the place look more like a big-time program. What they had was fine for the Big East, but it'll fall short by Big 12 standards.

WVU won't beat OU or UT for prime Texas kids, but they'll have a better shot against the Baylors, Kansas schools and teams from the Big Ten that go in there. This news also should help in the Eastern Seaboard against Va. Tech, Maryland and other locals schools since they're no longer in an inferior league to the ACC. They're in a better one. And getting off to a good start in 2012 will help preceptions that they can hang in that bigger league.

Beyond the 2012 season, much of this is going to depend on the development freshman QB Paul Millard and commit Ford Childress. Even more than most teams, Holgorsen's system is so dependent on the quarterback's play. I know the staff is really high on Millard and Childress, who'll arrive at mid-year, has a big rep in recruiting circles. McCartney and Bailey are just sophomores. They are redshirting three O-linemen and their best young CB Terrell Chestnut, a former four-star recruit. The biggest priority for WVU in recruiting is on both lines. Now it's only that much more crucial.

  From @mutigerfan5   How will MIZZOU do in recruiting in the SEC?

At first glance, the Tigers figure to only do better now that they're attached to the best conference in college football. They've always recruited well in Texas (Chase Daniel, James Franklin among other) and should continue to do so, especially since there's a Texas connection with the SEC via Texas A&M. The one thing where it could negatively affect the program is they're also stepping up in competition. They join a league where there's twice as many strong teams that have football factory sensibilities. If Gary Pinkel's staff can't ramp up, this long run of eight-to-10 win seasons (he's had three double-digit win seasons in the past four years) will end fast. And it's a lot easier to recruit when your team is a Top 20 team than a 6-6, just scrambling to get bowl eligible team.

It's a little different dynamic than what WVU faces even though both are going into tougher leagues, the Mountaineers are set up better to make a faster start. From @flickster  What do you think are the chances Urban Meyer is coaching at Ohio State next year?

I'd put the percentage at 75 percent. I expect Meyer to come back to coaching. I'm sure it's been great for him to recharge his batteries and spend more time with his family, but for many guys who are wired the way he is, the temptation to coach and be competitive on the highest level is too great. Ohio State is one of the few elite jobs out there that figure to come open in the next 18 months, and I think he realizes that.

Penn State may be an option, but why be the guy replacing a legend there, especially if JoePa himself, much less the aura of him, still is around State College? Texas, potentially, could come open in a year or so if Mack Brown's team doesn't make bigger strides, but that's no sure thing.

At OSU, a school he once coached at, there is the change to be a savior and lead the Buckeyes back to the top and end the SEC's dominance. That last part figures to be intriguing for a guy as competitive and driven as the Ohio native after just having won two BCS titles in the SEC.

From @MikePesesky  Despite the easiest imaginable schedule, and potential 10-2 record, is Mark Richt off the hot seat at Georgia?

Not yet he's not. This weekend against UF is a Must-Win game as my colleague Tony Barnhart wrote earlier this week. Georgia fans will look at this Gator team that has been blown out by LSU and Bama and lost by double-digits to Auburn and say 'if not now, when?' Richt's record against UF is terrible: He is  0-1 against Steve Spurrier; 1-2 against Ron Zook and was 1-5 against Meyer. If he goes 0-1 against Will Muschamp he probably won't get a chance to even his record.

From @abellwillring 
Obvious one but do you think Keenum enters Heisman race with his huge night? Or is he still seen as too much of a system QB?

As I pointed out on Twitter earlier today, Keenum's nine TD passes in about three quarters in the rain and slop against Rice is actually more than 31 teams have throw all of this season. It doesn't hurt than he's leading a team that has a good shot of being undefeated and he's breaking all kinds of national records.

The downside for him is people will dismiss his exploits to a large extent because of the competition he faces more than him being a "system" guy. I don't see that holding Brandon Weeden back in people's eyes. When UCLA, 88th in pass defense, is one of the better defenses you face, it's going to drum up some skeptics.

The other big factor working against him is that Andrew Luck is seen by most as the best QB out there and his team is in the top 10 and that is taking away a lot of the thunder from Keenum and Kellen Moore especially.

From @Philly_Sak I know Wis, MSU, NEB, and OSU are mentioned a lot but what are PSUs chances of making the B1G title game in your opinion?

I give the Nittany Lions an outside shot. They have a terrific defense and Silas Redd has really come on to spark the offense. The QB play is holding them back and will have to get much better as the schedule heats up over the final month with Illinois, Nebraska and then at both OSU and Wisconsin. Expecting anything better than 2-2 seems too optimistic given what we've seen so far from both QBs.

Obviously it would also help PSU a lot of Ohio State can beat Wisconsin this weekend. I don't like the Nittany Lions shot of winning in Madison in the final week of the regular season.

Posted on: October 27, 2011 2:17 pm
Edited on: October 27, 2011 2:24 pm

Hal Mumme's latest QB as talented as Couch?

Once again, Hal Mumme is leading the country in passing. No big surprise there that he's got a team piling up points, but it's the blossoming of his fell-through-the-cracks quarterback that is starting to get some attention for a tiny school in Texas.

Mumme, the former Kentucky coach, is now at tiny McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, a Division III program about to make the jump up to D2. The War Hawks (5-2) are in one those of those transitional years where they faced a few programs from bigger classifications, teams that can give scholarships. In their opener, the War Hawks were pounded 82-6 by FCS power Stephen F. Austin, but since then Mumme's team has been rolling. They came back the following week to beat another scholarship program from what used to be known as 1-AA, UTSA, 24-21. 

McMurry, running the prolific Air-Raid system, is averaging 380 yards per game. They've won their past four games by an average of 54-16.

Mumme's attack is led by an intriguing prospect named Jake Mullin, a 6-3, 225-pound junior quarterback already generating a little buzz from pro scouts. It's not often Division III players get that kind of attention, but Mullin's unique.

He was passed over by major college recruiters because he played in a run-heavy Wing-T system at Burleson High. The scouts who did notice him may have been scared off because Mullin's a standout baseball player and there was speculation he might get drafted and go that route. It also didn't help that he has a speech impediment and scouts are skeptical about QBs who struggle to bark out play calls in the huddle or communicate with teammates. He ended up on the baseball team at McMurry, a school of about 1300 students.

Mumme was hired in 2009 to take over a program that had gone 0-10 the previous year. He was grateful to find the big QB on the campus. Actually, when the coach arrived, he'd asked his players if there were any QBs on the team, thinking maybe there'd be a guy with some throwing ability that got switched to another position. Instead, Mumme was told by the players, the best QB at the school was playing intermural football and tearing it up. A few of Mullin's old high school teammates were football players at McMurry and informed Mumme that the QB could really throw it, but his coaches hadn't let him throw it. Mumme went to see Mullin play baseball and could see the kid's athleticism as the all-conference outfielder wowed the football coach.

Mullin had heard plenty from his buddies and was intrigued by the opportunity to play in Mumme's system. After some bad luck, Mullin, who has had to overcome a bout with the Swine Flu and a broken collarbone in his first two seasons of college football, has picked up the Air-Raid scheme quite well. 

"He's really, really good," Mumme told me Thursday morning of the QB with a 20-8 TD-INT ratio and a 66 percent completion mark this fall. "He's got one more year with us, but he's about as good as anybody I ever had."

When Mumme said that, it stunned me to hear the coach make such a statement about the DIII QB when he'd coached, among others, Tim Couch, a guy who was the first pick overall of the NFL draft.

"Jake is great with his feet," Mumme said. "He's probably 6-3, 225, runs about a 4.65 and has real live arm. He is a very accurate deep passer. He can throw the long out from the hash mark which we do a lot. He's a smart kid. He's just gotta learn to be more patient to dump it off because he's so good at spinning out of the pocket and making a play."

Yeah, but as good as Couch?

"I'd hesitate to say that," Mumme said. "With the competition level, it's hard to say that right now, but physically, he's definitely as good."

Word has gotten out. NFL scouts have already been to Abilene to take a look at Mullin, Mumme said. Last week, McMurry beat Texas Lutheran on the road 60-16 with Mullin going 43-57 for 614 yards and four TDs. 

Mullin and the War Hawks will face stiffer competition on 2012 when they move up to D2. They'll play McNeese State and Lamar and several other bigger programs.

Just how much of an issue Mullin's speech impediment may have in pro scouts' eyes remains to be seen. "His really isn't that bad," said Mumme. "When I first met him I actually didn't know he had one. It's more of a stammer than a stutter. He'll probably need some tutoring on that because in our system it's easy with the play calls because the plays are one or two words. In the NFL, it's like 18 words together."

For now, Mumme's just excited about how much better Mullin can get in his system. You can pretty much count on the QB to have a few more days with gaudy stat lines.
Category: NCAAF
Posted on: October 26, 2011 10:02 am
Edited on: October 27, 2011 1:42 pm

Stats That Matter: Enough with the missed tackles

Our Stats That Matter examines the man behind the most improved unit in college football this season, new Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. Under the former Baltimore Ravens DC, the 6-1 Wolverines are eighth in the country in scoring defense, up from 108th last year. Yeah, you could say jumping 100 spots nationally is a remarkable turnaround. It's been a dramatic shift, not just in scheme but in execution for a group that is no longer giving up one big play after another and has been able to avoid surrendering those heart-breaking third-down conversions. Michigan ranked 95th in that in 2010 and is up to a respectable 54th.

Mattison traces that improvement to one of his points of emphasis: cutting down on missed tackles. His barometer: "We want eight or less per game," he said.

The Wolverines are averaging around six missed tackles per game, by the Michigan staff's tabulations. The Wolverines hit Mattison's target in five of their seven games. Not so surprisingly, the Wolverines needed some late-game heroics from quarterback Denard Robinson to overcome a game where they had 11 missed tackles in a 35-31 win over Notre Dame. In Michigan's last time out, a 28-14 loss at Michigan State, UM suffered its first loss after it ended up with three times the number of missed tackles it has averaged this fall.

How did Mattison arrive at the eight missed-tackle benchmark? Of course, he would love to see his team not miss a single tackle over the course of a game, but Mattison says you have to be realistic. The athletes you're trying to defend are so talented, so quick, so strong and so determined that you're almost bound to have at least a few missed tackles in 60 minutes.

For Wolverines fans, watching their defense in recent years had to be excruciating as the team surrendered soul-crushing third-and-long conversions, often due to missed tackles. The Wolverines allowed opponents to convert on a lofty 24 percent on situations of third-and-10 or longer in 2010. Worse still, that number jumped to a staggering 35.4 percent in the second half of the season. This year in the same situations, the number is down to just 8 percent.

When I asked Mattison about the psychological effect of a guy missing a tackle, enabling the defense not to be able to get off the field on a third-and-long, he pointed out even the verbiage of such a question gets to the core of what he's looking to remedy.

"It shouldn't be 'a' guy," Mattison said. "For us, when we came in here, our whole thing was, the players are the players we have. That's it. It's not like the NFL where you can draft somebody or trade somebody. Our whole goal was to get the players that we have on defense to play 'Michigan Defense.' And when we say 'Michigan Defense,' that means it was first, an honor to play for Michigan. And once it was honor to play at Michigan, it became an obligation to play at that standard. That level was established a long time ago. You just had to play up to that level, and that level, in its simplest form, came down to pursuing to the football. You had to play hard on every play. A loaf, or taking a play off or not going hard, was just unacceptable. I think that's something we've really worked hard to try to get back to.

"Along with that, there's a difference between running to the football and burning up calories, and running to the football with an intent of hitting a guy as hard as you can hit him and tackling him.

"If you watch college football, you'll see some teams where guys run real hard and burn up a lot of energy, but they're not going at the right pursuit angles or more importantly, what might've been the case is your secondary doesn't keep the ball inside and in front of them, so what happens is the other seven guys that are running to the football, sooner or later, quit running. But if they know that the ball is corralled, and they know that the secondary is going to keep it in a cup there, then 'I'm going to get a good shot at him if I run to the ball.' And that is something we've tried very hard to establish. You have to keep the ball inside and in front. The biggest reason for giving up big plays is not always missed tackles, it's because there's only one guy trying to make the tackle. But if the corner and the safeties and the other corner all keep it cupped and corralled, then the rest of the team can get there and you have those gang tackles, which keep you from giving up big plays."

Mattison, who replaced Greg Robinson as the Wolverines defensive coordinator in the offseason, tried to steer clear of talking about what may be different scheme-wise or even technique-wise in how the team prepares for gamedays:

"I don't want to talk about anything that was done before. I know what we believe in defensively. You have to keep it inside and in front. There is never, ever an option of not going hard to the football. And the key words are 'to the football' and where the football is going to be. If you see the ball breaks outside and a big lineman is chasing, he's never gonna catch it: 'Don't chase it, cut it off! Go where it's gonna be!' We practice that every single day all the time. Every single practice play if that lineman is not running at an angle where he can go make the play, he is going to hear about it. And if he does it too much, he won't be in there. Our guys have bought into that. They truly understand now that that's how you're supposed to play when you wear the winged helmet on defense."

Toward that end, Mattison has the team tackle live one day of the week in practice. "A lot of teams don't do that," he said. "Every individual drill by position there is a period of tackling that is done one day a week."

Having to cope with someone as elusive and explosive as Robinson and his backup, Devin Gardner, another fleet-footed quarterback, also help condition the Wolverines defense, Mattison says, adding that, "I go home every night and I drop down on my knees and say a little prayer: 'Thank you for not making me play against Denard in a game.'"

It wouldn't seem like a stretch to think all of the preaching about taking proper pursuit angles, running to the football and gang tackling is the reason why Michigan is tied for tops in the country with 14 fumbles recovered. That also comes out of just 16 loose fumbles. Other teams around the Wolverines in that category high in the NCAA rankings actually have a much lower percentage of fumbles recovered. (Last year, the Wolverines were 87th in fumble recoveries with just seven, which came from 12 free footballs.)

Mattison certainly buys the cause-and-effect theory. "Somebody asked me one time, 'Have you guys been really lucky?' Well, I don't ever comment on luck or not lucky, but I think preparation and effort gives you that luck. Over the years, you've seen so many games where somebody decided not to run to the football and the offense fumbles it and that ball is just laying out there. You look at them and say, 'If you'd just would've went harder, you would've gotten that ball.'"

While the true worth of how good this Michigan defense will be revealed over the next month with games remaining against five teams with all winning records, including archrival Ohio State, Mattison is optimistic about the young base of talent he has in Ann Arbor.

"Jake Ryan is a redshirt freshman, who is gonna be a heckuva player and he plays with great effort. Freshman Desmond Morgan is coming on, so is Blake Countess, another freshman. Brandin Hawthorne is also really improving."

The player who seems to have made the biggest impression on him is a former walk-on safety, junior Jordan Kovacs. "When I think of a Michigan football, I think of Jordan Kovacs," Mattison said. "But you have to re-earn it every game to get labeled a Michigan Defensive Player."

There are other defenders on the team who have made some big plays for the Wolverines this year, who Mattison says think they're playing hard, think they playing well, but the 61-year-old coach points out to them that they're playing hard, compared to what? It comes back to the kid not really knowing what he doesn't really know.

Before coaching in the NFL, Mattison had spent five years in Ann Arbor in the mid-'90s, helping lead the Wolverines to a Rose Bowl. He's seen Michigan when it was a Big Ten powerhouse. He's also coached at Notre Dame and worked against the Wolverines when they won a national title. He remembers what made the program special and is convinced it's on the right path to get back to that now under first-year head coach Brady Hoke, a former Wolverines assistant.

"It's like you went back 15 years," says Mattison. "He has done such a fabulous job of instilling all of the pride and all of the tradition that made Michigan great. This guy is perfect for Michigan because of the love and the belief that he has in this program. There is a misconception that I think everybody thought 'They have great players.' Well, there were a lot of really good players, but it's that they played really, really hard and they all played for the team. And Brady has done an unbelievable job of bringing that back."
Category: NCAAF
Tags: Michigan
Posted on: October 25, 2011 11:06 am
Edited on: October 25, 2011 11:19 am

Tuesday Top 10: Coaches on the hottest seats

As the BCS races becomes even more frenetic, a handful of other programs are just trying to salvage their seasons for respectability and establish some momentum for the future. Anything they can do in hopes of avoiding a coaching change to get more one season. It's not even Halloween yet and we've already had three head coaches losing their jobs. More turnover is coming. You can count on it. This week's Tuesday Top 10: The 10 coaches on the hottest seats in the FBS:

1. Rick Neuheisel, UCLA: The former Bruin standout QB has just not been able to get anything going in four seasons at his alma mater. He has tried virtually everything, from going all-in on the Pistol to turning over his coaching staff last off-season. But it's just not working out. On paper, he has recruited very well with three top-15 ranked classes in his first three seasons, however all he has to show for it is a record of 18-26 overall and 10-20 in league play. The most frustrating part for Bruin fans is that there has been opportunity to benefit from instability across town with USC coping with massive NCAA sanctions.

As I wrote in the Friday mailbag after the Bruins' dreadful performance on national television in their blowout loss to a reeling Arizona squad, UCLA still has a chance to win the Pac-12 South if it runs the table. But that seems like such a long shot after seeing its most recent showing that leads you to believe they are incapable of running off five consecutive wins. (Four of which would come against teams better than Arizona.) In fact, you wonder if they're even capable of winning three of those games to finish .500.

2. Houston Nutt, Ole Miss:
The pressure is clearly wearing on Nutt. Over the weekend, he lit into a reporter at a post-game press conference because the guy had predicted the Rebels were going to get blown out by Arkansas. The Rebels squandered a 17-0 lead, but "only" lost 29-24, stretching the program's losing streak in SEC play to 10 games, an Ole Miss record for futility. It was the first time in four tries that Nutt's team hadn't lost a conference game by at least two touchdowns. Then again, a few weeks earlier, that same reporter, Neil McCready, a writer for the local Rivals Ole Miss site, had predicted the Rebels would get thumped by Alabama. They did. Nutt never said anything about that. Earlier this season, Ole Miss got crushed by Vandy in a way the Commodores never beat another SEC program.

Nutt got off to a terrific start in Oxford with the Rebels winning nine games in each of his first two seasons, but recruiting has not gone so well and that has caught up with the former Arkansas coach. The talent level has fallen off. He's 1-12 in his past 13 SEC games and he may not even match last season's total of four wins. The Rebels are 116th in the total offense and 110th in total defense. It would cost the school at least $6 million to dump Nutt, but don't be surprised if both he and his AD Pete Boone both get the boot this year. It's gotten that ugly in Oxford.

3. Neil Callaway, UAB: Thanks to a big upset win over UCF last week, Callaway's team has finally gotten its first win of 2011, and with Memphis and FAU remaining, a 3-9 season is within reach. However in Year Five for him at the school, it'd seem like a mighty long shot that would be good enough. The Blazers are 118th in scoring and 95th in defense. Callaway is 16-43 all-time at UAB.

4. Paul Wulff, Washington State: The Cougars jumped out to a 3-1 start albeit those three wins did come against teams that are a combined 4-18, they have lost a lot of steam. They've been blown out the past two weeks, first by Stanford and then by an Oregon State team that came in 1-5. Wulff may need to win three of his next five to keep his job, and two of those are against ranked teams. The finale at Washington figures to be crucial for a guy who has seen his program getting a lot better over the past two years. Still, he is only 8-37.

5. Steve Fairchild, Colorado State:  He got off to a nice start, going to and winning a bowl game in his rookie season. Since then, its been really shaky. Fairchild's just 3-15 in the past three years of league play and 3-4 overall this year, and on a three-game losing streak. Worse still, one of those losses came against arch-rival CU, which is the Buffs (1-7) lone win this year. With five games remaining, but only one is against a team with a losing record (1-5 UNLV), Fairchild probably needs an upset or two to feel some security. Keep in mind this is a program that only had four losing seasons in 16 years under Sonny Lubick.

6. Tom O'Brien, N.C. State: The Pack just got a big road win at Virginia, which has to help O'Brien's prospects. With dismal Maryland and his former school BC still remaining on the schedule, he has a very good shot to get this team to a bowl game, but even that might not be enough. He is just 15-20 in ACC play and generating only one winning season out of five may be a tough sell for the NCSU brass to buy that he's the right guy to lead the program to bigger things.

7. Larry Porter, Memphis: It's hard to dump a guy after just two seasons, but Porter is dangling after a brutal first year and some stunning blowout losses, including a 47-3 loss to Arkansas State and 28-6 loss to a Rice team that is 2-5. Porter, though, got a much-needed W last week when the Tigers beat a Tulane team that just got rid of its head man Bob Toledo. The Tigers still have a home game with UAB remaining, so even though 3-9 sounds horrible, it may show enough growth for him to get a third season.

8. Frank Spaziani, Boston College:
The Eagles have been solid for decades and haven't won less than seven games since 1998, but they have really dropped off since Spaziani took over in 2009. BC had won 30 games the previous three seasons before he was elevated to head coach. Since then, it's been eight wins, seven wins and now they'll be fortunate to win three this season. Spaziani's career record is over .500 (17-16) but can he survive a horrible 2011, where BC is 1-7 and hasn't beaten an FBS program yet?

9. Turner Gill, Kansas: After doing a nice job at Buffalo, where he won a MAC championship, Gill is off to a disastrous start at KU. He's 1-11 in his first 12 Big 12 games and just 5-14 overall. Jayhawk fans left a lot of seats in last week's big rivalry game for K-State fans who watched the Wildcats smash KU, 59-21. They've been outscored in conference play by an average of 32 ppg. They're on a five-game losing streak, which could double by season's end with a trip to Iowa State being their best bet to end the skid.

10. Robb Akey, Idaho:
After leading the Vandals to a Humanitarian Bowl win in 2009, the program has backslide again, going 7-13 the past two years and winning just three league games.
Posted on: October 21, 2011 12:02 pm

Friday Mailbag: The mess at UCLA

Here is this week's mailbag. If you have questions, send them to me on Twitter at BFeldmanCBS.

From @hogeandrew With the blowout loss to Arizona last night, is Rick Neuheisel finally done?

I realize UCLA Dan Guerrero tried to be supportive of his coach in the wake of that embarrassing 48-12 loss but the Arizona game was critical for Neuheisel. Not only could he not afford to lose that game, the last thing he needed was for his team to get blown out on national television by a team that was 1-5 and ranked 119th in rushing. Zona finished with 254 rushing yards and clearly looked like the team that wanted to be there. The Bruins, who were still in the thick of the Pac-12 South race, never showed up.

The Bruins fell to 3-4 and 2-2 in conference play. I supposed if they ran the table, which would include beating ASU and arch-rival USC that--and probably only that--would save his job. But realistically, the team that showed up Thursday night does not appear capable of running off five consecutive wins. Four of which would come against teams better than the one that mauled them on national TV.

Personally, I like Rick Neuheisel a lot. I think he's one of the brightest guys in coaching. He's personable, funny and I can attest to him being a truly decent man. On paper, he has recruited very well at UCLA with his first three signing class all in the top 15. But for a variety of reasons, it just isn't working out: They've never been able to find a QB; the O-line has been a disaster for much of his time and the defense, which on the hoof sure looks the part, has not gotten any better. It's only gotten older. And when Neuheisel hit the re-set button on his coaching staff after three seasons, it hasn't gotten results. And quite frankly, it is all about results. It's Year Four and they should be doing better, especially since with USC falling off and dealing with NCAA sanctions, the window of opportunity has only widened since he arrived.

From @kacpeters where would you rank texas a&m in the sec this year (obviously behind lsu/bama at 1&2)

At this point, with Marcus Lattimore out for the season, I'd rank Texas A&M fourth among SEC teams behind Alabama, LSU and Arkansas. The Aggies have an explosive offense and a suspect defense, but one that is good at getting pressure on the QB. In many ways they remind me of Arkansas, the team that rallied to beat them. Now if Lattimore was healthy, I'd say the Aggies would also be behind South Carolina.

From @Ole_Met now that Carolina has an AD, any idea who they're looking at for HC?

My hunch is that Bubba Cunningham will take a long look at Auburn OC Gus Malzahn. Both have Tulsa ties and Malzahn is a well-respected offensive mind. His offense has struggled quite a bit this year (the Tigers are 77th in scoring), but a big dropoff was expected with the program losing Cam Newton and almost all of their O-linemen. Even if they finish no better than 7-5, Malzahn still will be an attractive candidate and I'd think would be tempted given the ACC is a lot easier to win a conference title than the SEC would be.

From abellwillring do you think FSU has a chance to salvage the season? Would winning out make the year a success or still a huge disappointment?

No. It's too late for that. This was supposed to be the year the Noles came back on the national stage in a big way. And, it wasn't just the media talking them up. Jimbo Fisher played a big part in that in the off-season. They came into the year ranked No. 6, but they completely fizzled. Falling  to OU at home, especially after losing your starting QB is nothing to be ashamed about, but to drop three in a row, including against unranked Wake Forest isn't the stuff of elite programs. 

Look at the rest of the schedule. There are no ranked teams remaining. There is nothing that will get people's attention and show that this isn't the same overhyped team that it had been in the past few years, where all of those four and five-star recruits didn't translate into Top 10 teams.

From @SteveFeenEven with Penn State's revolving QB door, do you think they have a legit shot at the B10 title game behind Redd and their D?

I doubt it. They are too sluggish on offense. If they're going to win their division, one of these two QBs needs to really emerge fast. I'm skeptical because you'd have think if it was going to happen, it would've occurred by now. Thus far, they've been winning on defense and, quite frankly, shaky competition. The closest thing PSU has to a good win is beating unranked Iowa, who had already lost to Iowa State. After this Northwestern game, the schedule gets much tougher, the Nittany Lions are going to have to do much better. They've played a bunch of suspect defenses (aside from Alabama and Temple) and they're still only 96th in scoring and 102nd in passing efficiency.

From @adamdounn How do you think The U will do the rest of the season? I love Golden and very impressed with Jedd Fisch on improving J-12

After this week's game against No. 22 Georgia Tech, the Canes schedule eases up some, I'd expect them to be no worse than 8-4, which considering they started 2-3 and with a ton of turmoil amid the Nevin Shapiro scandal and all of those suspensions, that wouldn't be too bad for Golden's first season. Not great, but respectable all things considered.

Fisch has proven to be a terrific find as the OC. People were skeptical because he had only one season as a college offensive coordinator at Minnesota and the results were mediocre. Well, it's been quite the opposite for him at UM. The work he's done helping get Jacory Harris' confidence back has been head-turning, as I wrote in the Big Picture. The Canes are 48th in scoring and ninth in passing efficiency despite having already faced four defenses ranked in the top 25. Keep in mind last year UM was 67th in scoring and 97th in passing efficiency.

That said, I expected more from the defense. Then again, that side of the ball got hit harder by the suspensions and has now been hammered by injury along the D-line.

Obviously, for Golden and this program, the biggest thing will be how much the NCAA can find -- and prove from the Shapiro allegations. And then how harsh the sanctions are.

From @gibsonjosh79 who has the tougher job ahead of them Will Muschamp or Derek Dooley?

Dooley probably does. He inherited a bigger mess, not just in terms of talent left in the program but the profile of the Gators program is still very high in many recruits' minds. The Vols have been struggling for a few years now, which is a long time for kids who weren't old enough to remember the Tee Martin BCS title team. Also, Florida has so many more elite recruits close by.

From @LandonP23 Is Tyler Wilson of <s class="hash">#</s>Arkansas hands down the best Qb in the Sec?

Yes, Wilson has been as good as advertised. Maybe even better. The toughness he showed when he got battered at Alabama was really something. The Razorbacks have had some significant injuries to some of their best offensive weapons, but this offense still piles up points. I give Wilson the edge over Aaron Murray, who has thrown seven INTs, more than double Wilson's total this year. 

From @ChrisSedenka  Is it time for Geno Smith to start getting more national attention?

Geno's gotten plenty of attention, and if WVU continues to roll up wins, his stats will surely keep people buzzing. Thing is, if he was going to really enter the Heisman race, he needed to lead WVU to an upset win over LSU on national TV. That was really his only shot this year at a cache win over an elite team. Smith was pretty good in that game, but despite the gaudy numbers, he wasn't at his best and LSU cruised. Smith just needs to keep growing in this system. Look for him to be a serious Heisman contender in 2012.
Posted on: October 18, 2011 10:27 am
Edited on: October 18, 2011 12:59 pm

Tuesday Top 10: MVPs of the season's first half

Over the weekend South Carolina got some devastating news: Star RB Marcus Lattimore was lost for the season with a knee injury. I brought up the point on Twitter that Lattimore, one of the real workhorses in the sport, might be the most valuable non-quarterback in college football. Where would he rank overall?  This week's Top 10 list: most valuable players of the first half of the 2011 season:

1-Robert Griffin III, Baylor QB: Yeah, his numbers have tailed off a bit since his incredible first month, but RG3 has still been phenomenal for what used to be such a dismal Bears program. Griffin has a 22-2 TD-INT ratio and is connecting on over 78 percent of his passes while accounting for, on average, 374 of Baylor's 550 total yards per game. Look at it this way: Griffin has been a franchise talent for this program that has been embroiled in the rough side of the conference realignment stuff. The Bears have spent several weeks in the Top 25 this season, have a shot at making a New Year's Day bowl and have been nationally relevant for more than a month despite having the 100th ranked scoring D in the country.

2-Andrew Luck, Stanford, QB: As advertised, Luck has been brilliant leading this top 10 team as it moves on without Jim Harbaugh. The Cardinal are unbeaten and no one has gotten closer than 26 points from them while they coasted past a bunch of teams that are mediocre at best. As impressive as Luck's passing numbers are: 71 percent completion percentage, 18 TDs, 3 INTs, something else is even more of a head-turner: Stanford lost three of its five starters up front from last year and they still only have surrendered two sacks all season. A lot of that is due to the big QB's guile and grasp of the offense. Luck makes it all look so easy.

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3-Trent Richardson, Alabama, RB: The current top guy on my Heisman list, Richardson has a better supporting cast than anyone out there. With as devastating as the Tide's defense is this season, Bama could be a top 25 team just with average talent on offense. But it's Richardson who makes the Tide such a force on this side of the ball too. He is a bruising back with outstanding speed and now everyone knows about how slick his moves are after the number he did on Ole Miss last week. Richardson is the engine of the Tide offense, which had to replace, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones and QB Greg McElroy. Despite all of that turnover, Bama is actually still leading the SEC in scoring (39 ppg) and averaging almost six points more than it was at this point last year.

4-Denard Robinson, Michigan, QB: Last year at this time Robinson's act felt like a phenomenon. We've almost gotten used to it, but he is still arguably the most exciting player in college football. Robinson's performance in an amazing comeback win over Notre Dame in September was one for the ages. The Wolverines are much better on D this year, but actually not quite as prolific on offense. Robinson's passing game has regressed a bit from last year, but the load he carries is still remarkable. He is accounting for 312 of Michigan's 451 total yards of offense (69 percent). 

5-Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina, RB: The SEC has a couple of great tailbacks. Whether Lattimore is actually better than Trent Richardson is debatable, but the loss of the star back on Steve Spurrier's team figures to be huge. Lattimore wasn't just a great physical runner, he also was a very capable receiver and the guy who kept the Gamecocks offense going.

6-Russell Wilson, Wisconsin, QB: The NC State transfer has fit into Badger football beautifully, taking this program to a new level. Wilson leads the country in passing efficiency and has thrown 14 TDs against just one INT. As the schedule picks up, Wilson's worth figures to continue to increase.

7-Kellen Moore, Boise State, QB: His yards per attempt and passing efficiency rating are slightly down from last year. Then again, he did have to replace two superb receivers, but Moore has still been his usual outstanding self, completing 76 percent of his passes for the Boise State powerhouse that looks like the safest bet in college football to run the table this fall.

8-Tyrann Mathieu, LSU,  CB/SLB/PR: The Honey Badger is the star of the dominating LSU D, lining up all over the field, blitzing, dropping, playing man, flying in for tackles while trying to rip the ball free. He just has a real knack for making big, momentum-swinging plays. The 5-9, 180-pound Mathieu leads the Tigers in solo tackles (29); forced fumbles (four), fumble recoveries (three) and is tied for second in INTs (two) and for third in TFLs (five).

9-Devon Still, Penn State, DT: A few years back Nittany Lion D-lineman Jared Odrick was such a handful for rival offenses that he won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors. Still is playing at that level and might be in line for similar honors if he can keep this up. The Nittany Lions are No. 6 in the country in scoring defense with Still anchoring their front and barreling his way into the other team's backfields consistently. Stats often can't truly measure a lineman's merits, but Still makes more than his share of plays besides the ones he creates for teammates. His 10 TFLs are among the nation's leaders and his play on a good defense has enabled PSU to go 6-1 in spite of a dreadful offense, ranked 96th in the nation.

10 (tie)- Sammy Watkins, Clemson, WR-KR: The most spectacular freshman in football, Watkins' worth was evident last weekend when he turned in big play after big play to bail the Tigers out of a tight situation as they rallied to overtake Maryland. In that game he set a school-record with 345 all-purpose yards. On the season, he already has five plays of 60 yards or longer.

10 (tie) Robert Woods, USC, WR-KR: The Trojan offense has sputtered quite a bit this fall, but Woods is the one USC player who consistently looks like the kind of stud that this program had when it was competing for BCS titles. Woods is on pace for 120 catches and almost 1600 yards receiving for a team that is 5-1, but might only be .500 if it weren't for the sophomore wideout.

Posted on: October 16, 2011 2:46 am

Oregon rallies behind back-ups to beat ASU

EUGENE, Ore.--After Arizona State QB Brock Osweiler burned the Oregon defense in the first half , and the Sun Devils came out for the third quarter and rumbled 67 yards to take the lead 28-24, it sure looked like they had the Ducks reeling.  


The rain was pouring down. Star running back LaMichael James was already out for the game with an injury, so when starting QB Darron Thomas was knocked out of the game with a leg injury, things seemed pretty shaky for the Ducks. Unproven redshirt freshman Bryan Bennett entered the game to face a defense that had already forced 19 turnovers in its past five games.

However, Bennett, a fantastic athlete who was a standout prep triple jumper in Southern California, deftly 
handled Chip Kelly's spread-option attack. An Oregon running game which had sputtered for just 58 rushing yards on 16 carries, with no run longer than 16 yards in the first half, got into a rhythm rolling up 168 third-quarter rushing yards as speedsters Kenjon Barner and freshman sensation DeAnthony Thomas and Bennett blazed through the ASU defense for one big play after another. Oregon with its back-up QB responded with consecutive TD drives totally two minutes and 55 seconds and the Ducks cruised to a 35-24 lead while their D clamped down on Osweiler, limiting him to just four yards of passing in the third quarter.

For Bennett, shining in a relief appearance is nothing new. Back in his high school days at Crespi High, he once stepped into the line-up when starting QB Kevin Prince (now at UCLA) went down with a knee injury. Bennett would go on to lead Crespi to a win over local powerhouse Mater Dei, quarterbacked by Matt Barkley. After the game Saturday night Bennett told me that experience helped him "so much" to handle this situation, saying it taught him the importance of staying poised.

Oregon moves to 5-1, while ASU, drops to 5-2 and suffers its first loss in conference play.
Category: NCAAF
Tags: ASU, Oregon
Posted on: October 14, 2011 1:49 pm

Mailbag: Should Dooley be on the hot seat?

Here is this week's mailbag. If you have questions, send them to me via Twitter at BFeldmanCBS.

  From @JackParMa Is Derek Dooley the right hire for Tennessee?

  I'm skeptical at this point but I honestly don't know. I don't think anyone can say with much certainty one way or the other. I realize one of my friends who grew up a diehard Vols fan, Clay Travis wrote the other day about Dooley on the hot seat, but I really think it's too soon for that. 

On paper, you wouldn't have expected a guy with Dooley's record at La. Tech to have been able to land the UT job in the first place. He had a 17-20 career record at La. Tech and didn't even have a winning record in the WAC. But he is what they could get at that time and he deserves a legit chance to make it work. He inherited a very unstable situation that had seen two dramatically different coaching regimes in the previous two seasons that had basically torn up the fan base.

Publicly, Dooley has said and done many of the kinds of things that UT fans would like to hear and see from their head coach off the field. The issue has been he's yet to have anything close to a win that would show that he can coach and he's the guy to lead this program back into the top 15. The Vols are just 3-7 in SEC play since he took over and those three wins were against UK, Vandy and Ole Miss, teams that went 4-20 in league play. They've lost to every good team they've faced. They've also had a bunch of double-digit losses in these games: losing by 35 to Oregon; 14 to UF; 27 to UGA; 31 to Bama; 14 to South Carolina and by 10 this year against a young UF team. They did give a scare to LSU though. Before Mike Hamilton left, he even softened up the non-conference schedule even more to give the Vols and Dooley (his hire) a better chance by dumping a solid UNC team for woeful Buffalo.

All that said, this is still a sophomore-dominated team and now it's one that has suffered two injuries to its two best players, WR Justin Hunter and QB Tyler Bray. It is still only year two for Dooley. The Vols should keep getting better and be much improved in 2012. The question though is, can Dooley actually get them from being a fringe top 25 team to what we expect the Vols to be? A big leap is going to have to take place at some point. Who knows if he can do that? The one thing I do think you can say is that given all of the chaos this program has gone through, pushing the reset button at this point would only lead to more chaos. And who knows how good of a coach they may be able to get this time around? It's not like you're going to get Urban Meyer to take this job right now. UT hired Dooley. The school needs to give him at least two more years before we can begin to figure out whether he is the right guy there.

From @jasonrub  Washington Huskies are 4-1, Keith Price 7th in passing efficiency, Chris Polk 16th in yards rushing. Can Sark keep this going?

Yes, and because of those two guys (Price and Polk) the Huskies have been consistently good, scoring at least 30 in each of their first five games. They have a decent chance to be a top 25 team this year. Things are going to keep getting better for U-Dub with Sarkisian there. He's got them on the upswing. He's proven he can win big games. He's proven he can recruit. He's got a good product that he believes in and can sell, and with the instability at UCLA and USC (and Cal and Arizona for that matter), it gives the LA native an even better run to recruit in Southern California. The stock is going up for Washington football. Way up.

From @Lexvegaskid  should strength of schedule be factored back into the BCS?

It really already is a big component via the human polls. The voters factor in which opponents teams beat (or lose to) basically in how they fill out their polls. It's certainly more subjective than it is in some computer formula too.

From @ABThatIsMe  Thoughts on Mike Glennon's performance thus far.All we hear ab as State fans is Russell Wilson but our qb is playing lights out

Glennon's numbers are good: 16 TDs, 4 INTs, 64 percent completion percentage although he wasn't as sharp in the games against even close-to-decent competition: Wake Forest, Cincy and Ga. Tech (7-4 TD-INT). NCSU is averaging 25 ppg against those three and 39 ppg against Liberty, South Alabama and CMU. The Pack has also taken a lot of sacks, ranking 107th in sacks allowed. Even if Wilson was there, I'm not sure they'd be be that much better. You never know. 

Their biggest problem is on defense, where they're 89th in scoring D and the schedule only gets tougher from here.

From @gnewburn What does Muschamp need to do to right the ship after UF's recent beatdowns?

Just keep recruiting to fit his system and continue to keep preaching disciple, focus and toughness. UF is 94th in turnover margin and near the bottom of the country in penalties--things almost no team can overcome, especially not a young team in such a brutal league. But a lot of this should've been expected.

I didn't get where people in the preseason saw this UF team as a top 20 bunch. They had to replace almost the entire O-line, didn't have a proven QB and had a very young secondary. They did have speed, but speed alone isn't going to make you an SEC title contender. 

From @TjzyChocChzy  When will the media start giving some real attention to who the next coach will be at Oh. St?

Huh? The media's been talking about it quite a bit for months. I wrote a detailed list of candidates, leading with Urban Meyer back in May. Actually, I first mentioned the possibility of Meyer going to Ohio State back in Dec., 2010.

The reality is Luke Fickell has the job and nothing is going to happen till the season wraps up. OSU wanted to be fair to him and to their players because this program has had more than its share of distractions over the past year. 

From @DavidLeake Fielding college football questions for the Friday mailbag.

Defense carries more weight than offense if you look at the teams that have won BCS titles, starting with the first one Tennessee. UT didn't win anything with the great Peyton Manning, but he left and they had a fierce D and they shut down FSU in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl. Two years later, OU had a great defense and held FSU to two points in the 2001 Orange Bowl. Miami's defense, led by the great Ed Reed, had more stars than any D perhaps in the history of the college game, destroying Nebraska the following season. USC had Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart, but it was really the Trojans defense that took apart Oklahoma. Florida's defense de-railed Heisman winner Troy Smith and Ohio State, and that run of BCS titles the SEC has gone on has been predicated by dominating defensive linemen and fast defenses.

From @Kilo1899 Mailbag question: Halfway through the season, who is your coach of the year? Player of year? Freshman of year?

Coach of the Year: Dabo Swinney, Clemson.
  Player of the Year: Tyrann Mathieu, LSU.

Freshman of the Year: Sammy Watkins, Clemson, WR.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or