Tag Archives: Big 10

The Big 12 Network?

The time is quickly approaching where the Big 12 will finally figure out if it is going to expand or not. The three pro expansion schools have stated that the Big 12 needs to add a conference game, that it lacks at least 12 teams and that it needs a conference network.

With the NCAA changing its rules, it seems like on a yearly basis, the Big 12 is able to have a championship game without expansion. This of course means there would be a rematch of a game that has been played earlier in the season. We now know that the Big 12 can have a team represented in the college playoff even if it doesn’t have a championship game. Despite only having ten teams in the Big 12 the league has also been very successful in basketball and other sports despite what some people thought would happen.

It has been said that even if the Big 12 does expand there probably won’t be a TV deal until later down the line. The Big 12 has national attention, but the majority comes from Oklahoma and Texas in most sports and Kansas when it comes to basketball season. These schools have the largest appeal in the league because of their location, alumni size and history. These are the things that other Big 12 schools lack. This is one of the main reasons why other schools in the Big 12 conference would not be able to move to another conference if the Big 12 dissipated. I don’t fully agree that you need all of that in order to move conferences. I think that every school brings its own unique style to the conference and has a positive influence on the Big 12. Yes, the Big Ten may have a larger alumni base, history and more urban locations, but I still think the Big 12 can secure a TV deal.

The Big Ten is close to an agreement that would provide Fox with half of the conference television rights and would pay $250 million a year to the conference. Add this to the $8 million per year that the Big Ten schools get from the Big Ten Network and each league member would be getting about $44 million per season in television rights. This deal would give Fox a right to around 25 football games and 50 basketball games.

Adding two teams to the Big 12 isn’t a guarantee that any of the teams already in the conference are going to stay. It is rumored that if some Big 12 schools decide to leave, it would probably be Oklahoma, Texas and possibly Kansas. These teams would leave for enhanced revenues in the Big Ten or SEC. These conferences are a lot more stable and have a much better potential for growing bigger and stronger. The Big 12 is in a slump, so I wouldn’t blame those teams for leaving. It makes me wish my alma mater was sought after by other conferences. I don’t want to be the conference labeled as the conference that is “a cut above the American” when or if teams decide to leave. I hope for the Big 12’s sake it can figure something out and that teams will stay.

Coaching With A Hotseat

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Every year it happens as soon as the season ends. Fans, writers, and anybody else with a rooting interest in college football starts to speculate about which coaches may be coaching with a hot seat underneath them. It can be a difficult thing to coach under this type of condition, but it comes with the territory of being a big time college football coach. Which coaches in 2015 will need to improve their situation and avoid the “ex-coach” moniker?

Here’s my list of current Power 5 Conference coaches that will have a hot seat underneath them in 2015.

Bob Stoops is first up on my list of coaches on the short leash. The Sooners ended 2013 with a dominating performance in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. That game was not even close in the score and in how each team played. Alabama played like they didn’t care and very flat. Oklahoma, on the other hand, dominated from the opening kick-off to final gun at the end of the game. Most thought that the Sooners would be coming into 2014 with the mindset of getting into the playoff and winning not only the Big 12, but a National Championship. As we all know, things didn’t go as planned in Norman, Oklahoma. Bob Stoops and his Sooners finished the 2014 season with an 8-5 record which was the worst record for Stoops since his first year at the helm. Plus, his team got annihilated 40-6 in the Russell Athletic Bowl and that did not go over well in Norman. The Sooners haven’t won a National Championship since 2000 and let’s just say that Sooner fans are not accustomed to waiting 15 years for their next title.

Next on this list is Mike Leach, Head Coach of Washington State University.  Getting a hire such as Leach for a school like Washington State was certainly a coup. It even raised some eyebrows in terms why would Leach go out to the Palouse to coach? Well, it may have been a great hire back then, but it hasn’t turned out the way people at Wazzu had thought. Leach fell victim to some very unfortunate injuries last season which ruined any chance at finishing with a decent record. He has been trying to lay a foundation Washington State, but the foundation keeps getting chopped down by injuries or players not performing to their potential. Washington State has a lot of players that are coming back for 2015, so the outlook may be up in Pullman, but another year like they have had recently in the rough and tumble Pac-12 and that could make things for Mike Leach extremely interesting.

Moving onto the Big-10 I would have to say that Illinois Head Coach, Tim Beckman would be at the top of Big-10 list. He did make a bowl game last year, but even in reaching that bowl game he and his Illini team lost the bowl game by three scores. Any safety that he may have found in reaching that bowl game was summarily wasted in getting torched in their bowl game. His predecessor Ron Zook was fired because being average was not acceptable, well, if you take a look at what Beckman has done, it’s not even close to what Zook did. His conference record is a paltry 4-20 after this past season.  Only one of those wins came by more than four points, so his teams are not blowing teams apart even when they win. Beckman’s overall record at Illinois is 12-25 in three seasons.  Some of his wins are over teams that you would expect a Power 5 school to beat, but they barely escaped with victories over a Texas State team (42-35) and Western Kentucky (42-34). They also did lose to Purdue and that didn’t sit well with fans because they have a mindset of being a better program than Purdue, but to many, including a very knowledgeable writer on the Big-10 that I know, Illinois is the toughest job in the conference. It almost seems like his departure is inevitable regardless of how he does in 2015.

The ACC is really a one horse team to me with Florida State reigning supreme over everybody. The coach that I look at as probably having the term hot seat attached to him is Virginia Head Coach Mike London. This is a tough job as it is with all the academic requirements it takes to get into UVA. London’s recruiting classes have been ranked in the top half of the ACC, but those successes off the field have turned into successes on the field for London and his teams. London lone winning season was in 2011, going 8-5, and since then he has had nothing but losing records. Since that first season, he has gone 15-33 overall and 6-26 in conference play. If the bottom line is winning, then Mike London has not done that. His recruiting issues with turning talent into wins is the perfect example of how much of a gamble recruiting really is for coaches in college football. You just never know how these players will turn out and if enough players don’t turn out well then the coach is looking for another job. Whether London makes it through 2015 remains to be seen, but another losing record and he’s done for good at Virginia.

Last, but certainly not least, the SEC. The conference where fans are little more rabid than other fans and even a winning record can get you in hot water. I would say that in the tough SEC where coaches can be chewed up and spit out, Derek Mason would be on the hot seat. I know he’s only been at Vanderbilt for a one season, but when you lose all your conference games and fire your coordinators at the end of the season then you put yourself on this list. Mason has to prove to administration, alumni, and fans that he deserves to be an SEC coach. His predecessor Coach Franklin, got the program to adequacy, but Mason hasn’t reached that level in the least.  Vandy is a tough place to recruit because of academics. They can’t really “smooth” over academics to bring a kid in. Bottom line with Mason and Vandy, he has to provide a glimmer of hope to the school that he is just going to be a cautionary tale in the mighty SEC.

In the end, coaches are graded on the records and these five coaches have yet to prove that they can win on a consistent basis. I never root for people to get fired and never like seeing good people get fired, but coaching is a cutthroat business where winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

 

How Does SEC Basketball Compare?

College Football began its’ hibernation this week, but the good news is College Basketball returns, and it takes center stage until April. As we brought in the New Year, teams finished non-conference games, and started their conference schedules. The SEC, in particular, has already gotten into the conference swing of things. When we talk about College Basketball, the SEC rarely gets notoriety (other than Kentucky); in fact, most would consider the SEC average (if that) when it comes to basketball. I asked myself the question, “How does the SEC ACTUALLY compare to other conferences?” Then I thought, “Well, let’s analyze College Basketball to see how they really stack up.” Immediately, I thought up three phases of College basketball to compare; Head-to-Head non-conference records (against ranked opponents), style of play, and personnel. These criteria should give us a good picture of the conference hierarchy.

To see if you’re better than someone, what do you do? Play them right? Yes. Exactly. So, if we examine the SEC’s non-conference schedule, then we will know a little more about the SEC. Instead of listing all the teams the SEC played that were non-conference, I took note solely of ranked teams. To be fair though, the SEC, for the most part, only played non-conference teams that were ranked, and if they weren’t ranked, they had a reputation for success in the tournament. Notable ranked teams the SEC played so far; Kansas (3 times), VCU, Butler, Iowa State (3 times), Gonzaga, and Wichita State. Out of all the ranked games, the SEC went 8-10, and the SEC East went 6-7. At first glance, 8-10 looks decent, and could be consider good, but no, Kentucky had 4 of those wins (4-0 in fact). Assuming Kentucky is an outlier for the SEC, which it is, especially this year, the non-conference record looks pitiful. The only SEC wins against ranked teams other than Kentucky was Tennessee (Beat #15 Butler) and South Carolina (Beat #9 Iowa State). However, in the Big 12 challenge, the SEC went 4-6, and had multiple teams win. What does all this mean? It means top to bottom, the SEC isn’t near the upper echelon of college basketball conferences, but held its own against a solid Big 12 conference, in my opinion.

Now that we have examined the head-to-head battles, we can peer into the style of play the SEC demands. When I think style of play, I jump to offensive and defensive scheme, coupled with tempo. Let’s look at other conferences, make a generalization about Division I basketball, and compare that generalization to the SEC. Elsewhere in College Basketball, offenses are full of firepower. Teams are littered with great shooting, as well as big men who can score. Teams like Kansas, Texas, and Wisconsin (just to provide examples) have dominating big men. As far as shooters go, teams like Louisville, Duke, and North Carolina (typically) pride themselves in recruiting (shooters) the best. Games in other conferences tend to be higher scoring than the SEC. If there is one aspect of basketball the SEC lacks, it is the ability to score points. SEC teams usually don’t score over 80 points, in fact, most of the time, they have trouble-reaching 70, or sometimes even 60 consistently. I watched a game last week where the teams finished in the 30’s and 40’s. Some might say low scores indicate lackluster recruits, however, it has to do with style of play. The SEC puts more emphasis on defense than offense. A powerhouse like Kentucky is the best in the conference when it comes to defense, and sometimes, too good. The Wildcats have their own problems with scoring because they are so focused on defense. The Wildcats heavy defensive scheme can be extrapolated to say something about the conference as a whole. The SEC plays great defense, but not good enough offense to compete with other conferences from a style of play point of view. Kentucky can compete at the top level, but as a conference, the SEC cannot. Again, the SEC just doesn’t stack up in comparison to the other conferences style of play. My goal is not to say the SEC is terrible, but that College Basketball today has become a bit too up-tempo for SEC teams. Let the record show that College Basketball isn’t fast enough in my opinion. So, for the SEC to be that slow is significant. One way for the SEC to combat this is to create more shots for shooters. Another would be an up-tempo, aggressive scheme.

Picture yourself as an athletic director, and tell me which priorities would be at the top of the board for you. If you asked me, I would say great head coach, great staff, and recruit, recruit, and then recruit some more. What makes conferences like the ACC, Big 10, Big 12 and Big East so relevant? Coaches like Coach K, Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino, Bill Self, their staff, and great recruiting do. The next question…how close is the SEC to the rest of basketball with respect to these qualifications? As far as recruiting goes, the SEC is above average. Great shot blockers, point guards, and defenders come out of the SEC, but not a bunch of scorers do. The shooters want to go play for Duke instead of Arkansas, and that makes sense, because their play is a level above the average SEC team. Competition breeds success, and conferences like the Big 12, Big 10, Big East, etc. have a lot of competition. Comparably, the SEC is fairly bland when it comes down to it. Kentucky is always at the top, with Florida (sometimes) and everybody else behind that. When it comes to head coaches and staff, the SEC qualifies as above average again. John Calipari (Kentucky), Billy Donovan (Florida), Bruce Pearl (Auburn), Kevin Stallings (Vanderbilt), just to name a few, are the most prominent coaches in the SEC. SEC coaches, as a whole, are basically equal with the coaching staffs of other conferences. So, while the SEC can compete from a personnel standpoint, it can’t with respect to style of play or head-to-head.

The SEC doesn’t have a great non-conference record against ranked teams, runs a slow, defensive-minded game, and has above average coaching. Because the SEC is weaker in two categories, the only thing left to do is make it official. It’s true what they say; the SEC IS NOT as good as the other conferences. It’s important to note this recipe is only valid for the current season, but does say a lot about College Basketball. This might outrage SEC fans, but you can’t be the best at every sport. The recipe for SEC success is simple though. Hire better coaches, win important recruits, and then run a more aggressive style of play. Do those things and the gap might close a little bit. Until the SEC steps up its game, look for them to be on the outside looking in when it comes to College Basketball.

Why Terps’ Star Stefon Diggs Should Have Stayed for Senior Season

When the news broke last week that Maryland Terrapins’ star wideout Stefon Diggs would forego his senior season and enter the 2015 NFL Draft I was less than shocked. Most Maryland fans probably felt the same way, as Diggs has unquestionably been the Terps’ most dynamic, athletic, and exciting player over the past two years. His playmaking abilities have dominated Maryland football highlights, and the wide receiver has maintained a high level of offensive production despite less than average quarterback play during his collegiate career.

Stefon Diggs became an immediate star for the Terps as a freshman in 2012. He finished the season ranked eighth in the country in all-purpose yards as both a wide receiver and a return man on special teams. He led the team in receptions with 54, tallied 848 receiving yards, caught six touchdowns, and even threw a touchdown pass. Diggs truly did it all his first year in red and black.

As a sophomore, Diggs maintained his status as the team’s all-purpose star for the first six and a half games of the season until suffering a season-ending injury mid-October. Before his injury, Diggs had recorded 34 receptions for 587 yards and three scores, and had a legitimate chance to eclipse the 1000-yard plateau, a commendable feat for a Terrapin wide receiver over the last four years.

A relatively similar story played out in 2014, as Diggs’ offensive production continued until a suspension/injury cut his season short following the Terps’ memorable 20-19 win November 1 at Penn State. He returned for Maryland’s (embarrassing) bowl game, and all-in-all finished his junior season, and his last as a Terrapin, with 62 catches for 792 yards and five touchdowns.

Stefon Diggs left opposing defenses in his dust during his three years as a star at Maryland. Photo courtesy si.com.
Stefon Diggs left opposing defenses in his dust during his three years as a star at Maryland. Photo courtesy si.com.

Diggs performed well in a Maryland offense that has employed game plans focused more around quick slant routes and bubble screens than attempting passes of 15 yards or more; a game plan that has essentially been permanently instilled since Randy Edsall’s arrival in 2011. During the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Diggs’ primary quarterback was C.J. Brown. Brown was a serviceable quarterback, but struggled greatly with accuracy and would often tuck the ball and run when an initial read wasn’t there, further limiting Diggs’ production. In 2012, Diggs’ freshman season, three quarterbacks saw time under center over the first eight games of the year. After each suffered season-ending injuries (not including a season-ending injury C.J. Brown before the season began), a freshman linebacker finished the remaining four games at quarterback. Diggs has put up some great individual numbers throughout his Terrapin career despite all of these significant obstacles. While Diggs has had three great seasons statistically at Maryland, he did not have the nationally-recognized, can’t-miss-this-player, head-turning season he was capable of.

For this reason, Diggs should have stayed one more year at Maryland.

Many Terps fans would argue his freshman season was that type of year. Finishing eighth in the nation and second in the ACC in total yards is no small feat, and he managed to stay healthy for almost the entire year. But 2015 presented the best chance for Diggs to have his most productive year as a Terp. He returned from an injury for Maryland’s bowl game against Stanford, and would have been heading into the offseason healthy and able to enter next year at 100 percent. While Diggs has been Maryland’s go-to guy for three years, fellow starting wide receiver Deon Long is graduating, which would likely have increased Diggs’ role in the passing game even more.

Furthermore, and quite frankly most significantly, the era of sixth-year senior C.J. Brown is complete. This is not meant as a direct knock on Brown, despite his well-documented and aforementioned inconsistencies throwing the football. Brown is more of an athlete with a decent arm who can tuck the ball away when needed and utilize his speed to help the offense. Next year, the offense will be senior Caleb Rowe’s to lead. Rowe has seen a good amount of playing time already, attempting at least one pass in a dozen games since 2012 and starting several as well. Rowe is more of the traditional pocket quarterback that Brown was not. He has shown his quarterbacking abilities are at least as good as Brown’s, and having a quarterback staying in the pocket and looking to complete a pass instead of taking off on their own to pick up yards on the ground only would have benefitted Diggs. If he could have stayed healthy in 2015, I believe he would have had that truly noteworthy, nationally-recognized season under his belt heading into the 2016 NFL Draft. His draft stock would likely have risen, propelling him to the late-first round range he was originally projected earlier in his Terrapin career.

Diggs, however, decided that it was in his best interests to forego his senior season at Maryland and enter the 2015 NFL Draft. One can only hope that Diggs’ NFL career path more closely resembles that of former Terp Torrey Smith and less that of Darrius Heyward-Bey. As a Terrapin fan and alum, I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to watch Stefon Diggs play on Saturdays, and wish him the best in the NFL.

Blowout Bowl Loss Caps Disappointing End to Terps’ Season

Despite their matching 7-5 records, the Stanford Cardinal was the heaviest favorite of any team participating in a bowl game this year. The oddsmakers and talking heads were not wrong; the Maryland Terrapins were dominated in the first annual Foster Farms Bowl Tuesday night. The gusts of wind swirling about Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara blew the football from the tee twice before Maryland kicker Brad Craddock could strike it to begin the game. The 45 degree temperature at kickoff was uncharacteristically chilly for Western California this time of year. The Terps were also cold, but this unfortunately was not so uncharacteristic. Stanford set the tone for the night on the opening possession by driving 75 yards in 12 plays and scoring their first of six touchdowns in the game. The Maryland defense struggled to get pressure on Kevin Hogan all night, and the Stanford quarterback accounted for 240 yards of total offense and two passing touchdowns. Cardinal running back Remound Wright rushed eight times for 49 yards and three scores, while Christian McCaffrey made the Terrapins look silly on every one of his seven carries.

With the loss, Randy Edsall is 0-2 in bowl games since becoming Maryland’s head coach in 2011, and has missed the postseason altogether twice. The 7-5 record in 2014 is nothing to scoff at, especially taking into account it being Maryland’s first season as members of the Big Ten, but as a Maryland alum and fan I still feel unsatisfied. The inaugural Big Ten season is officially in the books, however, and the Terps will look to build upon a winning record and a bowl appearance next season. Here are a few observations and takeaways from the 2014 season:

The Terps need a traditional pocket quarterback in 2015.

Sixth-year senior C.J. Brown played in his final game as a Terrapin, finishing with 205 passing yards, one interception, and one rushing touchdown. His faults do not need to be documented at length here, as his decision making and accuracy issues were a topic of discussion all season long. While Brown ended his Terrapin career as Maryland’s all-time leader in total touchdowns (responsible for 58 total), he will likely be remembered for his legs more than his arm, and his interceptions and overthrows more than his touchdown passes. Don’t get me wrong, Brown was no Boomer Esiason, but I feel some of the criticism he encountered in 2014 could have been diverted elsewhere, such as poor individual play-calls, inexplicably awful game planning, and a season-long lack of any semblance of a running game (outside of Brown himself). That said, it is time for Maryland to make the move back to a more traditional, pocket quarterback in 2015. Whether or not Stefon Diggs stays or enters the NFL Draft, Maryland will still have substantial weapons at wide receiver next season including Juwann Winfree, Daniel Adams, and both Jacobs brothers. The offense should focus on getting the ball into the hands of these playmakers, and if Diggs returns that’s obviously just a (huge) bonus. Caleb Rowe will fill the role as starter, and hopefully his previous experience under center has groomed him well to take the reins for the first time in his career as the unquestioned starter.

William Likely and Andre Monroe are studs.

Likely: The sophomore cornerback led the Big Ten in interceptions in 2014 and may very well be an NFL star in the making. He was included as part of ESPN.com’s All-Big Ten team, and made his presence felt yet again against Stanford. It was as a member of special teams, however, as Likely took a Stanford kickoff 100 yards for Maryland’s second touchdown of the game. The Terrapin secondary was shredded more than once this season, but Likely was a significant factor in many of the Terps’ seven wins as both a playmaking defender and a dangerous return man on special teams.

CB William Likely set a school record with 228 return yards against Michigan State. Photo courtesy Mitchell Layton, Getty Images.
CB William Likely set a single-game school record with 228 kick return yards against Michigan State. Photo courtesy Mitchell Layton, Getty Images.

Monroe: DT Andre Monroe entered the game against Stanford tied for the all-time lead in career sacks as a Terp. After taking down Cardinal QB Kevin Hogan in the first quarter, Monroe became the sole record holder for career sacks with 25. Monroe had 10.5 sacks in 2014, which was the eighth-most in a single season for a Terp in school history.

Maryland needs to find a go-to running back.

How Maryland got to seven wins without ever having established a formidable running game is a feat beyond explanation. Only once all season did a Terrapin running back eclipse the usually not-so-elusive 100-yard plateau in a single game. Terps fans can complain about inefficient quarterback play, or injuries plaguing the team yet again this season, or dropped passes, or a defense that as a unit fell far short of preseason expectations. I wouldn’t disagree with any of the above, but I’d argue the single most detrimental aspect of the football program in 2014 was the mind-boggling lack of a rushing attack. The lack of production at the position is directly linked to the season-long utilization of a two- or even three-running back by committee system. Brandon Ross and Wes Brown split carries for the majority of the season, with Jacquille Veii and Albert Reid (earlier in the season) mixing in as well. Edsall forced the idea all season, and there isn’t a single example of it having paid off. Maryland needs to settle on a starting running back next year that can carry the load for the Terps.

The Terps will never be competitive against elite programs under Randy Edsall.

The exceptions to this rule of course were the Terps’ wins at Penn State and at Michigan. Both were great wins for Maryland, but those teams had down years in 2014. This may be too broad of a generalization, but it seems before Edsall arrived at Maryland the Terps at least stood a chance of pulling off an upset over a top-10 or -15 program. In 2004 Maryland took down #5 Florida State. Although 2007 was an overall disappointing season, the Terps managed to defeat #10 Rutgers and #8 Boston College. In Ralph Friedgen’s last four years as Maryland’s head coach (2007-10), the Terps went 7-6 against ranked opponents. Under Edsall, Maryland has not managed to win a single game against a ranked opponent and is 0-10 (2011-14). This season the Terps were destroyed by Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. We can add Stanford to the list.

In Case You Missed It – Holiday Bowl 2014

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So it’s payback time, USC. Not just for the two losses handed to Nebraska in 2006 (28-10) and 2007 (49-31); it’s personal. The first Nebraska football game I attended in Lincoln was September 15, 2007 versus the #1 ranked team in the nation – USC. Bill Callahan (now with the Dallas Cowboys as offensive line coach with some coordinator duties) was in his fourth year at Nebraska, Shawn Watson (now with the Texas Longhorns as assistant head coach for offense/QB coach) was in his first year as offensive coordinator and Kevin Cosgrove (now with the New Mexico Lobos as defensive coordinator) was in his fourth year as defensive coordinator. Nebraska was predicted to take the Big 12 North this season. Pete Carroll (now with the Seattle Seahawks as head coach) was head coach of USC, Steve Sarkisian (now with USC as head coach) was offensive coordinator and Nick Holt (now with Western Kentucky as defensive coordinator) was defensive coordinator.

Going to my first game at Memorial Stadium was special. I ponied up some big bucks for 2 tickets and dragged my K-State fan boyfriend at the time along with me. The scene in Lincoln was awesome – fans everywhere, whole streets blocked off for pre-game, “Go Big Red” chants heard all around – I was in Husker heaven. Nebraska went into the USC game 2-0 on the season and ranked #14 in the nation. Due to this being the first game since 1978 a #1 ranked team visited Lincoln, College GameDay came to town and I was so excited to finally attend one. It did not even phase me that I had to wake up at 5am to make the drive from Manhattan, Kansas to Lincoln in time for GameDay. Corso picked USC and the 13,293 in attendance booed in chorus. The fans didn’t care – we were convinced this would be our time to shine and exact revenge on Pete Carroll and the Trojans for the 2006 loss to USC on their turf.

Did I mention this game was highly touted in the media? Will Ferrell and Keanu Reaves attended as USC fans. Kiefer Sutherland sent Pete Carroll a special happy birthday message as the game coincided with his 56th year on earth. Larry the Cable Guy, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Rush Limbaugh (gag) attended as Husker fans. John David Booty (since defunct from his practice squad NFL career) was the QB for USC. Sam Keller (undrafted) was the QB for Nebraska. Some notable players from these two teams included Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga, Prince Amukamara, Roy Helu Jr and Ndamukong Suh.

Nebraska lost the game 49-31 with a deceptive final score. USC dominated the game for 3 quarters, Nebraska put up 21 points in garbage time. Before the game started, I stood shaking in my boots – literally – due to being overcome with excitement and overwhelmed by the atmosphere of Memorial Stadium. Afterwards, I was disappointed like most fans. Nebraska went on to 5-7 season with some equally painful losses at Mizzou 41-6, at home to Okie State 45-14, at Colorado 65-51, and at KU an astounding 76-39. When one looks at these losses, it is easy to see why Husker fans despise being beat in embarrassing fashion, perhaps why this has even led to the firing of coach who consistently won but gave up the big losses. USC finished strong at 11-2 and won the Pac-10 for the 6th straight year.

I will never forget the feeling of attending my first Nebraska football game. Even though it was a loss, it does not tarnish the memory nor diminish the importance of the milestone in this Husker fan’s life. Nebraska has been given an opportunity to redeem themselves, an opportunity to finally beat USC and change that series to 1-3-1. Nebraska and USC both played Fresno State this season and both won, Nebraska 55-19, USC 52-13. Nebraska and USC have both struggled to win the big games as of recent. Both programs will have something to prove when they meet again December 27th at 7pm central time. The players have to prove their resilience in the face of losing Bo Pelini. Interim head coach Barney Cotton has to prove he can survive the task ahead of him. I will be watching , not shaking in my boots this time, but still ever-hopeful and faithful to Big Red.

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Do the Terps Stand a Chance Against Stanford?

The Maryland Terrapins are slated to face the Stanford Cardinal December 30 in the Foster Farms Bowl. The paths the two teams traveled in 2014 were somewhat similar, as both Maryland and Stanford had up-and-down seasons and finished the year with a 7-5 record. Stanford, however, did not live up to preseason expectations while Maryland exceeded them. The Terps still aren’t getting much love across the nation and Stanford is a two-touchdown favorite, which begs the question on the mind of Maryland fans: Do the Terps stand a chance against Stanford?

On paper, Stanford is unquestionably the better team. Beginning the season ranked 11th in the country, the Cardinal disposed easily of UC Davis before falling short to rival USC in a low-scoring affair at home (13-10 final). Wins over Army and Washington followed before a 17-14 loss against a Notre Dame team that was ranked No. 9 at the time (a much different team than the one that lost its last four games of 2014, including a 49-14 drubbing by USC). A 34-17 win over Washington State followed, but the Cardinal managed to go just 3-3 over the second half of their season. While Stanford was undoubtedly displeased with how their season played out, the 7-5 record doesn’t tell the entire story.

The Trojans needed a 53-yard field goal with 2:30 remaining in the game and a forced fumble in order to beat Stanford in an ugly slug-fest that truly could have gone either way. No. 9 Notre Dame needed to convert on 4th and 11 with just over a minute remaining in the game in order to keep their hopes of defeating Stanford alive. Fighting Irish quarterback Everett Golson threw a 23-yard touchdown pass and Notre Dame escaped with a victory, handing Stanford their second loss of the season.

Stanford’s other three losses came at the hands of three teams currently ranked No. 15, No. 2, and No. 22 in the country (Arizona State, Oregon, Utah). In other words, none of Stanford’s five losses were to an unranked opponent at the time the game was played, four of the five are still currently nationally ranked, and Stanford’s record could have easily been anywhere from 8-4 to 10-2 instead of the 7-5 record they finished the regular season with.

In my unbiased opinion, I believe the short answer to the question of whether or not Maryland could prevail a week from today is no. The Cardinal is a battle-tested team that finished the regular season on a very high note. Stanford handily defeated rival Cal at California, and then did the same to No. 8 UCLA. The Terps had quite a different ending to their season, as Maryland blew a 25-point lead and fell in gut-wrenching fashion to the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers. I unfortunately would have to agree with the overwhelming majority of the country in thinking the Terps’ chances of upsetting Stanford on December 30 are slim to none. Another factor not working in Maryland’s favor is that the bowl game is being played in Stanford’s backyard, as Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara is just 20 minutes from Stanford University’s campus.

Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan isn’t exactly a world-beater, but he can certainly do damage when afforded enough opportunities. He finished the regular season with 2603 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also has a knack for running with the football and had 84 official carries for 245 yards and five rushing touchdowns. Remound Wright led the Stanford backfield with 552 yards on 127 carries and eight rushing touchdowns. Senior Ty Montgomery is Hogan’s favorite target by far, and finished 2014 with 604 receiving yards on 61 receptions, twice as many receptions as the next receiver (Devon Cajuste, 30 rec, 510 yards).

There is only one scenario that could potentially occur that would give Maryland a chance of winning this game: if it is a sloppy, low-scoring game and the Terps can force multiple Stanford turnovers and limit their own. Stanford has turned the ball over 20 times this season, just one fewer than Maryland’s 21 turnovers in 2014. Stanford’s defense has performed well overall, but their secondary is beatable if Maryland’s C.J. Brown is on his game, much like he was in the first half of the home loss to Rutgers. The formula for the Terps flying back east with a victory is creating turnovers, capitalizing on those turnovers, and keeping its offense on the field for as long as possible in order to keep the defense fresh and to limit Stanford’s scoring opportunities.

I fear this game will play out less like Maryland’s 20-19 victory over Penn State on November 1 and more like the Terps’ 37-15 loss to Michigan State the following week. I’d be surprised if Maryland got blindsided the way they did when they faced Wisconsin (52-7 final score for those of you who blocked this out of your memory), but it’s certainly possible. Stanford has much less to play for than Maryland does, which could work in the Terps’ favor. Unfortunately I think it’s rather simple to predict how this one ends.

Terps Receivers Didn’t Drop the Ball in 2014

Before the first snap of the 2014 season, the Maryland Terrapins boasted one of the most talented receiving corps in the nation. Led by NFL prospect Stefon Diggs, the Terps were nationally ranked in the top fifteen at the position by various entities that create such rankings, including a sixth place preseason ranking by Athlon Sports. Despite question marks at the quarterback position, the Terrapin receivers were primed for nationally-recognized success entering Maryland’s inaugural Big Ten season.

Unfortunately for the Terps, what was once a position overflowing with talent was almost entirely depleted over the last four months. Some receivers fell to season-ending injuries. Others were suspended by either the university or the NCAA. One player transferred before the season began. Despite significant changes in the depth chart, the receiving corps maintained enough reliability and productiveness to help the team to their 2014 seven game win total. Yes, dropped passes became an extreme cause for concern at times this season, especially over the final several weeks. But players like Jacquille Veii, Daniel Adams and Amba Etta-Tawo stepped up to provide some sense of stability to the position. Here is a player-by-player breakdown of what became a surprisingly thin skill position for the Terps in 2014:

Nigel King (transferred): After being designated as the Terps’ No. 3 receiver after the 2013 season, King felt his talents would be more appreciated elsewhere and transferred to Kansas. After injuries ended the seasons of Stefon Diggs and Deon Long in 2013, King became a more integral part of the Terrapins’ offense last season. He finished the year with 33 receptions for 450 yards and four touchdowns. Not awe-inducing statistics by any means, but King’s talent was certainly useful in an overall average offense. This season King finished with 30 receptions for 537 yards and just one touchdown for the Jayhawks. Had he remained with Maryland, he likely would have had a more productive year statistically, not to mention the fact he’d be heading to a bowl with his fellow Terrapins. But hey, hindsight is 20/20, right Nigel?

Levern Jacobs (suspended): The injuries to Diggs and Long in the seventh game of the 2013 season provided opportunities for several players, and Jacobs arguably stepped up the most. Jacobs snagged 47 passes on the season for 640 yards and three touchdowns. Again, not necessarily overwhelming statistics, but his production over the second half of the 2013 season seemed to reserve a more prominent role for him in the Terps’ offense in 2014 even after the return of Diggs and Long. In his final six games of 2013, Jacobs caught 37 passes for 473 yards (79 yards/game) and three touchdowns. Jacobs was listed as a starter on the team’s final depth chart heading into this season.

Jacobs, along with backup safety A.J. Hendy, was suspended by the university just before the start of the season for violating the university’s code of student conduct. The violation stemmed from an incident that occurred in July 2014 for which Jacobs was charged with second degree assault. He has since been found not guilty.

Taivon Jacobs (injury): After the transfer of Nigel King and the suspension of his older brother, Taivon Jacobs figured to see more playing time in the Terps’ offense this season. The three star speedster and Ohio State transfer was slated to take over a starter’s role as Maryland’s third wide receiver. However, on just the second drive of Maryland’s first game this year, Jacobs suffered a torn meniscus running a deep route and was lost for the season.

Stefon Diggs (suspension/injury): The biggest blow to the receiving corps came after the Terps defeated Penn State in Happy Valley on November 1. The team’s best player at any position, Diggs was suspended for one game by the NCAA for his pregame antics. The events leading to the suspension included his involvement in a brief scuffle with a few Nittany Lions, during which Diggs (inadvertently?) made contact with a referee. This, in addition to the now infamous handshake snub, led the NCAA to take action.

While most Maryland fans thought the team would be without its star for just one game, news soon followed that Diggs could potentially miss the rest of the 2014 season. Diggs suffered a lacerated kidney on a play against Penn State when the receiver tried to stretch for the goal line for a touchdown. Diggs missed Maryland’s final three regular season games, and the team went 1-2 without him. He reportedly will likely be able to return for Maryland’s bowl game against Stanford on December 30.

It goes without saying that Diggs’ impact in the Maryland offense has been felt since 2012. Over the past three seasons, he is averaging over five receptions and 77 receiving yards per game, as well as averaging a touchdown every other game. All of his production has come despite average to below average quarterback play, including having a freshman linebacker under center for much of one season (2012).

Juwann Winfree (suspension): The true freshman saw increased playing time throughout this season as the receiver position continued to thin. He caught his first pass as a Terrapin for a 30-yard touchdown against Indiana, and in the seven games he appeared in he recorded a total of 10 receptions for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Winfree was coming off his best game (four catches, 80 yards, 1 TD in the loss to Michigan State) when the university announced he would be suspended for the remaining two regular season games for violating the student athlete code of conduct. Winfree should be available for Maryland’s bowl game.

By the Terps’ final regular season contest, an embarrassing home loss to Rutgers and their offensive coordinator/former Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen, the Maryland receiving corps looked much different than it did to start the season. With Stefon Diggs returning for Maryland’s matchup with Stanford in the Foster Farms Bowl on December 30, he and senior Deon Long remain among the most talented starting wide receiver duos in the country. However, receivers like Amba Etta-Tawo, Jacquille Veii, Daniel Adams and Juwann Winfree (before his suspension) should be applauded for maintaining consistency in the Maryland offense and helping the team to an overall successful 2014 campaign.

Week 14’s Six Best Teams for College Football

The College Football Playoff is almost here. It is hard to believe that another college football season is almost gone. If this season plays out like most of the BCS seasons, then the rule will be that whatever we think about who is going to play in the Championship entering rivalry week will be wrong by the time the last conference championship game is played. This week I was asked to give my Top 6 teams. I wanted to give more than rankings but give the reasons behind my rankings. Below is my Top 6 and the reasons why I ranked them the way that I did. I do have two SEC West teams in my Top 4. The SEC West just completed a 28-0 run against non-conference opponents and with little exception trounced their Eastern equivalents.

1. Alabama — I’m not completely convinced the Tide can run the tables or even beat Auburn but out of the top teams, they do seem to be the most complete. The offense is a bit Jekyll and Hyde with their best showings coming at home but the defense, after a shaky start, is starting to look reminiscent of Saban’s national championship defenses. If Alabama advances, their defense will be put to the test as many of the top teams can score and score quickly.

2. Oregon — Mariotta is man among boys in terms of his quarterbacking ability. It’s hard to believe that we entered this season with mumblings about Mark Helfrich and his ability to keep Oregon up to Chip Kelly standards. Oregon’s early October loss to Arizona, their second loss to Arizona in two seasons, seem to validate those concerns. Since that game the closest anyone has come to beating Oregon is UCLA and they lost by twelve. Now if Helfrich can avoid one Kelly trait and that is Oregon shooting itself in the foot in November, Oregon could be the team to beat in the playoffs.

3. FSU — it’s amazing how the college football playoff changes perceptions. If this were last year, most of us would be ranking Florida State number one. They are the last undefeated Power 5 team left, yet the Committee raises points that we notice but have typically ignored in the past. This is a team that seems to be flirting with disaster. Each week Florida State finds a way to escape the executioner. Last week was a narrow victory over Boston College. Off field issues aside, there is no quarterback in the nation I would rather have in quarters three and four than Jameis Winston. FSU will have a much harder time surviving the next two weeks than they should for an undefeated Power 5 team. Florida upsetting Fllorida State with a lame duck Will Muschamp would be repeating history when Ron Zook did so in his last regular season game as the head man of the Gators. If Winston can survive the Gators, surprising Georgia Tech awaits them in the ACC Championship game.

4. Mississippi State — Of course this is where it gets tricky. I can pretty much swap Mississippi State, TCU and Baylor. All three teams are so similar in their resumes. Here is why State gets the nod at #4. They lost to #1 by five points in #1’s home stadium. Baylor lost to an unranked West Virginia. TCU lost to Baylor which is at best, the #5 ranked team and in the Committee’s eyes, the #7 ranked team. I’m left with a logic puzzle. In terms of losses Mississippi State’s was the best and their schedules with TCU and Baylor are all roughly equivalent in terms of overall strength. As for Mississippi State, Alabama poked some holes in what had been an otherwise great looking team. In shutting down the running game, including Dak Prescott’s, Mississippi State becomes average and they have little ability to come back. In Mississippi State’s final drive against Alabama, they took over three minutes to get down the field because they were forced to rely on the run. However, not many teams have the ability to put the Bulldogs in a hole.

5. Baylor — I have a harder time punishing the Bears for their week schedule when they beat TCU. Yes I believe that TCU has a better resume than Baylor and all of that would count if Baylor hadn’t beaten TCU in a head to head matchup. To say that TCU has played a tougher schedule and that somehow equates to wiping away the Bears’ win over the Horned Frogs is not something that I can do. Let the Committee make the statement in the rankings. Baylor made their statement on the field. As for Baylor, it is the #1 scoring offense in the country. Baylor is #4 in overall passing yards. Baylor can score and score quickly. The knock on Baylor is their defense but their points allowed defense actually ranks in the Top 25 and they have held five opponents to less than fourteen points. Secondary units beware!

6. TCU — First, why TCU and not Ohio State. I have been very impressed with Ohio State since the loss against Virginia Tech and yes, I think Ohio State can be forgiven for their loss as there were extenuatiing circumstances in breaking in a new quarterback in J. T. Barrett. However, Ohio State also struggled to beat Penn State, they do have victories over two Top 25 teams in Michigan State and Minnesota, however TCU has wins over three Top 25 teams including a much more impressive win over that same Minnesota. This is why TCU grabs #6 away from Meyer’s Buckeyes. As for TCU, they have shown that they can beat big teams and beat them on a big stage. They can also light up the scoreboard with the best of them as poor Texas Tech found out when TCU dropped 82 points on them. Their work isn’t done though as TCU has to visit the much improved Longhorns this week.

Just Ride it Out, Randy

As expected, Michigan State defeated Maryland this weekend in front of a “Blackout” crowd in Byrd Stadium. The score was surprisingly close for the majority of the game, as the Terps trailed 16-7 late in the third quarter against the 12th ranked team in the nation. Even so, the deficit seemed more insurmountable with every offensive snap for the Terps. Maryland looked completely lost on almost every possession as the offense, much like the temperature in College Park, was exceptionally cold. A C.J. Brown interception returned for a Michigan State touchdown increased the Spartans’ lead to 16, all but sealing the win for MSU.

Maryland went three-and-out on their first three possessions of the game, and allowed the Spartans to kick three field goals in four possessions for a 9-0 lead. The Terps got on the board when C.J. Brown hit Daniel Adams with a 20-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter, and the defense forced Michigan State into a three-and-out on their next possession. The momentum had shifted ever so slightly in Maryland’s favor, and they would be getting the ball back with decent field position. William Likely’s fumble on the ensuing punt changed all of that. Maryland’s next eight possessions ended with either a punt or an interception, and the offense managed to accumulate a mere 102 yards during this span. The Spartans scored two late touchdowns to make the 37-15 final score more reflective of the seemingly unconquerable objective, based upon the Terrapins’ inept offense.

Quarterback C.J. Brown’s ineffectiveness has been a topic of discussion all season. Each time head coach Randy Edsall has been asked about replacing the sixth-year senior, however, he has backed Brown and downplayed any “quarterback controversy” as being created solely by the media (even after he pulled Brown at halftime in the loss to Ohio State). After the loss to Michigan State, Edsall altered his stance on the subject. When asked if he has thought about replacing Brown with redshirt sophomore Perry Hills or redshirt freshman Shane Cockerille, he responded, “That’s something we’ve talked about… if we can’t be more productive, then I think we have to take a look at those guys… I’ll do what’s in the best interest to help us get a win.”

Again, Brown’s struggles have been well-documented through the season. At halftime of the 52-24 loss to Ohio State on October 4, Brown had completed just 11 of 18 passes for 71 yards with an interception. Edsall replaced Brown with backup quarterback Caleb Rowe, who didn’t fare much better in the second half, but Brown’s status as the team’s starter was confirmed by Edsall after the game. Including his embarrassing first half against the Buckeyes (which I still attribute largely to the coaching staff), Brown has thrown just four touchdowns over the last five contests (two of these in garbage time of blowout losses) and six interceptions. He has completed just over half of his attempted passes on the season (49 percent over last five games), and has thrown for less than 200 yards in every conference game in 2014 before Saturday. Not to beat a dead horse, but the rushing stats that once helped justify his continued status as the team’s starter have declined in recent weeks as well (just 13 total rushing yards over the last three games, no rushing TDs since fifth game of season).

Despite pulling C.J. Brown at halftime in the Oct. 4 loss to Ohio State, Edsall stood by the sixth-year senior and downplayed any quarterback controversy. Photo courtesy pressboxonline.com.
Despite pulling C.J. Brown at halftime in the Oct. 4 loss to Ohio State, Edsall stood by the sixth-year senior and downplayed any quarterback controversy. Photo courtesy pressboxonline.com.

With that said, just two regular season games remain on the Terps’ schedule. Maryland currently sits third in the Big Ten East standings, behind only Ohio State and Michigan State, with a 3-3 conference record and a 6-4 overall record. While the Terps have been pounded by their opponent for three of their four losses, these have come at the hands of the Big Ten’s elite (OSU, MSU, Wisconsin). Maryland’s other loss came to West Virginia, a team that has been ranked this season and boasts one of the most prolific offenses in the country. With the win over Penn State, Maryland became bowl eligible in their first year as members of the Big Ten. The Terps have a great chance of defeating either or both of their remaining two opponents, as Rutgers is a comparable team to the Terps and Michigan is not the same Michigan of years past. A 7-5 record would unquestionably be considered an overall successful 2014 campaign.

Furthermore, Maryland is currently projected to play in a New Years’ Day bowl game: the Citrus Bowl against Auburn. While this will likely change over the weeks to come, it seems the Terps are at least slated for a reputable bowl game against a formidable opponent. Would it really be in the team’s best interests to replace Brown with Perry Hills, who hasn’t started a game since 2012? Or worse yet a redshirt freshman in Shane Cockerille, whose only on-field action as a Terrapin has come as a member of the special teams unit (a topic of discussion for another day)? As dissatisfying as it may be to admit, sticking with C.J. Brown still presents the Terps with their best chance to win.

Before falling to a season-ending injury, Caleb Rowe was the clear backup to Brown and the obvious frontrunner for the starting job in 2015. If Edsall was going to make a change, it should have come after the loss to Ohio State six weeks ago, not after a loss to a top-15 team with just two games left in the regular season. Even so, had Rowe not been lost for the year, the argument could have been made that the coaching staff wanted to give him some meaningful playing time heading into next season. After re-tearing his ACL, that same argument obviously cannot be made, and giving Hills or Cockerille playing time now presents no benefit whatsoever to the Terps for this season or next.

There were other factors to reflect upon stemming from Saturday’s loss to Michigan State that are more noteworthy than the quarterback play. The first is that Maryland was without their top offensive threat in receiver Stefon Diggs. Another is a lingering, season-long issue which I feel should’ve garnered more attention in 2014. In a game in which the score remained close until late in the third quarter, three Maryland rushers combined for just 11 yards on 11 total carries. Maryland’s leading running back of 2014, Brandon Ross, had a single carry. The game plan installed by the coaching staff apparently called for a quarterback who has struggled with accuracy and decision-making all season long to throw 43 times against the defense of the 12th ranked team in the country. I can think of only one word to explain this phenomenon: inexplicable.

Photo courtesy foxnews.com.
C.J. Brown threw 43 times against the Spartans while Terps’ running backs combined for just 11 carries. Photo courtesy foxnews.com.

With just two winnable games left on the schedule, next year’s likely starter out for the season, and two inexperienced quarterbacks remaining on the depth chart, replacing C.J. Brown would be senseless. Making such a drastic change with four-fifths of the season in the books would be nothing more than a futile reaction by Randy Edsall after stubbornly refusing to address the issue when more reasonable, and would represent another poor coaching decision on a growing list. You can’t put a Band-Aid over a bullet wound and pretend the problem has been appropriately resolved.